UniBond Northern Premier League

Hednesford Town

Eastwood Town

Cooke (60)

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Alex Cowley


Ilkeston Town (H) 24.2.09

Hednesford's fading title hopes took yet another blow this afternoon, as league leaders Eastwood moved clear of the Pitmen at the top of the table


Nantwich Town's win over Ashton United in midweek had seen them leap-frog the Pitmen into second place, with form having taken a worrying turn for the worse since January for the hosts who were now looking nervously behind them. Manager Dean Edwards had boosted his squad with four new signings in the last twenty-four hours, with new boys Alex Cowley, Matt Lewis and Florent Raimy all starting - Dean Craven, Mark Briggs and Dale Anderson made way for the trio. The fourth new face was that of the highly experienced striker Duane Darby, who was named as one of the substitutes

Eastwood - top of the table but no in the best of form themselves - had lost surprisingly to Cammell Laird in their last league game to leave them just a point ahead of the Pitmen before the start of play. Manager Paul Cox once again deployed defender Mark Hume as an auxiliary centre-forward for the game, keeping fellow target man Matt Rhead on the bench for this top-of-the-table clash

The visitors started well, and Danny Harvey had to be alert to snuff out an early opening for Ian Holmes on three minutes as the striker did well to slip inside a challenge of Cowley on the edge of the Hednesford penalty area

Lewis, looking to impress during his loan period at Keys Park from AFC Telford United, was first to threaten for the home side, using his considerable frame to brush off a challenge and attempt to get a shot in on six minutes. However, he found left-back Russell Cooke in the way of his effort at goal who blocked it

Hume tested the Pitmen's resolve on eight minutes, heading a Richard Dunning corner narrowly over the bar as the Badgers pressed. At the other end, Elliott Durrell was his bright and breezy self, whipping over one ball from the right with venom, but neither Lewis nor Ross Dyer gambled and the chance was lost

The away side came closest to scoring midway through the first period. Dunning's corner kick was floated over, finding Cooke in a great position. His firm header towards goal, however, crashed against the crossbar and came back out

Cowley was impressing down the left-hand side for the Pitmen on his debut, with Sean Platt similarly industrious down the right doing the same job. In midfield, skipper Ross Draper was driving his team on, although his first touch was surprisingly heavy on more than one occasion

The hosts almost snatched the lead on the half-hour mark, as the Pitmen nearly caught Eastwood out with their first real quality move of the match. Lewis's quick thinking saw him get the ball to Durrell, who hammered a thunderbolt shot straight at Badgers skipper Anton Foster. The ball rebounded to Dyer, who could only steer the ball wide of goal

An open encounter soon took a turn for the worse for the Pitmen, five minutes before the break. A loose ball in midfield was seized upon by Foster, who was clattered by Raimy as he played the ball. Raimy's challenge was high and two-footed, leaving referee Mr Smallwood no option but to send the Benin International off only forty minutes into his debut

Eastwood looked to seize upon their advantage, and Woodhall had to be alert to make a smart save from Holmes as the half came to an end with the game still goalless

With such an array of attacking talent on the bench, there were very few options for Edwards at the break, if he felt a defensive shake-up was needed. He decided to persevere with the side for the second half but watched as the Badgers cranked up the pressure with Lindon Meikle firing a warning shot at Woodhall within seconds of the restart

There was a brief flurry of activity in and around the Eastwood area seven minutes later, as the Pitmen launched a number of attacks. Draper was looking menacing as he looked to break from midfield and join the front three, but too often he was let down by a poor pass, or the efficient defending of the Eastwood rearguard, marshalled by ex-Pitman Paul Robinson

It was Danny Harvey who was to have the best chance for the Pitmen, heading firmly past the far post after getting on the end of a great cross from Marshall on the left-hand side

Lewis had run out of puff by this time, having only played three games this season for Telford, and was brought off to give a run out for fit-again Tyrone Barnett, who once again linked up with Dyer and Durrell to form the prolific trio from earlier in the campaign

Almost immediately, however, the hosts gave themselves a mountain to climb, as Eastwood took the lead on the hour mark. Russell Cooke picked up a ball from Foster wide on the Eastwood left, before cutting inside and hitting a deep cross towards the far post. Via a slight deflection off Gill, the ball sailed harmlessly into the far corner of the net, with Woodhall stranded at his near post

The Pitmen made an immediate response, with Durrell breaking forward, but at the crucial moment fired high and wide when he had options left and right with Dyer and Barnett. Draper made one of his lung-busting bursts into the area after sorting out his first touch, but just as he pulled the trigger, he was denied by Dunning

It was all Hednesford for ten minutes, as they kept the ball well for the first time in the game and used the pace of the front men to stretch Eastwood. Durrell was taking charge of the ball at every opportunity and tested Shane Redmond in the Eastwood goal with a long-range shot that was straight down Redmond's throat

If any apportion of blame could be placed at Woodhall for his slow reactions to the goal, he certainly went some way to redeeming himself with a wonderful save to deny Holmes on seventy minutes, diving to his left to turn away the striker's goalbound effort. The ball fell to Badgers substitute Danny Holland, a recent £25,000 signing from Harrogate Town, who knocked the ball home. However, his joy was short-lived as he had strayed into an offside position

Woodhall made an even better save five minutes later, acrobatically turning Meikle's rising shot over for a corner. By this point, the Pitmen had committed players forward, and Eastwood were looking to take advantage of the gaps that had started to appear at the back

The offside flag denied the visitors again ten minutes from the end, with Woodhall denying Holland with a low save, but Dunning turning the ball home from a rebound via Woodhall's arm. Once again, the assistant referee put his flag up, and the goal was disallowed

Darby was given a late run-out as he looked to add a physical presence to the Pitmen's attack, and in the minutes he was on the pitch, looked a useful acquisition with his powerful frame and eye for a pass. He was involved late on as the ball was worked to Draper on the edge of the area, but the former Stafford Rangers man found Redmond in the way

As desperation set in in added time, Marshall got in a header from Platt's cross but headed over the bar from six yards out as he stretched to reach the right-back's deep cross


With neither side really doing themselves justice, it remains to be seen how their respective seasons will turn out. With Eastwood's resources and games in hand, they should now go forward and win the title. However, with newly-promoted Nantwich looking good at the right time, they may have to put the promotion party on hold. For the Pitmen, the slump continues, albeit with a better performance today than last week's horror show at Kendal. With Eastwood's local rivals Ilkeston coming to Keys Park on Tuesday night, a win and three points is a must to re-energise the team ahead of a tough month ahead

Hednesford Town: Woodhall, Platt, Cowley, Gill, Harvey, Marshall, Raimy  (40), Durrell, Lewis (Barnett 58), Dyer (Darby 86), Draper ©        Subs Unused: Hall, Maguire, Briggs

Eastwood Town: Redmond, Asher, Cooke, Dunning, Robinson, Foster ©, Miekle, Dunning (Smith 80), Holmes, Hume, Todd (Holland 65)       Subs Unused: Rhead, Swinscoe, Mathews

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