Nationwide Conference

Dover Athletic

McRobert (34), Pinnock (53), (71), Shearer (84)

Hednesford Town

(1) 4

(0) 0



Current Form

Next Match


Mark Gayle



Rushden & Diamonds (H) 21.8.01

This was not the sort of start to the Nationwide Conference season that anyone involved with Hednesford Town would have wanted as the Pitmen crashed to a heavy defeat at the hands of hosts Dover after what can only be described as an awful display from the visitors that does not bode well for the forthcoming set of challenging fixtures

Manager John Baldwin had been busy over the summer months making changes to a side that had finished the previous season so poorly; Baldwin handed five players their debuts as Mark Gayle, Neil Pointon, Mark Cooper, Scott Bonsall and Mark Haran with Paul Bagshaw, Val Owen, Andy Carney and the returning Keith Russell lined up amongst the substitutes. Young midfielder Ian Robinson was ruled out of today's game after picking up an injury in the Pitmen's friendly against Birmingham City the previous week

Dover's summer had seen the Crabble club have a far more stable one to the Pitmen's with only one player making their debut for the hosts this afternoon for the season's curtain-raiser. Dover's experienced outfit were expected to do well this season having finished sixth in the league last season and were looking to push on towards a title challenge

It was a beautiful hot summer's day down on the South coast, perfect for a season opener with the Crabble pitch looking resplendent at kick-off. Both sides struggled to get going in the opening fifteen minutes as they looked to brush off any remaining match fitness issues left over from pre-season

 Hednesford were almost caught off guard in the fourteenth minute of the game as a quickly taken Stuart Munday throw to Matt Carruthers saw the ball being crossed for Joff Vansittart to attack, only for debutant keeper Gayle to punch the ball away from the striker before he could get to the cross

Five minutes later a free-kick just outside the area was taken by Carruthers, whose inswinging ball bounced across the face of Gayle's goal and out of play before anyone in white could react quickly enough to turn the ball home

The combative Micky Norbury found himself in the referee's notebook on twenty-two minutes after committing a foul on Vansittart and then arguing with the referee Mr. Woodhall over the decision


From the resultant Dover free-kick the ball was floated into the area and flicked on by Steve Brown to Matt Carruthers, whose downward header was well saved by Gayle on his goal line with Vansittart lurking

A rare Hednesford attack on twenty-eight minutes saw Scott Goodwin get behind the Dover defence as he latched onto a pass from former Everton man Pointon only to be denied by Dover keeper Paul Hyde, who forced Goodwin wide so that his shot from an acute angle went wide of the goal

Dover continued to knock on the door and threaten the Hednesford defence, with Carruthers dragging a shot wide of goal on twenty-nine minutes after he had been played through on goal by Vansittart's incisive reverse pass beyond Russell Bradley


The Lilywhites' pressure on the team in navy blue finally told on thirty-four minutes as they took the lead through Lee McRobert; Stuart Munday was given far too much room and allowed to run across the field and sent in an inch-perfect pass for McRobert to latch on to. He kept his cool and slotted the ball under the advancing Gayle to give the home side the lead as the Hednesford defence was caught cold

New Hednesford skipper Mark Cooper led the fightback for the visitors two minutes later, driving forwards to steepest Neil Le Bihan's challenge before unleashing a long-range effort that ended up in the arms of the experienced Hyde

On thirty-nine minutes, a Pointon cross from the left dropped in the area and fell to the feet of Cooper, who got the ball caught under he is feet as he tried to get his shot away and allowed Jimmy Strouts to clear the danger

Two minutes later the home side thought they should have had a penalty as Vansittart wriggled past the challenge of Bradley and made contact with the onrushing Gayle as he entered the Hednesford penalty area. Despite the protests from both players and supporters, the referee awarded the Pitmen a goal kick

It had been a tough first forty-five minutes of the season for the Pitmen, who had looked for large parts of the half a good second best against a bright and inventive Dover side that looked to break at every opportunity against an ageing, one-paced Hednesford defence

Youngster Jake Sedgemore did well to side-step a couple of challenges on the edge of the Dover penalty area just two minutes after the restart to create room for himself, but got his angles all wrong with a miscued shot that drifted wide of Hyde's goal

The Pitmen were rocked again on fifty-three minutes as the home side doubled their lead and left Baldwin's side with it all to do;  a long ball from Le Bihan was not dealt with effectively by Bradley, who headed the ball up in the air and allowed first-half substitute James Pinnock to seize upon the bouncing ball before blasting it past Gayle with a well-struck shot from sixteen yards out

Baldwin had seen enough from his misfiring side as Davis and Norbury were left marooned up top with little to no support from a lightweight midfield, bringing on Owen - a summer signing from Northwich Victoria - in place of the ineffective Scott Goodwin

Dover almost added to their tally on fifty-seven minutes, but for an outstanding save by Gayle at point-blank range denied Lee Shearer after he had met Le Bihan's free-kick and headed goalwards from just six yards out

The Pitmen continued to huff and puff their way through proceedings but looked unlikely to get back into the game as chances were at a premium for the visitors. Norbury headed over from a Lee Colkin cross on sixty-one minutes, followed a minute later by a highly ambitious effort from Bonsall that sailed high over the head of Hyde and into the disgruntled Hednesford supporters basking in the sunshine behind the goal

Two minutes later, Norbury's ineffective and frustrating afternoon was brought to a halt as he was replaced by former Barnsley youngster Paul Bagshaw which saw the men in blue make a positional shift towards a 4-5-1 formation

Gayle continued to work miracles to keep his side in contention, making another fine save on sixty-six minutes to push Vansittart's snapshot away from goal after Haran had allowed the striker to slip past him

Three minutes later, Gayle made a superb double stop to palm a Carruthers shot away and pounce on the rebound from Vanstittart as he threatened to turn the loose ball home

This was to be Vansittart's final involvement in the game as he was replaced by Anthony Hogg when the ball next ended up out of play for a Hednesford throw-in

The hosts stretched their lead and effectively ended the Pitmen's resistance on seventy-one minutes with a third goal of the day. A long ball from Shearer found Pinnock who worked in his way past Sedgemore and calmly picked his spot for his second goal of the game with a well-taken effort from fifteen yards out

The dispirited Pitmen were all at sea, particularly in midfield where there lacked any real cohesion and game plan with certain players looking uncomfortable playing in positions they didn't appear to understand. Pointon's challenge on Carruthers irked the home dugout on seventy-seven minutes and probably should have earned the veteran a yellow card, but he escaped with a stern talking-to by Mr. Woodhall instead

The scoring was complete six minutes before time when a free-kick by Carruthers was met by the head of Shearer, who beat Haran in the air to nod the ball past Gayle and grab Dover's fourth goal of a dominant afternoon

It could have been even worse for the Pitmen as Dover twice went close to making it five in the latter stages; Pinnock's fine through ball saw Hogg break the flimsy Hednesford offside trap, only for Gayle to once again excel on his debut with a fine smothering save

With three minutes remaining, a quickly taken free-kick from McRobert played Carruthers into space before he returned the ball to McRobert on the edge of the Hednesford penalty area. The midfielder's rising shot was at a comfortable height for Gayle, who made the stop standing in the centre of his goal

The final whistle couldn't come quickly enough for the Pitmen, who had endured a torturous afternoon in the sun. The supporters let Baldwin and his players know their thoughts as they trudged off at the end, having travelled to the furthest away game of the season to witness an uninterested display from their new-look side. Baldwin will have to go back to the drawing board and come up with a new plan - and quickly - as they face big-spenders Rushden & Diamonds at Keys Park on Monday night in their first home game of the new campaign

Dover Athletic: Hyde, Munday, Norman, Leberl, Shearer, Strouts, Le Bihan, McRobert, Vansittart (Hogg 69), Brown (Pinnock 35), Carruthers      Subs Unused: Beard, Brown, Hudson


Hednesford Town: Gayle, Bradley, Pointon, Goodwin (Owen 55), Colkin, Cooper ©, Sedgemore, Bonsall, Davis, Norbury ▆ (Bagshaw 63), Haran     Subs Unused: Brown, Russell, Carney