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Nationwide Conference North

Hednesford Town


I. Fitzpatrick (45)

(0) 0

(1) 1



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Tom Marshall



Vauxhall Motors (A) 29.4.06

The Pitmen require something of a miracle to avoid relegation on the final day of the season next weekend as they are condemned to defeat by play-off chasing Droylsden at Keys Park this afternoon, leaving them two points from safety and requiring other results to go their way if they are to have any chance of staying up

Wednesday night had handed the Pitmen an unexpected and welcome boost as Scott Hadland's late winner had given them all three points at ply-off chasing Harrogate Town. Manager Steve Anthrobus elected to stick with the same side that recorded the win at Wetherby Road only seventy-two hours earlier, although Nathan Lamey was passed fit to take his place amongst the substitutes after missing the Harrogate game due to a knock sustained in the defeat at Stalybridge on Bank Holiday Monday

Fourth-placed Droylsden required a point from their remaining two games to clinch a place in the play-offs, having ended Worcester City's slim hopes of a late run at the top five with a 3-0 win at the Butchers Arms on Bank Holiday Monday. Manager Dave Pace made two changes to his side for today's trip south as Garry Burke came in for Gareth Morris at the back and Ian Fitzpatrick replaced Kevin Lynch in the centre of midfield

On a cool April afternoon, the Bloods were quickly into their stride as they looked to seal the win required to seal that key top five position. Terry Fearns struck an early warning shot at goal in the fourth minute of the game as he picked up a forward pass from Kevin Rapley but his effort failed to test Gary Hateley in the Hednesford goal

In the ninth minute, Richard Teesdale's attempted clearance from Chris Denham's left-wing cross only dropped as far as Fitzpatrick, who took two touches before firing over the crossbar from twenty yards out

Three minutes later, Les Hines whipped in a corner kick for the hosts that was met by the head of Tom Marshall at the far post, but his looping header back across goal was clawed away by Droylsden goalkeeper Paul Phillips before Anthrobus could get his head to the ball

Droylsden went closest of either side to opening the scoring in the fifteenth minute as Denham's corner kick from the left was met by the unmarked Burke from six yards out, only for the defender's rising header to clear the crossbar by a matter of inches

Burke was to go even closer for the Bloods in the nineteenth minute as he outjumped Teesdale to meet another Denham corner kick, this time seeing his looping header come back off the crossbar before Ross Adams hacked the loose ball clear

You felt that a Droylsden goal was imminent as the away side pressed with purpose against a Hednesford defence that was simply holding on at this point. Midway through the first half, the Bloods hit the woodwork once more as a well-worked move down the right saw Fitzpatrick and Fearns link up to play Robbie Talbot in on goal; Hateley did well to narrow the angle on the striker, whose rising shot from fifteen yards out came back off the crossbar once more

Denham left Adams in his wake with a fine run into the Hednesford penalty area on twenty-five minutes, playing Fearns into the six-yard box before referee Mr Fletcher pulled the play back for a foul by the Droylsden striker on Teesdale in the build-up

More good approach play from the away side five minutes later saw Fearns bring down Rapley's chipped ball and play Fitzpatrick into space to the right-hand side of the Hednesford penalty area; he beat Beckett but was forced to play the ball back to Rapley once more by the keen closing down of Hines. Rapley took a touch and elected to shoot from twenty-five yards out with an effort he scuffed with the outside of his boot, allowing Hateley to make a comfortable save

On the half-hour mark, Talbot headed Carl Ruffer's up and under on to Fearns, who held off Marshall's challenge but snatched at his low shot from eighteen yards out and bundled his effort wide of the left-hand post

A rare foray into the Droylsden half from the hosts on thirty-three minutes saw Colin Hunter collect Steve Brannan's cross-field pass and take the ball into the opposition penalty area, but saw his attempted shot from an angle blocked by Ruffer

The visitors continued to look a threat from set-pieces, with Fearns heading wide two minutes later after Fitzpatrick's deep free-kick from the right was nodded back into the striker's path of Burke

With seven minutes of the first-half remaining, Talbot held play up well with his back to goal as he received a pass from Denham - he turned past Marshall and spotted the late run of Danny Warner into the penalty area, playing a slide-rule pass into the path of the full-back, whose shot lacked power and direction and ended up flying into the Heath Hayes terrace from fifteen yards out

In the forty-first minute, Leon McSweeney found a pocket of space midway inside the Droylsden half and made an unchallenged run to the edge of the penalty area before shotting weakly at Phillips

Droylsden finally got the goal that their first-half efforts had deserved right on the stroke of half-time as a hopeful cross from Warner out on the left somehow found this way through to Fitzpatrick, who was allowed far too much time and space to control the ball and fire across Hateley from twelve yards out, finding the far corner of the net to give the Bloods the lead

It had been a truly dreadful forty-five minutes from the hosts, who were perhaps rightly booed off by their supporters after showing zero intent to win a game that they simply had to get three points from. Half-time saw the completely anonymous Graham Hyde taken off and replaced by the more mobile Scott Hadland in midfield. Droylsden, like many others in the league, had shown that with the right blend of step-two know-how and a game plan you can put together a competitive team, something the Pitmen have not been able to muster all season long

The hosts came out fighting at the start of the second half and started to create the openings that they had struggled to conjure up in the first half as the Heath Hayes terrace got behind their team; Beckett's long throw in the forty-ninth minute was flicked on by Anthrobus and into the path of McSweeney. whose shot from fifteen yards out flew wide of goal as he attempted a first-time effort with his weaker right foot

Adams and Brannan played a neat one-two down the right flank on fifty-two minutes, with Adams whipping in a cross that was glanced over the crossbar by Anthrobus as the ball came to him a little quicker than he had anticipated

Back came Droylsden, who broke quickly from a Hednesford free-kick that was cleared by Ruffer on fifty-five minutes, with Denham making a run deep into the Pitmen's penalty area before getting caught in two minds whether to shoot or pass to the incoming Tabot and did neither as Teesdale made the challenge

Two minutes later, Hines delivered one of his trademark inswinging corners from the right and found the head of Marshall at the far post, only for the youngster to head tamely over the crossbar from seven yards out

The Pitmen thought that they had grabbed the all-important equalising goal a minute later as a superb pass from Hadland caught the Droylsden defence out, finding McSweeney in the penalty area, who applied the finish from twelve yards but was to be denied by an offside flag against him on the main stand side

More stubborn defending from the visitors on sixty-two minutes saw a Beckett throw bounce twice in the penalty area before Anthrobus attempted to stab the ball home from six yards out, only to be denied by a block from Warner. The ball ran to Hadland, whose follow-up effort was cleared by Rapley

Midway through the second half, successive Hines corner kicks tested the Droylsden resolve, with the second ball in headed goalwards by Anthrobus and tipped over the crossbar by the long-serving Phillips

Talbot continued to be a thorn in the Hednesford side despite the Bloods not having as much of the ball in the second period, making a darting run in behind the Pitmen's back line on sixty-seven minutes to get on the end of a Fitzpatrick pass but snatching at his shot and pulling it wide of the target from sixteen yards 

With twenty minutes remaining, the Pitmen made an attacking change as McSweeney was brought off in favour of the more pacy Lamey to add a different option to the home side's toothless attack

Burke did well to deny Anthrobus a shot at goal on seventy-three minutes, forcing the veteran to take the ball away from goal after Brannan had played him into the Droylsden penalty area and then blocking the player/manager's angled shot

With fourteen minutes remaining, Brannan made a charging run into the Droylsden penalty area after cutting in from the right flank, laying the ball off to incoming Hadland twenty yards from goal - his shot took a deflection off Ruffer and fell to Hunter, who could not react quickly enough to the ball and volleyed high over the crossbar

Two minutes later, Marshall and Teesdale both made a late run into the penalty area to meet a Hines corner kick and appeared to get in each other's way as they rose to meet the ball, culminating in the Hednesford skipper heading over the bar from eight yards out

The Pitmen's hopes of getting back into the game took a huge hit with ten minutes remaining as they were reduced to ten men; Hadland had been brought down by Rapley in midfield as the Droylsden man had taken the ball off him, but Mr Fletcher saw no issue with the challenge and play continued. Clearly riled by the decision, Hadland chased Rapley down and dished out his own retribution with a crude two-footed tackle on the midfielder, leaving Rapley in a heap and giving Mr Fletcher no option other to show the substitute a straight red card

Before the game could restart, the Pitmen made their final change of the afternoon as Craig Marshall came on in place of Anthrobus to partner Lamey up front

Despite their numerical disadvantage, the hosts laid siege to the Droylsden penalty area in the final ten minutes in desperate search of a goal that could bring them back into contention. Teesdale headed Brannan's drifting cross over the crossbar on eighty-two minutes after Hines' corner kick had been cleared to the youngster by Ruffer

Two minutes later, Tom Marshall - now playing up front as the target man after being gestured forwards by Anthrobus - flicked on a Beckett ball but got a little too much on to allow Lamey to turn the ball home and Phillips made the save

Craig Marshall felt that he was bundled over in the Droylsden penalty area on eighty-six minutes as he went down under a challenge from Simon Sturdy, but Mr Fletcher gestured to the youngster to get back to his feet as play continued

More corner kicks from Hines ramped up the pressure on the Droylsden defence, with one set-piece almost leading to a breakaway from the away side on eighty-eight minutes as substitute Jame Tandy took the ball fifty yards forwards and played Fearns through, only for Adams to recover well and make the interception before Fearns could shoot

A desperate scramble in the Droylsden six-yard box in the first of three minutes of added time saw Hunter's low driven cross turned towards goal by Brannan, only for some stoic defending from Warner to block the initial shot, before the outstretched leg of Phillips denied Craig Marshall on the rebound

Droylsden celebrated a hard-earned but rewarding three points at the final whistle, clinching their participation in the play-offs in the process. Defeat isn't quite the fatal blow that some were expecting for the Pitmen, as news of a defeat for Redditch United and a draw for Leigh RMI means that the Pitmen remain two points from safety going into next weekend's final round of games. They will, however, require a specific and unlikely set of results to go their way, as the Pitmen will need to beat Vauxhall Motors and hope for defeats for both Redditch and Leigh, who have home games against Barrow and champions Northwich Victoria respectively. It's a tall order, but the Pitmen have done well to take it to the last day when it looked like it was all over for them three games ago

Hednesford Town: Hateley, Adams, Hines, Beckett, Teesdale ©, T. Marshall, Brannan, Hyde (Hadland 45 ▆ (80)), McSweeney (Lamey 70), Anthrobus (C. Marshall 80), Hunter     Subs Unused: Barrow, Maguire

Droylsden: Phillips, Williams, Warner, Sturdy, Ruffer, Burke, Rapley, I. Fitzpatrick (Lynch 88), Fearns, Talbot (Tandy 78), Denham       Subs Unused: L. Fitzpatrick, Morris, Hall

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