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Nationwide Conference

Hednesford Town

Chester City

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Stuart Lake



Woking (H) 2.10.00

The Pitmen put last week's nightmarish brace of results behind them with a battling goalless draw over former Football League side Chester City this afternoon in the first-ever meeting between the two sides at Keys Park

A 6-1 defeat at Dagenham & Redbridge last Saturday had been followed up with a 3-1 defeat at Doncaster Rovers on Tuesday night to leave John Baldwin's side nervously looking over their shoulders in eighteenth place. Baldwin was without the suspended Micky Norbury - who had been sent off in both of the games and had also reached five yellow cards for the season - and strike partner Neil Davis, who was unavailable due to a family illness. The strike duo's lack of availability handed an opportunity to Keith Russell and Scott Bonsall, who formed a new-look forward line for the Pitmen in the only two changes to the side from the one that had started at Belle Vue. Stuart Lake had handed in a transfer request during the week, stating that he felt that he needed a new challenge after seven years at Keys Park

Chester made their first-ever trip to South Staffordshire sitting in fifth place in the Nationwide Conference table ahead of play, having adapted well to non-league football following their relegation in May. Manager Graham Barrow made one change to his XI from the one that had confidently beaten Nuneaton Borough 4-0 in midweek at the Deva Stadium as Craig Gaunt replaced Martyn Lancaster

Bonsall was presented with a chance to open his account for the Pitmen since his summer move from Nottinghamshire in the fourth minute as Paul Bagshaw showed Matt Woods a clean pair of heels down the left-wing and whipped in a cross into the Chester six-yard box that Bonsall was a matter of inches away from connecting with at the far post but could not quite get the final touch from a couple of yards out

Ian Robinson's deep, searching free-kick from the right-hand touchline three minutes later was aimed at the head of Mark Haran, who got goal side of former Leeds United man Paul Beesley but was denied a simple header into the net by Chester goalkeeper Warren Brown, who made a timely save

Chester's first half-chance of the game came a minute later as Chris Blackburn was fouled by Neil Pointon just outside the Hednesford penalty area. The vastly experienced Steve Whitehall - who had recently joined the Blues on loan from Oldham Athletic - took the resultant free-kick and curled his right-footed effort narrowly over Mark Gayle's crossbar

Another Chester free-kick in the tenth minute was taken on this occasion by Neil Fisher, striking a firm shot at goal from twenty-five yards out that forced Gayle into a save low down to his right-hand side

The visitors were forced into an early injury-affected substitution as Gaunt limped off holding the back of his leg and was replaced by Lancaster in a like-for-like swap in defence

Both teams seemed content to create chances from set-pieces, with the Pitmen going close in the sixteenth minute as a result of Bagshaw's free-kick, which was headed away by Paul Beesley but straight into the path of Mark Cooper, whose first-time volley from the edge of the Chester penalty area took a nick off Fisher and fell to Bonsall, who didn't really have bought time to react and could only scuff the loose ball straight into the arms of Brown

Some last-ditch defending from Woods denied Russell a great chance for the Pitmen on twenty-one minutes as Jake Sdgemore's fine through ball caught the Chester defence square and played Russell in on goal down the right. As the former Blackpool man took a touch, Woods came across the penalty area and made a timely block to turn Russell's shot away from goal

Sixty seconds later, a corner from Whitehall on the right was cleared by Lake but only as far as defender Matt Doughty, whose powerfully-struck effort from twenty yards out went back through the forest of legs in front of him and was deflected just wide for another corner kick

Val Owen's ingenuity in midfield saw the combative number seven win the ball in the centre circle from Blackburn on twenty-five minutes and play Russell into space down the right once more; however, Russell elected to shoot from a tight angle rather than work the ball back to Robinson and sliced his effort high over the Hednesford end stand, much to the delight of the 400 or so Chester fans situated behind the goal

Two minutes later, Bagshaw's trickery won the Pitmen yet another free-kick in a promising position as Lancaster brought the youngster down in full flight, twenty yards from goal. Lake took the resultant free-kick and struck a rising effort that cleared Brown's crossbar by a matter of inches

Young striker Mark Beesley had not seen much of the ball for the visitors and sliced his one and only chance at goal high and wide of the target on the half-hour mark as he took a wild swing at Blackburn's square ball from twenty-five yards out

Owen's fine pass through the centre of the Chester defence on thirty-three minutes sent Russell away, but an offside flag on the Wimblerbury side of the pitch pulled play back as the striker had moved to too early behind Paul Beesley

Mark Beesley's footwork was too much for Haran on thirty-six minutes as he tricked his way past the centre-back and was fouled by the former Emley man. Whitehall stepped up to take the resultant free-kick and struck a similar shot to Lake's a few minutes earlier, drilling in a shot that Gayle watched just over his crossbar

With four minutes of the first half remaining, Lake flicked on a Cooper corner kick from the left but saw a combination of Brown and Woods clear the danger as the ball bounced around in the six-yard box

In first-half added time, Bagshaw once again found some joy down the left with another marauding run, but his tame low cross into the penalty area was fielded by Brown before Bonsall could react quickly enough

The Pitmen had enjoyed far more of the chances and possession in the first period but had found the experienced Chester defence a tough nut to crack, particularly without the physicality of Norbury or the guile of Davis up front

An early offside flag at the start of the second half came to Hednesford's rescue as an incisive pass from Paul Carden played Blackburn clear of the home defence, only for a late flag from the assistant on the Wimblebury side to pull the midfielder back. Blackburn felt that the assistant had got the decision wrong and let him know his thoughts as the Pitmen took their free-kick

Blackburn was presented with another opportunity on fifty-three minutes as a lax clearance from Lake fell straight into the path of the young midfield man, whose follow-up shot was blocked by Lake as he atoned for his error by getting in the way of the ball

The Chester man was involved yet again four minutes later as good play from Mark Beesley saw the young striker hold off Haran's attention and lay the ball off the Blackburn, only for the YTS graduate to horribly mis-hit his shot from twenty-five yards out and send the ball sailing harmlessly into the Chester fans behind the goal

The game's first booking came just after the hour mark as Fisher was booked by referee Mr Simpson for hacking Robinson down right in front of the Hednesford bench. Cooper lined up the resultant free-kick and lifted the ball high into the Chester penalty area, where the ball bounced around the six-yard box before Lake steered the ball towards goal with a toe-poked effort that was diverted past the post by Woods for a Hednesford corner kick

Woods was involved at the other end of the pitch midway through the second period as a raking cross from Lancaster out on the left found the full-back arriving late at the far post, but got underneath the ball and could only divert it over Gayle's crossbar from six yards out

A long throw from skipper Pointon on sixty-eight minutes was chested down by Owen inside the Chester penalty area, with the former Northwich man showing good skill to turn past Carden and lay the ball off to Bonsall, whose left-footed effort lacked any real power or direction and drifted well wide of the post

The Pitmen were still lacking that certain spark up front and made an attacking double change on seventy-three minutes with fit-again Stewart Airdrie replacing Bonsall and Leon Brown replacing Russell. This saw a shift in formation for the hosts with Bagshaw playing on the left-wing, Airdrie playing down the right flank and Leon Brown up front as the lone striker

Leon Brown - beating courted by the likes of Newcastle United and Blackburn Rovers if reports are to be believed - tested namesake Wayne with only his second touch of the game on seventy-seven minutes, dragging the ball back on the edge of the penalty area but striking a weak shot straight at the Chester stopper

With twelve minutes of the game remaining, Gayle made a smart stop to deny the impressive Blackburn once more as his shot from the edge of the penalty area forced the stopper into a save down low to his left to turn the ball around the post for a Chester corner kick

Haran headed over the crossbar for the Pitmen three minutes later from a Pointon free-kick, getting on the end of the deep cross at the far post but heading over as Wayne Brown did enough to put him off

On eighty-four minutes, Cooper's expert delivery once more from a corner picked out man of the match Lake, with the ponytailed utility man powerfully heading towards goal but was denied by a save on the line by the alert Brown

Sixty seconds later, Woods joined Fisher in Mr Simpson's notebook as the full-back was shown what was probably a harsh yellow card on second viewing as he clashed with Leon Brown in the Chester half and left the teenager on the floor, although very little contact had been made between the pair

Paul Beesley was showing all of his experience at the back for Chester, with the 35-year-old former Premier League regular putting his head on everything the Pitmen could throw at him in the closing stages of the game. The one ball that eluded him came on eighty-nine minutes as Airdrie's jinking run down the right saw him beat Doughty and pull the ball back from the byeline, where Sedgemore struck a first-time effort from sixteen yards out that flew just wide of goal

It had been a stoic and well-drilled display from the visitors, who had earned a useful point that keeps them in touch with the teams just above them in the table. For the Pitmen, they will be very much of the mindset of 'what could have been' had Norbury and/or Davis had been fit and able to take one of the numerous chances they created this afternoon. A point for Baldwin's men keeps them out of the relegation zone for now, with one of the four sides below them - Woking - travelling to Keys Park on Monday night in a crucial battle at the foot of the table

Hednesford Town: Gayle, Pointon, Robinson, Lake, Haran, Cooper ©, Owen, Bonsall (Airdrie 73), Sedgemore, Russell (L. Brown 73), Bagshaw      Subs Unused: Bradley, Evans, Carney

Chester City: W. Brown, Woods , P. Beesley, Fisher , Doughty, Gaunt (Lancaster 14), Carden, Blackburn, Moss (Kerr 56), Whitehall, M. Beesley (Finney 64)      Subs Unused: Woodyatt, Greygoose

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