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Evo-Stik Northern Premier League

Hednesford Town

Johnson (58)

FC United of Manchester

Jones (2), Neville (13)

(0) 1

(2) 2



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Jay Denny


Chorley (A) 24.3.12

Hednesford's play-off hopes took yet another knock this afternoon, as another play-off chasing team in the form of FC United of Manchester took vital points from Keys Park as a result of the Pitmen's slow start to the game

Following the morale-boosting 4-0 win at basement side Burscough in midweek, there was only one change to the side that had earned three points in Lancashire; loanee Michael Ordish was unavailable due to an injury he suffered in the first half of the game and was replaced by Andre Landell. Gary Hay was available to line up amongst the substitutes after missing the Burscough game due to work commitments

Sluggish first half displays have become the norm at Keys Park since the New Year, with the Pitmen falling behind to Bradford Park Avenue, Marine and Northwich Victoria in recent first-half performances. They failed to learn any lessons from any of those games, as FC United took the lead within the first two minutes. Lee Neville's corner kick found Adam Jones unmarked inside the Pitmen's six-yard box, with the big defender heading firmly past Dan Crane to send the large away following into raptures behind Crane's goal

Sensing another goal, FC United pushed forward in search of a vital second goal. Jones could have doubled his tally on seven minutes but headed a second corner kick straight at Crane

Crane was called upon to stem the tide of FC United's attack on twelve minutes, denying Matthew Wolfenden with a smart save that gave the visitors another corner kick. Wolfenden's short corner saw Stephen Johnson cross for Neville to glance the ball into the net at the far post

The shell-shocked Pitmen and their supporters found themselves with a mountain to climb, with barely a quarter of an hour on the clock and two down it appeared that another game had already slipped away from their grasp

On sixteen minutes, Wolfenden could have piled the misery on further for the hapless Pitmen as broke the flaky offside trap and chipped the ball towards goal, only to be denied by the safe hands of Crane

FC United's top scorer Wolfenden - brilliant in the game between the two sides last month at Bury - should have wrapped up the three points midway through the first half, as he was allowed to run straight through the Hednesford defence and take the ball around the dive of Crane. However, with the angle against him, he fired wide of goal

There was very little coming from the home side in any part of the pitch, as Landell struggled up front against the giant defensive pairing of Jake Cottrell and Jones. Nick Wellecomme was having more joy in his aerial battle against the duo, but with a lack of support from an out-of-depth midfield, his knock-downs were easily dealt with

The only real opportunity that fell to the Pitmen came right at the end of the half, with Landell firing high over the bar after Greg Stones and Jones had got in each other's way as they attempted to clear the ball

Rob Smith's frustration and anger at such a poor first half saw him make a triple substitution at half time - Ben Jevons came on for Jamey Osborne, Mark Beesley in place of Elliott Durrell and, perhaps surprisingly, Wellecomme taken off in favour of Hay

Despite the radical nature of this tactic, it appeared to have the desired effect as the Pitmen immediately pushed forward in search of a goal to get back into the game. Jevons was straight into the action, heading straight at FC United keeper James Spencer after a cross from Chris Shaw. The same player got on the end of the resultant Chris Clements corner but headed well over the crossbar as he struggled to get a clean head on the ball

The Pitmen continued to push on and got their reward for a more positive approach with a goal on fifty-eight minutes. A Clements corner found the head of Jermaine Johnson, who powerfully headed past Spencer to reduce the deficit

Suddenly, it was all Hednesford, as FC United's defence struggled to cope with Hednesford's more aggressive approach. Jevons and Hay were making a real difference, with Hay causing Jones a real headache with his movement and closing down

Landell brought out a brilliant save from Spencer on sixty-three minutes, shooting low down to the keeper's left and forcing the FC United defence into a desperate scramble to clear the rebound away from goal

Another Clements corner on sixty-eight minutes dropped in the centre of the FC United six-yard box, with a number of legs being swung at the ball from both sides. Eventually, the ball found its way back out to Clements, who wasted his cross by curling the ball out of play

Clements came within inches of grabbing a vital equaliser for the hosts on seventy-four minutes, as his dipping free-kick from the left-hand side somehow drifted just over the crossbar

FC United's only real chance of the second half came fifteen minutes from time; another Jones header towards goal was cleared off the line by Shaw, with Mike Norton wasting the rebound by firing wide of goal

There was a loud appeal for a Hednesford penalty on seventy-eight minutes, as Stones appeared to handle the ball whilst on the ground just inside the penalty area. The referee deemed it accidental, however, and continued with the game

After Cheyenne Dunkley had headed another Clements corner over the crossbar on eighty-two minutes, the Pitmen were once again reduced to ten men - this time Beesley was the man to see red after a clash with Stones midway inside the FC United half. Beesley swung a boot at Stones after challenging him, without actually making contact. The FC United man spent a moment rolling around on the ground, prompting the assistant referee - a good thirty yards from the action - to advise the referee to send the striker off

The sending-off was a step too far for Smith. whose heated arguments with the two-match officials saw him sent to the stands

Still the Pitmen plugged away, and in added time Shaw thought he had rescued a point for the home side; his shot was tipped away by a sprawling Spencer, who conceded a corner kick. Clements' ball in was headed goalwards by Dunkley, but again Spencer was equal to the effort and pushed it away for another corner

Another disappointing showing at the previously fortress-like Keys Park from the Pitmen, and with another play-off contender to play next week in the form of Chorley, things are starting to look a little difficult for Smith and his side

Hednesford Town: Crane, Haynes, Shaw, Dunkley, Johnson , Denny ©, Osborne (Jevons 45), Clements, Wellecomme (Hay 45), Landell, Durrell (Beesley 45 (82))      Subs Unused: Blakeman, Craven

FC United of Manchester: Spencer, Jacobs ©, Neville, Cottrell, Jones, Stones , Mulholland (Platt 61), Wolfenden (Battersby 89), Norton, Stott, Johnson (Grimshaw 87 )      Subs Unused: Armstrong, Cheetham

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