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UniBond Northern Premier League

Hednesford Town

Eastwood Town

Howells (10), (80), Smedley (40)

(0) 0

(2) 3



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Dave MacPherson


Stratford Town (H) 15.9.07

Hednesford's season continues to disintegrate before their very eyes as the Pitmen are beaten for the fourth straight game by newly promoted Eastwood Town at Keys Park this evening to pile the pressure on manager Phil Starbuck


Starbuck and assistant Jimmy Mullen were looking for a response from their squad following Saturday's horror show at Gateshead and made two changes to the starting line-up as Keenen Meakin-Richards replacing Tom Ward and Dominic Heath returning to the side in place of Danny Blair. Midfielder Sam Wood - signed from league rivals Leek Town this week - was named amongst the substitutes

Step three newcomers Eastwood had made an impressive start to life at the new level after winning the UniBond Division One South play-offs last season. Backed by ambitious chairman Rob Yong, young manager Paul Cox had assembled an experienced and powerful squad that looked more than capable of challenging at the right end of the table in 2007-2008. Cox stuck with the same XI that had started Saturday's 1-0 win over Marine at Coronation Park which had moved the Badgers into seventh place in the table

Unfortunately, the Saturday afternoon hangover continued at the start of this clash with Eastwood's tall and aggressive side lapping up the confusion and lack of cohesion in the Hednesford defence to start strongly


Tony Howells had fired a warning shot just over the bar for the Badgers in the third minute before left-back Chris Shaw tried his luck from long-range in the seventh minute with a rising shot that was also just too high

The away side did take the lead on ten minutes, however as the Pitmen were once again the architects of their own downfall. Ross Dyer lost possession as he looked to take the ball out of midfield, allowing Chris Swinscoe to play a through ball to Howells. The striker left the Hednesford defence trailing behind him to gleefully slot past Rene Gilmartin from twelve yards out

Gilmartin was called upon to keep the Pitmen in the contest two minutes later as the tricky Lindon Meikle jinked inside of two challenges before unleashing a long-range effort that the on-loan goalkeeper tipped over the crossbar

The Pitmen finally stirred and Dyer setting up former Eastwood hot-shot Peter Knox on fifteen minutes with a neat pass into the feet of his strike partner but his scuffed effort was well off target and failed to test Ian Deakin in the Eastwood goal

Knox turned provider for Dyer two minutes later as the youngster did well to turn past three challenges and forced Deakin into a fine save as the home side looked for a response to Howells' early opener

An ominous feature of this season's form has been far too much in the line of defensive errors, and basic ones at that. This was further illustrated midway through the first half when Meakin-Richards headed a simple clearance straight to the lively Meikle, who miscontrolled the ball at the crucial moment and allowed Gilmartin to smother the bouncing ball

Knox tested former team-mate Deakin on twenty-six minutes with a snapshot on the edge of the Eastwood penalty area that Deakin held low down to his right-hand side

Meakin-Richards was the first player to enter the book four minutes later, as he was cautioned for hauling down Swinscoe after the Badgers midfielder had skipped past the youngster

Tom Marshall headed wide of the far post for the Pitmen on thirty-three minutes from a Simon Forsdick corner kick, a minute before Meikle made a mazy run past three Hednesford challenges before allowing the ball to overrun slightly and let Gilmartin claim the ball on the edge of his penalty area

Once again, however, more defensive flakiness saw the Pitmen concede another soft goal just five minutes before half-time, this time from a corner; former Pitman Chris Gray's cross dropped in the Hednesford penalty area with no one in white willing or able to clear their lines. Jay Smedley seized upon the ball and turned it home from close-range with the Hednesford defenders looking at each other for inspiration


Swinscoe went close to adding a third goal for the visitors right on half-time as he got on the end of a hopeful punt forwards from Gary Breach but pulled his low shot just wide of Gilmartin's left-hand post

It had been a dreadful first-half showing from the Pitmen, who looked out of sorts and out of ideas as they left the field to muted boos from the Keys Park crowd. They emerged from what was no doubt an ear-bashing from Starbuck at the break with more purpose and went close to clawing a goal back just two minutes after the restart; Fordsick - subject to a seven-day approach from AFC Telford United - played a neat through ball into the path of Dyer, who saw the ball smothered by Deakin as he tried to poke the ball past the experienced stopper

Meakin-Richards was replaced by perennial substitute Chris Adam on fifty-four minutes after looking out of his depth against Meikle and struggling with the pace of the game. Adam's introduction also added more flair and attacking threat to the Pitmen's side

Deakin had to be on his toes again a minute to deny Hednesford skipper Dave MacPherson by making yet another smothering stop at the feet of the midfielder after he had broken into the Eastwood penalty area to latch onto an Adam pass

Chances continued to come and go for the Pitmen as yet again they wasted opportunities to get themselves back into the game; Knox tested Deakin's reflexes once more on the hour mark with a shot at the second attempt that was pushed away by the stopper

Howells was the second player to make his way into the book on sixty-three minutes after blatantly blocking Marshall's attempts to take a free-kick quickly and set Adam away down the left-wing


 Adam also tested the Eastwood number one on sixty-seven minutes with a shot on the run that Eastwood's man of the match dealt with at a comfortable height

Knox did well to cut inside on the corner of the penalty area and get his shot away on seventy-one minutes, only for a timely block from Smedley to turn the ball behind for a Hednesford corner kick

Dyer had once again had plenty of chances but failed to turn any into goals, hitting the outside of the post with fifteen minutes remaining after good work from Marshall set up his fellow youth team graduate

The Pitmen were once again left to rue the chances that had been presented to them with ten minutes to go as Eastwood wrapped up the points with a thrid goal; Howells danced past Rob Hawthorne's half-hearted challenge to get into the Hednesford penalty area and slot home his second goal of the night past the onrushing Gilmartin


Many of the Hednesford supporters had seen enough and trudged off into the night at this point, whilst some remained behind to watch the final few minutes play out akin to a training game. Marshall hit the post in added time with a header from Adam's corner kick but it was simply another wasted chance to add to the plethora of efforts that the hosts had failed to turn into a goal


Saturday's F.A. Cup clash with Midland Alliance Stratford Town is now crucial in the future of Phil Starbuck's management career at Keys Park. With last season's humbling at the hands of Gedling Town fresh in the mind on top of the rotten recent league form, a cup shock here could spell the end of Starbuck's rollercoaster tenure

Hednesford Town: Gilmartin, Meakin-Richards (Adam 54), Adams, Hawthorne, Marshall, Simms, Heath (Ward 69), MacPherson ©, Knox, Dyer, Forsdick    Sub Unused: Wood

Eastwood Town: Deakin, Hanson (D. Meilke 87), Shaw, Smedley, Stevenson (O'Brien 70), Matthews, Breach, Swinscoe, Howells , L. Meikle (Hutchinson 90), Gray      Subs Unused: None

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