15.12.2001

Dr.Martens Southern Premier League

Hednesford Town

Crawley Town

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Richard Lucas

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Moor Green (A) 29.12.01

The Pitmen earn their first draw under Kenny Hibbitt after producing a fine, spirited display against top of the table Crawley Town at a chilly and miserable Keys Park this afternoon

 

Monday night had seen Hibbitt's side return to winning ways with a 2-1 win over Gateshead in the second round of the F.A. Trophy to set up a trip to former Conference rivals Scarborough in the third round. The Hednesford manager made two changes to the side that had started against the UniBond League club with Neil Davis passed fit to return to the side in place of youngster Leon Brown up front and Lee Barrow replacing Dean Craven as they looked to pull away from the bottom three in the table with more crucial points on the board

 

Table-toppers Crawley made their first-ever visit to Keys Park sitting three points clear of Weymouth at the top of the Dr. Martens Southern Premier League. A 1-0 win over Worcester City two weeks ago had moved the Red Devils away from their nearest challengers, with manager Billy Smith electing to stick with the same side that had started at the Broadfield Stadium fourteen days ago looking to continue their nine-game unbeaten run in the league

 

It was a grey, murky and cold day in South Staffordshire, with Christmas on the horizon and some supporters electing to stay away and catch up on their Christmas shopping after a mixed run of form from the Pitmen at home so far this term. Crawley travelled in good numbers, bringing vocal support with them to roar them on as they looked for another win. The first action came in the seventh minute of the game as Richard Lucas took a free kick out on the left and sent over a fine cross that was glanced over the crossbar by Stuart Lake from ten yards out

 

The dangerous Nigel Brake - a thorn in the Pitmen's side on the opening day of the season as Crawley cantered to a 4-1 win in the rain - made a surging run down the right flank three minutes later, drifting past Stewart Airdrie and Lucas before drilling a low cross into the path of Rob Collins who fluffed his effort wide of goal

 

Lake and Crawley skipper Luke Anderson clashed in midfield in the eleventh minute of the game, prompting a bout of handbags from both sets of players and forcing referee Mr. Ainge to speak to two players from each side before awarding the Pitmen a free-kick

 

Dave Harlow went close for the visitors on fourteen minutes, powerfully heading a cross from Danny Carroll just over Mark Gayle's bar after Carroll's initial free-kick was headed back to him by Wayne Simpson

 

Phil Trainer went on a mazy run for the Pitmen two minutes later, skipping past Ian Payne and into space in behind the Crawley defence before pulling the ball back into the path of Davis, whose firmly-hit low shot zipped past the post. Close from the former Walsall man on his return to action

 

Lake did well to dispossess Carroll midway through the first half and play a clever ball into the path of the chasing Damien Chaire, who showed good positional sense to hold the ball up on the edge of the Crawley penalty area before slipping the ball through to the onrushing Airdrie. The winger took one touch too many, however, and allowed Stewart Holmes to toe-poke the ball away from him as he shaped to shoot from an angle

 

Lee Barrow almost inadvertedly turned the ball into his own net on twenty-six mnutes, diverting a Brake cross towards his own goal as he looked to cut out the winger's cross and relying on Gayle to smother the ball at his near post

 

Gayle was called upon to make another good save for the Pitmen two minutes later, tipping Marc Pullan's long-range effort over the crossbar after the midfielder had let fly from long-range

 

Good hold-up play from Davis on thirty-three minutes saw the striker hold off the attentions of Dave Harlow and create a yard of space for himself to fire just over the crossbar from twenty yards out

 

Russell Dodd gave away a free-kick just outside the Hednesford penalty area four minutes later as he brought down Anderson, allowing Carroll to play an inswinging cross into the far post that was somehow missed by everyone and dropped wide of Gayle's far post

With three minutes of the half remaining, Collins linked up well with striker partner Warren Bagnall to leave Matt Gardiner chasing shadows as they played a quick one-two around the centre-back before Collins drilled a low shot wide of Gayle's far post

In first-half added time, Lucas's deep free-kick into the Crawley penalty area was flicked on by Lake and into the path of Davis, only for Harlow to snuff out the danger with a timely block to turn Davis's first-time shot away from goal

 

The Pitmen had shown plenty of desire and spirit in the first-half against a team high in confidence, although clear-cut chances had been at a premium with Crawley keeper Andy Little yet to be seriously tested by the home side's forward line

 

Hednesford made a bright start to the second period as the floodlights crackled into action; Airdrie was sent into space by Lucas's fine lofted pass, giving the winger acres of room to run into. He took a touch before pulling the ball back into the path of Lake, whose powerful low shot was parried away by Little and away from goal

 

Davis went even closer for the hosts three minutes later as he nipped in to beat Ben Judge to a Trainer cross and glanced a header a matter of inches wide of the near post

 

On-loan Trainer was involved again on fifty-two minutes as he picked up a pass from Barrow and ran past Payne down the flank, crossing for Charie who made a mess of his shot by bundling the ball wide of goal and into the Hednesford fans in the Heath Hayes end of the ground

 

At the other end, a corner kick from Carroll was cleared by the Hednesford defence as far as Anderson, who was lurking just outside the Hednesford penalty area. He took a touch before attempting a lob over the head of Gayle that dropped onto the roof of the Pitmen's net

 

There was a half-hearted appeal for a penalty from the Pitmen on fifty-seven minutes as Charie took a tumble in the penalty area under pressure from Pullan, only for the referee to continue with the game

A mistake from Simpson on the hour mark gifted the ball to Brake down the flank after the veteran's misplaced pass to Lucas was seized upon by the winger. His run into the penalty area was checked by Barrow, who did enough to force Brake wide of goal and make him fire over the crossbar with an angled drive

The Pitmen made their first change of the afternoon on sixty-four minutes with an attacking substitution that saw striker Graham Lancashire come on in place of the ineffective Airdrie. Charie moved wide to cover for Airdrie on the left to allow Lancashire to play up front with Davis

A long ball forwards from Pullan skipped off the brow of Gardiner and into the path of Collins on sixty-seven minutes, only for the striker's instinctive shot to be saved by Gayle with relative ease

The offside flag denied Lancashire a chance to make an immediate impact and continue his Keys Park goal fest on sixty-nine minutes as the striker picked up a cross from Trainer in the six-yard box but was denied a goal by a flag against him on the main stand side of the ground after he had moved too early in behind Holmes

Davis and Lancashire linked up well just outside the Crawley penalty area on seventy-one minutes, quickly playing a one-two that allowed Davis to get in behind the Crawley defence. However, Davis's low shot lacked power and was palmed away by Little who produced an unnecessarily acrobatic effort to push the ball away from goal

Crawley substitute Warren Waugh went close for the visitors three minutes later, dragging his effort just wide of goal after Brake's cross had evaded everyone and found the striker

Charie hit the side-netting for the Pitmen with fifteen minutes remaining as he was forced into a hurried shot out wide by Pullan's presence of mind to deny the forward space in the Crawley penalty area

Crawley had a glorious chance to take the points with ten minutes remaining as Collins somehow put his shot wide of the far post from Anderson's cross as he made a late run into the Hednesford six-yard box to meet the low, bouncing cross

The Pitmen made a second attacking change with nine minutes remaining, bringing Brown on for the tiring Charie to add more pace and power to the left flank for the remainder of the game

Both sides had chances to take all three points in the latter stages of the game; Lancashire scuffed a chance straight into the arms of Little on eighty-four minutes, whilst Brake's angled shot from the corner of the Hednesford penalty area a minute later saw Gayle tip his rising shot away from danger

With three minutes remaining, the Pitmen forced three corners in succession as they went more direct in their approach to winning the game. Barrow moved further forwards to add to the physical presence from set-pieces, flicking on a cross from Lucas on eighty-eight minutes that drifted across the face of the Crawley goal and away from danger

Crawley were suddenly hanging on in the final minutes of the game, with many Hednesford supporters calling on Hibbitt to bring on big Kevin Francis to add to the attack and give them a further focal point to attack. As it was, the veteran striker remained on the bench as Lake was committed further forwards for the four minutes of added time, only for the Pitmen to fail in forcing home a winner as Crawley stood firm

It had been a pretty entertaining 0-0 draw - something you don't get very often - with both sides coming up short in front of goal despite creating a number of good chances. The Pitmen face a long trip to mid-table King's Lynn next weekend looking to build upon this morale-boosting point that proves the Pitmen have improved somewhat since that opening day hammering by the same side and will look to improve more over the festive period to move them clear of the dreaded bottom three

 

Hednesford Town: Gayle, Dodd, Lucas ©, Simpson, Gardiner, Barrow, Lake, Airdrie (Lancashire 64), Davis, Charie (Brown 81), Trainer      Subs Unused: Francis

 

Crawley Town: Little, Holmes, Payne, Judge, Pullan, Harlow, Carroll, Anderson ©, Bagnall (Waugh 66), Collins, Brake      Subs Unused: Dougherty, Abbey

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