11.5.2013

Evo-Stik Northern Premier League Play-Off Final

Hednesford Town

Harvey (2), Osborne (32) 

FC United of Manchester

Norton (55)

(2) 2

(0) 1

Attendance

MoTM

Current Form

4,412

Francino Francis

W D W W W W W W W W

Hednesford Town finally brought to an end a seven-year wait to reclaim their place amongst clubs at step two after deservedly beating FC United of Manchester in this afternoon's Evo-Stik Premier League play-off final

A record Keys Park crowd of 4,412 gathered in Staffordshire to witness a final between two sides accustomed to play-off failure in recent years; FC United had lost in three successive Evo-Stik finals, whilst the Pitmen had failed to gain promotion in both Northern and Southern League equivalents since 2010

Midweek had seen the teams navigate tricky semi-finals, with the Pitmen having to endure extra time and penalties to see off the challenge of AFC Fylde. FC United's passage was more straightforward, beating Witton Albion 3-1 at Gigg Lane

With Jamey Osborne passed fit before kick-off, the Pitmen were able to name the same starting XI for an incredible eighth game in succession - a testament to the attitude and fitness of the players at this late stage of the season as they looked to chalk up another milestone of eight wins in a row

Roared on by the massive crowd, Hednesford made a dream start to their biggest game of the season with an opening goal inside the first two minutes. Elliott Durrell took advantage of slip from Lee Neville to make progress down the right-wing before squaring the ball to Neil Harvey, who fired home from close range

The Pitmen looked to build on this early lead by catching FC United on the break, with Harvey and Michael Lennon giving the FC United defence a torrid time with their movement. Twice Harvey managed to get the better of his marker, the inexperienced Kevin Masirika but covering defenders stopped the big striker's progress both time

Kris Taylor lined up a free-kick from a promising position on nineteen minutes, firing in a swerving shot that took a deflection off the end of the FC United wall and out for a corner kick

FC United keeper Jon Worsnop had to be alert to deny the hosts from the resultant corner kick, as Durrell's swirling free-kick was punched away from under his crossbar by the stopper as Harvey and Ben Bailey closed in on him

The intermittent heavy showers that had been a feature of the day returned midway through the half, with Keys Park suffering a short deluge of rain that made the conditions challenging

The Pitmen continued to have much the better of the game, however, as FC United could only muster up wayward efforts from range from Matt Wolfenden and Jerome Wright

Indeed, the Pitmen sent their fans into delirium on thirty-two minutes with a deserved second goal through Osborne. Another quick break down the FC United left saw Lennon hold off the challenge of Masirika and cross for Harvey. His loose touch fell kindly for Osborne, who slid in ahead of Kyle Jacobs to turn the ball past Worsnop

FC United took the unusual step of making a tactical double change before half time, with the struggling Masirika and the disappointing Astley Mulholland taken off in favour of Jake Cottrell and Tom Greaves

It was very nearly 3-0 on forty-three minutes, as Ben Bailey's header was hacked off the line after desperate FCUM defending 

Greaves had a great chance to pull a goal back for FC United on the stroke of half time, as Mike Norton played the forward through in the inside right position. However, Greaves lifted his angled shot high over Dan Crane's bar

The expected FC United fightback emerged in the early stages of the second half, with the visitors forcing a number of set-pieces inside the Hednesford half.  A corner kick from Greaves in the fifty-fifth minute finally did the damage, as his inswinging corner was headed firmly home by the prolific Mike Norton from close range. Game on

Hednesford responded through Harvey, whose weak header was easily fielded by Worsnop. The game started to get stretched, as FC United went straight down the other end and hit the bar courtesy of a Matthew Wolfenden shot

Another succession of free kicks from FC United, some of which seemed a tad generous from the referee, ended with a low drive from Oliver Banks that missed Crane's far post by a matter of inches on sixty-two minutes

The Pitmen made a defensive change on sixty-four minutes as the old warhorse Dave MacPherson was replaced by Alex Melbourne to give Hednesford fresh legs - the crowd was appreciative of the veteran's invaluable contribution over the past nine months and rose to warmly applaud the former Nantwich and Witton man

Two minutes later, Lennon was given a great ovation by the Hednesford supporters as he left the field, replaced by Aaron Rey for the final quarter of the game

There were calls from the FC United players and supporters for a penalty on seventy-five minutes, as Norton went down under a challenge from the simply superb Francis, but the referee was unimpressed and played on

Despite the pressure from FC United, Hednesford almost sealed their promotion on seventy-seven minutes through Durrell, whose wicked free-kick came back off the post with Worsnop stationary

FC United's final real chance to take the game into extra time came with five minutes remaining, as Wolfenden was allowed time and space to run deep into Hednesford territory and fire a shot in at goal that Crane did well to turn away

The towering influences of Bailey and Francis meant that the final minutes were less nervy than expected, with the final whistle greeted with a pitch invasion and celebrations from those of the white and black persuasion not seen for many, many years. A long, hard season in the Evo-Stik Premier League has seen the two best sides eventually promoted on merit, and the Pitmen can look forward to games against Stockport County, AFC Telford United, Boston United and Barrow amongst others in 2013-2014

Hednesford Town: Crane, Disney, Campion ©, Bailey, Francis, MacPherson (Melbourne 64 ), Osborne , Durrell, Harvey (Woolfe 90), Lennon (Rey 66), Taylor       Subs Unused: Anagho-Ntamark, Barnes

FC United Of Manchester: Worsnop, Jacobs, Neville, Birch (Tierney 77), Stott, Masirika (Cotterill 42), Wolfenden, Banks, Norton, Wright, Mulholland (Greaves 42)      Subs Unused: Rodriguez, Giggs

 

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