22.1.2005

Southern Premier League

Hednesford Town

Chippenham Town

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Richard Teesdale

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Banbury United (H) 29.1.05

The Pitmen continue their recent unbeaten run this afternoon as they hold table-toppers Chippenham Town to a goalless draw at Keys Park, extending their record to five games without defeat and having not conceded a goal in any of these games

Last week had seen Chris Brindley's men spring a minor shock in the F.A. Trophy as they edged their way past Nationwide Conference North side Worcester City at Keys Park to set up a mouth-watering local derby at Staffordshire neighbours Burton Albion next month. Understandably, Brindley elected to stick with the same XI that had navigated their way past Worcester last week with Anthony Maguire still unavailable due to injury

Title challengers Chippenham had moved to the top of the Southern Premier League table last weekend courtesy of a comprehensive 4-1 win against Dunstable Town at Hardenhuish Park. Manager Steve White also chose to stick with the same XI as last weekend as his team went in search of three points that would extend their own unbeaten recent run to five games, with the last three all being wins

The Keys Park pitch had started to dig up in the Pitmen's last home game against Stamford and the scars down the centre of the park was noticeable ahead of kick-off. Both sides struggled to adapt to the sticky underfoot conditions early on, with the Pitmen finally getting a sight at goal in the sixth minute as referee Mr Hine awarded the hosts a free-kick twenty yards from goal. Lee Barrow struck the resultant shot into the Chippenham wall, with Lee Williams firing the rebound straight into the arms of Chippenham goalkeeper Mark Hervin

Three minutes later, Ross Adams made a run into acres of space in behind Matt McEntegart and crossed to the far post, where Grant Beckett arrived late to head wide of Hervin's far post from six yards out

The Pitmen were controlling the early possession and created another good opening in the twelfth minute as Barrow's up and under was flicked on by Andy Bell and into the path of Carl Palmer. The Hednesford skipper took a touch that was a little too heavy and saw him toe-poke his effort from twenty yards out wide of the post

Chippenham's first half-chance of the game came in the sixteenth minute as Sam Allison held off a challenge from Richard Teesdale and laid the ball off to midfielder Ellis Wilmot, whose first-time effort sailed over Ryan Young's crossbar

Beckett went even closer for the hosts in the twentieth minute of the game by pure fluke as he took a free-kick thirty yards out and got a little more underneath the ball than he perhaps anticipated, clipping the ball over the heads of all of the players in the Chippenham penalty area and a matter of inches over Hervin's crossbar

The previously-lethal forward pairing of Bell and Leon McSweeney had been struggling for goals in recent weeks after such an explosive start to the season and continued their mini-slump in front of goal as they linked up well three minutes later on the edge of the Chippenham penalty area. McSweeney led skipper Gary Thorne a merry dance with his quick feet before playing the ball through to Bell, whose low driven shot was easily claimed by Hervin

Just before the half-hour mark, the Bluebirds had their best chance to open the scoring as a fine threaded pass from midfielder Lee Davidson spilt the Hednesford defence and found Dave Gilroy in on goal. Young spotted the danger early on and came rushing out of his goal to make a smothering save at the feet of the centre-forward

In the thirty-second minute, good play from the visitors down the right side of the pitch saw Rene Regis get the better of Mark Branch and play the ball into the space in front of him to Wilmot. The Chippenham number seven took a touch before crossing for Gilroy, whose firm header lacked direction and dipped wide of Young's far post

McSweeney's game came to an early finish in the thirty-fifth minute as he was withdrawn with what appeared to be a leg pull. Recent signing Paul McMahon came on in his place up front as he looked to stake a claim as Bell's strike partner once more

Three minutes later, Beckett exchanged passes with Williams and sent Branch on his way down the left flank. The full-back cut back inside of Regis and laid the ball off to Williams, who sold Thorne a dummy before shooting inches wide of Hervin's left-hand post. Close from the veteran midfielder

With three minutes of a competitive half remaining, Barrow whipped in another deep free-kick from the left and tested the reflexes of Hervin with his effort that the stopper tipped over the crossbar for a corner kick. From Williams' resultant corner kick, the ball dropped at the feet of McMahon, whose cheeky back heel towards goal from six yards out was cleared off the line by Thorne

The hosts had edged the first period on both possession and chances but had struggled to convert either into a clear-cut chance. Chippenham had allowed the hosts to have the ball for long periods of the game but had the quality up front to create chances of their own through Allison and Gilroy

The hosts continued to turn the screw at the start of the second half and youngster Ben Kirk was the Bluebirds' saviour in the forty-ninth minute as he hacked a Teesdale header off the line after the centre-back had met Matt Turner's corner kick at the near post

Turner had been quiet for large periods of the first period but was more involved at the start of the second, beating Regis with some skilful wing play on fifty-two minutes before attempting a chip over the head of Hervin. The Chippenham stopper did well to reach up and turn the ball over the crossbar for a corner kick

Branch won a free-kick for the Pitmen to the left of the Chippenham penalty area three minutes later, with Williams picking out Bell from the resultant kick but the striker heading tamely over from a good position ten yards from goal

Bell tested Hervin's shot-stopping ability on fifty-eight minutes as a quick turn from the youngster left Ian Herring in his wake before drilling a low shot across goal and being denied by a one-handed stop from the former Bath City goalkeeper

After weathering the early Hednesford storm at the start of the second half, Chippenham started to show more of the form that had seen them move to the top of the table recently as they created several good openings themselves. Hervin's long punt forwards on sixty-two minutes was headed on by Allison and into the path of Gilroy, whose shot took a nick off Teesdale boot before landing in the grateful arms of Young

The Hednesford stopper made another timely stop to deny the visitors on sixty-five minutes as he showed great athleticism to get across his goal and push a shot from Allison that had taken a deflection off Branch away for a Chippenham corner

Scott Walker picked Adams' pocket on sixty-eight minutes and played Wilmot into space deep in the Hednesford half, only for the midfielder to dither at the crucial moment and strike a weak shot straight at Young from thirty yards out

Back came the Pitmen through Palmer, who brushed off a challenge from Kirk on seventy minutes and played the ball out to Turner. The former Nottingham Forest trainee swung in a fine cross that was just too far in front of both Bell and McMahon which allowed Thorne to clear the danger

McMahon got his first real sniff at goal three minutes later as some slack passing at the back from Chippenham saw Herring sell McEntegart short with an undercut pass that the substitute seized upon. However, McMahon wanted a little too long to decide what he wanted to do with the ball and Thorne made a crunching recovering tackle to take the ball away from the former Rocester man

Gilroy was replaced by highly-rated youngster James Constable with thirteen minutes remaining in a move that saw the balance of play tip in Chippenham's favour. Firstly, Allison rose to meet a cross from Walker on seventy-eight minutes but headed wide from just six yards out

Sixty seconds later, Barrow could not cope with the pace of Constable as he streaked past the centre-back and into the Hednesford penalty area. Teesdale came across to make the block and just did enough to poke the ball away from the striker as he shaped to shoot

Constable turned provider for Walker with nine minutes remaining as he bustled his way past Barrow and set the winger up with a neat lay-off Walker's first-time shot lacked power, however, and Young watched the ball wide of his right-hand post

With five minutes of the game remaining, Constable felt that he had a legitimate call for a penalty kick as he appeared to be hauled down by Barrow a yard inside the Hednesford penalty area as the pair challenged for a long ball forwards from Thorne. Mr Hine took a long, hard look at the incident but waved away the vociferous Chippenham appeals

The Pitmen used this to their advantage and broke quickly through Turner down the left; he left Regis in his wake and cut inside before laying the ball off to Bell. In his desperation to get on the scoresheet, the striker snatched at his shot when a pass to McMahon would have been a better option

Chippenham finished the game the stronger off the sides, with Constable's impressive cameo almost finding a way through in the first minute of added time as he got on the end of a quick passage of play involving Allison and fellow substitute Mark Badman but was to be denied a late winner by a superb block from Young, who once again spotted the danger early and came off his line to make the stop and protect his fifth clean sheet in a row

Both sides should be fairly content with a point apiece in what was a good advert of the Southern Premier League, despite the lack of goals. Chippenham's quality in key areas of the pitch will serve them well in their title chase and the Pitmen's newly-found defensive solidity should see them climb the table if they can maintain their clean sheet record in the coming weeks. Mid-table Banbury United make it three successive home games for Hednesford when the Puritans make the relatively short journey to Keys Park next Saturday

Hednesford Town: Young, Adams, Branch, Barrow, Teesdale, Williams, Turner, Palmer ©, Bell, McSweeney (McMahon 35), Beckett      Subs Unused: Brindley, Rogers, Walters, Evans

Chippenham Town: Hervin, Regis, McEntegart, G. Thorne ©, Herring, Davidson (Badman 63), Wilmot, Kirk, Gilroy (Constable 77), Allison, Walker      Subs Unused: Charity, Horgan, Jones