Southern Premier League

Hednesford Town

Walters (80), Teesdale (87)

Dunstable Town

Hatch (51)

(0) 2

(0) 1



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Chris Brindley



Merthyr Tydfil (A) 2.5.05

 The Pitmen leave it late to confirm their participation in the play-offs as they score twice in the last ten minutes to beat relegated Dunstable Town at Keys Park and secure a final fourth-place finish in the Southern Premier League

Successive 4-1 wins over Gloucester City and Aylesbury United had lifted the Pitmen back into the play-off picture after their recent stumble in March, meaning Chris Brindley's men could rubber-stamp their place in the top five with a victory today. Despite being able to welcome back Marlon Walters, Andy Bell and Grant Beckett, Brindley chose to stick with the same XI that had soundly beaten play-off hopefuls Aylesbury last weekend as he looked for continuity from his in-form side

Dunstable made their first-ever visit to Keys Park having been relegated to step four a couple of weeks ago with a 1-1 draw at Banbury United. Manager Paul Reeves made one change to the side that had been heavily beaten at home to Cirencester Town last weekend as Chris Sullivan replaced Craig Stallard in midfield

Backed by a huge 1,100 plus crowd, the Pitmen started well and pushed forwards in search of an early opener; Anthony Maguire's early run into the penalty area saw him get to the byeline, where he pulled the ball back into the path of Leon McSweeney, whose first-time shot was blocked by Paul Covington

In the sixth minute, Steve Brannan launched a long throw into the Dunstable penalty area that was flicked on by Brindley and into the path of Maguire, who got underneath the ball with his header and saw his effort from eight yards out clip the top of the crossbar. Close from the Pitmen


Five minutes later, Lee Williams delivered his trademark corner kick into the near post from the left and found Richard Teesdale lurking, only for the centre-back to nod his effort wide of the post under pressure from Marc Kefford

Sixty seconds later, Dunstable's first real opening of the game fell to James Hatch as he got on the end of a fine pass from Tom Hayes, but his effort lacked power and was easily fielded by Ryan Young in the Hednesford goal


In the thirteenth minute, neat football from the hosts saw Williams, Ross Adams and Brannan all involved as they worked the ball down the right flank. Brannan's cross took a nick off Stuart Strange and fell to McSweeney, but the ball was slightly behind him and he could only flick a boot at the ball to send it wide of goal


The hosts were very much on top of the game against a Dunstable side low on confidence and lacking in quality in the final third it seemed. The 3-0 win at Creasey Park last month had been one of Hednesford's most emphatic and comfortable wins of the whole campaign against a Blues side that looked at the time as though they were to struggle to hold on to their step three status


In the seventeenth minute, McMahon held the ball up well from Lee Barrow's pass, turning past Kefford and spraying the ball out to Brannan on the left. He held the ball up well before picking Mark Branch out with a fine threaded pass. The youngster seemed a little surprised at the ball making its way through to him and snatched at his first-time effort that was easily saved by Paul Taylor in the Dunstable goal


And yet it was Dunstable that were to have the best chance of the opening quarter of the game in the nineteenth minute as Sullivan's inswinging corner caught the Pitmen ball-watching momentarily as Bernard Christie rose highest to head goalwards, somehow heading inches wide of the post when it looked easier to score from close-range

Brannan was having a fine game, looking to play his way into the side ahead of a potential play-off semi-final against either Histon, Chippenham Town or Merthyr Tydfil in midweek. His run on twenty-three minutes took Darren Sarll down the flank with him, skipping past the midfielder's tackle before he crossed low into the near post where McMahon was denied by Taylor

Four minutes later, Dunstable countered through Hayes, who held of a challenge from Williams to spray the ball out to Sullivan. The midfielder stepped past Brindley's tackle and squared the ball to Christie, whose well-struck effort from twenty-five yards out was watched over the crossbar by Young

On the half-hour mark, McMahon had a great chance to grab the all-important opener for the Pitmen as Maguire's forceful run saw him play the ball into Brindley, who in turn picked out the former Rocester man with a fine through ball. The striker took a touch and fired in a low shot that was parried away by Taylor from ten yards out

Three minutes later, Barrow's pass back to Young saw Hayes force the goalkeeper into a quick clearance, culminating in the stopper slicing his kick straight into the feet of Stuart Maynard. The midfielder took a touch and shot at goal from just outside the penalty area, but found Young equal to his shot as the Hednedsford number one redeemed himself

Brindley and McMahon linked up well once more on thirty-seven minutes as the manager headed down a Branch cross into the path of the striker, with McMahon's first-time shot flying just wide of the post

The pair were at it again two minutes later as Brindley's incisive pass put McMahon clear of the Dunstable defence, only for Kefford to force the Pitmen's number nine wide of goal and force him into an angled drive that ended up in the side-netting

With three minutes of the first half remaining, McSweeney did well to leave Sarll in his wake as he made a mazy run towards goal after Williams had found him with a long forward pass. the Irishman took a touch before attempting a curling shot beyond Taylor that beat the stopper but also the far post

The hosts had largely dominated proceedings so far but were struggling to conjure up that crucial goal to put them ahead. The half-time scores across the rest of the league were largely unhelpful to the Pitmen, so very little had changed since kick-off - a win would guarantee them the play-offs and anything less may see them come up short

Teesdale headed wide of the Pitmen the minutes after the restart as Branch and Williams produced a training ground free-kick that landed on the head of the centre-back, only for his effort to end up over the crossbar and in amongst the large gathering of fans in the Heath Hayes end

Dunstable had offered little as an attacking threat thus far but put the cat amongst the pigeons on fifty-one minutes as they took the lead very much against the run of play; Maynard's run down the right flank was not dealt with effectively by Branch as he allowed the midfield man to drift into the penalty area and shoot from an angle. Young made a fine save low down to his left, pushing the ball away at his near post. Hatch, however, gambled on the ball coming back into play and followed the ball in to tap home the rebound from a couple of yards out

Suddenly, the Pitmen's whole season hinged on the final thirty-five minutes of the campaign, with both Bedford Town and Bath City winning to edge the Pitmen out of the play-off picture in the process. They countered this shock goal on fifty-four minutes by bringing top scorer Bell onto the pitch in place of Brannan, a move that surprised a few around the ground as Brannan had enjoyed a fine first half for the hosts

Brindley looked to get his team going on fifty-eight minutes as he headed down a Ross Adams cross into the six-yard box, but neither McSweeney nor McMahon could react in time as Sarll cleared the danger

Adams was again involved on sixty-two minutes as Maguire chipped the ball over Strange's head and into the path of Adams, now playing as an auxiliary winger. Adams played a reverse ball back to Williams, whose bludgeoned shot from twenty yards out took a deflection off Kefford for a corner kick

Three minutes later, the Pitmen made their second substitution as Walters returned to the side following his one-match suspension to replace McMahon. This saw Brindley move up front to partner McSweeney and add his aerial presence to the side. You felt that at this point the Pitmen would simply be looking to bombard the Dunstable defence from the air at every opportunity with Brindley to aim at

McSweeney fired well wide for the hosts on sixty-eight minutes as he swivelled on a pass from Bell but could only slice his left-footed shot well wide of Taylor's post

The visitors were very much in 'spoiler' mode at this point, putting ten men behind the ball at every opportunity in a bid to frustrate their hosts and stop them from getting up a head of steam. Covington did well to turn a cross from Adams behind for a corner kick on seventy minutes as he had Walters breathing down his neck. The resultant Williams corner was met by Barrow at the far post but his header was far too high to trouble Taylor

Stallard - on as a substitute for Christie - pumped a long ball forwards for the Blues two minutes later and found Hatch, who made a run into the Hednesford penalty area before a sliding tackle from player's player of the year Barrow halted his progress and denied him a second goal that would surely have killed the Pitmen off

Sarll was booked for the visitors a minute later as he pulled Bell back to prevent the striker from making a run into the Dunstable penalty area to get on the end of a Maguire pass

With twelve minutes remaining and the Pitmen starting to get desperate, Nicky Campbell was brought on as their third and final change of the game in place of Maguire out on the wing

With the game seemingly slipping away from the hosts, momentum suddenly lurched their way with eleven minutes remaining as the visitors were reduced to ten men as Sarll was sent off for a second bookable offence as he sent McSweeney sprawling just outside the Hednesford penalty area

The Pitmen flooded forwards in search of the equaliser as they looked to take advantage of Sarll's red card. Within seconds, Walters provided the leveller as Williams swung in a corner kick that Dunstable failed to deal with, allowing the Hednesford substitute to hammer the loose ball home from close-range. Game on

It was one-way traffic from hereon in, with the hosts camped on the edge of the Dunstable box in search of the all-important winner. Walters almost produced this on eighty-three minutes as patient build-up play from the home side saw Bell stand up a cross for the incoming Walters, who somehow shanked his effort from eight yards out over the crossbar, under pressure from Kefford

A minute later, Teesdale's flick-on at the near post from a Branch throw was headed up in the air by Brindley, who got underneath the ball and sent it looping up into the air. Taylor watched the ball all the way downwards and tipped it over the bar as he was put under pressure by Barrow

The Pitmen's incessant pressure finally saw the Blues defence crack with just three minutes remaining as Williams again provided the magic touch from a set-piece within a free-kick into the six-yard box, where Brindley rose to challenge Taylor and forced the goalkeeper into a mistake as he dropped the ball a yard from goal; Teesdale gleefully accepted the gift as he turned the loose ball home from close range to spark wild celebrations and a pitch invasion from the joyous Hednesford fans

With both sides resigned to the result, the final moments were played out in relative ease by the hosts, who kept the ball well in their own third of the pitch to register the three points that were required for them to finish in fourth place in the Southern Premier League table. Another pitch invasion followed at the final whistle as the Hednesford fans celebrated a wonderful achievement in reaching the play-offs, a year to the day after they were relegated to step three at Tiverton Town. Results elsewhere mean that they will now face Merthyr Tydfil at Penydarren Park on Monday night, with the winners of Chippenham Town's tie with Bedford Town


Hednesford Town: Young, Adams, Branch, Barrow ©, Teesdale, Williams, Maguire (Campbell 78), Brindley, McMahon (Walters 65), McSweeney, Brannan (Bell 54)     Subs Unused: Beckett, Evans

Dunstable Town: Taylor, Old, Strange, Covington, Kefford, Sarll ▆  (79), Maynard, Christie (Stallard 65), Hatch, Hayes, Sullivan (Walker 79)       Subs Unused: Cook, Douglas, Massie