4.10.2003

Dr. Martens Southern Premier League

Hednesford Town

Crawley Town

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Les Hines

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Dover Athletic (A) 18.10.03

The Pitmen are held to their third goalless draw of the season already, as title favourites Crawley claim a point at Keys Park to maintain their championship challenge and leave the hosts floundering in mid-table after another blank in front of goal

Manager Barry Powell - under pressure for a response form his team following last weekend's dreadful showing in the F.A. Cup against Bromsgrove Rovers - made two changes to the side that had started against Rovers as he handed summer signing Alex Gibson a debut at right-back in place of Ashley Williams and brought fit-again skipper Steve Palmer back into the fold in place of the injured-again Stuart Lake

Crawley had started the season as title favourites in August, with manager Francis Vines strengthening a squad over the summer months to add quality to his squad after finishing seventh int he table last term. One of his more notable signings had been prolific striker Joff Vansittart, who had re-joined the Red Devils from Farnborough in the summer and made his first start of the season today after been injured since pre-season as Vines made four changes to the side that had beaten Harlow in the F.A. Cup last weekend, with Ian Payne making way for Vansittart, Carl Wilson-Denis coming in for the recalled Daniel Marney, Marc Pullan returning to the team in place of Karl Ready and Robert Smith replacing Jay Richardson 

This fixture had ended goalless in the previous two seasons and was to prove another frustrating blank as both sides cancelled each other out over the ninety minutes. Two long spells of rain before the game had made the pitch very slippery, and many players found it difficult to keep their footing in the first period

Crawley tested the reflexes of Ryan Young with the first clear chance of the game in the eighth minute as Ben Judge's cross was met by the head of Vansittart, whose on-target header was well held by Young

The Pitmen found their feet after a slow start to the game and a deep free-kick from Les Hines in the fourteenth minute was volleyed back across goal by Karl Brown, only for both Nathan Lamey and Steve Anthrobus to narrowly miss the ball back across the face of goal

Crawley keeper Andy Little was alert to a long ball over the top from Darren Simkin on twenty minutes, racing out of his goal to make a timely interception before Lamey could nip in behind the Crawley defence to latch onto Simkin's up and under ball

Chris Brindley had the Pitmen's best chance of the game so far on twenty-four minutes as he headed just over the crossbar following a Hines free-kick that had been headed goalwards by Anthrobus, prompting Little into a good save that pushed the ball into the path of the oncoming Brindley

A minute later, Mo Harkin's cross was inadvertently deflected into the path of Vansittart by Nigel Brake's miscued header, only for Young to block the striker's shot from close range

On twenty-eight minutes, a slip from Crawley's Kevin Hemsley gifted the ball cheaply to Carl Palmer, who attempted a cheeky lob over the advancing Little from long-range only to narrowly clear the crossbar

Hines was proving, yet again, to be the Pitmen's most effective threat in creating chances for the hosts, sending over another superb cross from wide on the left on thirty-three minutes that was inches away from being turned home at the far post by both the head of Anthrobus and the toe of Anthony Maguire

A quick counter-attack from Crawley caught the Hednesford defence on it's heels on thirty-eight minutes, resulting in the ball being played into the feet of Wilson-Denis, wide on the left wing. The striker cut inside but drove his shot into the side-netting from a tight angle with Young guarding his near post

With half-time looming, Hemsley saw his effort hacked off the line by Gibson after the Pitmen had failed to effectively clear a corner kick from Brake and allowed the defender to turn the ball goalwards, followed in added time by a shot from Anthrobus that cleared the crossbar after the former Wimbledon man had chested down a Steve Palmer ball and unleashed a half-volley at Little's goal

Both sides would rue their wastefulness in the first half as the second period saw chances at a premium as the rain lashed down on the Keys Park turf once more, gaming conditions difficult to play in. Vansittart's game was brought to a halt at the break, as his lack of fitness saw him replaced by Fabian Forde for the second half

Early bookings for Carl Palmer and Simkin, both for sliding challenges on the wet turf, took the edge of the Pitmen's competitiveness, as Crawley played the better of the football in the first fifteen minutes of the second period and created a good chance on fifty-four minutes as Brake's mazy run and shot from twenty yards was saved by Young 

Harkin took advantage of the slippery conditions on sixty-two minutes to drive a low shot along the ground after cutting in from the left wing, testing Young's ability to hold on to the slippery ball as it skipped off the turf and into the stopper's hands

An inch-perfect cross from former Stafford Rangers man Gibson found the head of Anthrobus a minutes later, but the striker's header lacked direction and flew straight into the arms of Little from ten yards out

Crawley had arguably the best chance of the whole game on seventy minutes as Paul Armstrong found Brake in space down the right wing; his low cross found Harkin at the unmarked at the far post, but somehow the midfielder failed to turn the ball home with the goal gaping and turned his effort into the side-netting. A real let-off for the Pitmen, who had ben caught ball-watching in defence in the build-up to Harkin's chance

Simkin was alert to the danger two minutes later, however, making a great covering tackle to make a superb block and deflect Armstrong's shot away for a corner kick

Brake was having a real influence on the game, making a charging run down the right wing on seventy-three minutes and cutting the ball back into the danger zone, only to pull it back just behind the incoming Forde, who had made a run to the near post and taken Brindley out of play

Steve Palmer's lack of recent game time saw him taken off on seventy-seven minutes, handing the captaincy to Simkin as he was replaced by Ashley Dodd in a move that saw Hines play in a more advanced role down the left flank

 

 With nine minutes remaining, the Pitmen were handed their best chance of the game by another individual error from the Crawley defence; full-back Judge dallied on the ball too long and lost possession to Brown, who played Lamey in on goal. The striker's low shot was brilliantly saved by the legs of Little, who had again spotted the danger early and came out to block the striker's goalbound effort

In the final minute of normal time, Simkin went agonisingly close to nicking the win for the Pitmen as he got to a Hines free-kick from the right and flicked the header towards goal, only to watch his effort drop inches wide of the far post

In added time, Crawley had their own chance to take all three points back to Sussex as Judge's inswinging cross was missed by Simkin and fell at the feet of Forde, who seemed shocked that the ball had found it's way through to him and lifted his effort over the crossbar from close range

On reflection, a good point earned for the Pitmen, who are now unbeaten in three league games as they continue to recover from their indifferent start to the campaign. However, as has been the case in a number of games this term, goals and converting chances is the main issue for Powell's side, who seem capable of going toe-to-toe with most teams in the league but really struggle to show a clinical nature in front of goal when the chances present themselves. They take a two-week break from action due to their early F.A. Cup exit and make the longest trip of the season in two weeks time when they travel to another side currently mired in mid-table, Dover Athletic

Hednesford Town: Young, Gibson, Hines, Maguire, Simkin Brindley, C. Palmer , S. Palmer © (Dodd 77), Anthrobus, Lamey , Brown ▆.     Subs Unused: Danks, Charie, Williams, P. Evans

Crawley Town: Little, Judge, Gregory, Hemsley, Pullan, Smith, Harkin, Armstrong, Vansittart (Forde 45), Wilson-Denis, Brake      Subs Unused: Matten, Fear, Hooper, Dean

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