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Southern Premier League

Hednesford Town

Bell (4), McSweeney (5), Brindley (23), Teesdale (31)

Gloucester City

Wilkinson (44)

(4) 4

(1) 1



Current Form

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Andy Bell



Aylesbury United (A) 23.4.05

The Pitmen got their play-off push back on track this afternoon with a lethal display of first-half finishing against mid-table Gloucester City to give them a boost going into the final two games of the season

Having suffered back-to-back defeats in their past two games, the Pitmen returned to Keys Park looking for an all-important three points that keep them in contention with the rest of the play-off chasers. Manager Chris Brindley was still without the injured Anthony Maguire and elected to pick himself in place of youngster Steve Brannan, who dropped to the bench

It had been a real season of struggle for the Meadow Park side, who had spent the whole campaign in the bottom half of the table. Their recent form had been inconsistent but they had picked up sufficient points to stay above the relegation trapdoor, sitting in fourteenth place and seven points above the drop zone. Long-serving player/manager Chris Burns made three changes to the side that had been beaten 2-0 at Rugby United last weekend as skipper Neil Griffiths returned from injury to replace Neil Mustoe, Burns himself returned in place of Adie Harris and youngster James Reid came in for Lyndon Tomkins

Roared on by the second-highest league crowd of the season, the Pitmen made a flying start to an overcast but dry afternoon in Staffordshire. On a dug up and uneven pitch, the visitors struggled to keep possession and resorted early on to hoofing the ball into the stands whenever it came near their penalty area. In the fourth minute, however, the Pitmen found a way through as Reid's attempted pass out of defence was seized upon by Marlon Walters, who played the ever-alert Andy Bell in on goal. Griffiths appeared to slip at the worst possible moment, allowing Bell time and space to steady himself and slot the ball past the onrushing Matt Bath in the Gloucester goal

The Pitmen's flying start continued as they doubled their lead in the blink of an eye, winning the ball back from the restart from Dave Wilkinson and playing the ball up the right flank where Ross Adams found Leon McSweeney; the striker cut inside of a challenge from Chris Thompson and ran across the edge of the penalty area before picking his spot and unleashing a crisp low drive that beat Bath and nestled in the far corner of the net. A great finish, but dreadful defending from the visitors to allow McSweeney the freedom of Keys Park to pick his spot

The visitors were reeling from the Pitmen's fantastic start to the game and struggled to muster up a response against their play-off chasing opponents. Lee Williams spotted a free-kick for the hosts in the seventh minute but was denied a third Hednesford goal by the Tigers wall, which held firm to block the midfielder's shot at goal

Gloucester had a goal disallowed in the eleventh minute of the game as they made a move into the Hednesford penalty area down the left flank. Reid passed the ball out to Chris Thompson, who cut inside onto his right foot and played Wilkinson through on goal. The midfielder slotted the ball underneath Young as the pair challenged for the pass, but an earlier offside flag against Wilkinson saw referee Mr Barratt disallow the goal

More positive play from the visitors in the thirteenth minute saw right-back Lee Smith exchange passes with Daryl Addis before crossing to the near post, where youngster Andy Varnham headed goalwards but saw his effort smuggled away by the sheer number of bodies in front of him

Player/manager Burns assumed responsibility for the free-kicks and corners for the Tigers, whipping in three corner kicks in succession to the near post in the eighteenth minute that were defended well by the Hednesford defence. A further corner kick two minutes later was flicked on by Wilkinson and into the path of Marvin Thompson, only for the ball to hit in in the midriff, making it difficult for him to control it and allowing Teesdale to block the shot from six yards out

After surviving this mini-revival from Gloucester, the Pitmen returned to their attacking intent and stretched their lead midway through the first half; good play down the right from Adams and Walters saw Adams cross low into the six-yard box, where Marvin Thompson, Burns and Griffiths all had a chance to clear their lines but fluffed their lines and only succeeded in playing the ball into the path of Brindley, who was stood on the edge of the Gloucester penalty area. With echoes of his now-famous F.A. Trophy Final winner, Brindley let fly with an unstoppable half-volley that had Bath clutching at fresh air as it flew past him and into the net

McSweeney was keen to add to his earlier goal and pressed the Gloucester defence with intent, catching Marvin Thompson out on twenty-seven minutes as he robbed the young defender of the ball, taking it past the player before firing in a low drive that Bath made a good save down to his right

Thompson was once again culpable for the hosts just after the half-hour mark as he brought Walters down in full flight to hand the Pitmen a free kick in a dangerous position. Williams' delivery was met by Lee Barrow at the far post, only for the Griffiths to smuggle the ball behind for a corner kick. From Williams' resultant corner - delivered again with expert preciseness - Bath flapped at the cross and allowed Richard Teesdale the easiest of headers into the net from close-range

Burns gave his defenders a verbal bashing before the restart as he looked to arrest this alarming slide and stop the result from turning into a cricket score. The Hednesford fans in the Heath Hayes end were chanting 'easy, easy' and it most certainly had been for Brindsley's side so far in a half-hour to remember

The Pitmen continued to look more likely to grab another goal, although their tempo dropped as the half went on and Gloucester started to see more of the ball. A dangerous-looking cross from Grant Beckett - aimed at McSweeney - was headed away promptly by Wilkinson on thirty-six minutes 

Good play from the Tigers three minutes later saw Addis pick up a pass from Tom Webb and turn past Brindley before supplying the ball to Varnham out on the right flank. The youngster held off Branch's challenge as he got to the byeline, cutting the ball back into the six-yard box but a little too far in front of both Wilkinson and Chris Thompson

With four minutes of the half remaining, a Burns corner kick on the right was partially cleared by the Hednesford defence and into the path of Smith, whose first-time effort flew just over the crossbar from fifteen yards out

With the final move of the first half, Gloucester did indeed get themselves a goal back as Burns' long punt forwards was flicked on by Addis, which was enough to divert the ball into the path of Wilkinson, who got in behind Teesdale and fired past Young; the ball came off the far post and trickled along the goal line before Wilkinson followed it in and tapped home from a matter of inches out

Despite the late conceding of this goal, the Hednesford players were given a standing ovation as they came off the pitch at half-time, knowing that they had most likely sealed the three points already, provided they didn't press the self-destruct button in the second half

It was the visitors who were first to show their hand in attack at the start of the second half as Chris Thompson got onto the ball in the fifty-first minute and evaded Adams down the right; his pull-back to Wilkinson saw the Gloucester goalscorer strike a clean shot at goal that looked goalbound until Barrow came up with a timely block on the line. The ball ran kindly to young Varnham, who should have made the net bulge from six yards out but somehow skied his shot over the crossbar with an open goal in front of him. A dreadful miss from the eighteen-year-old

Back came the Pitmen and Brindley produced a towering header at the far post to meet a Williams free-kick on fifty-seven minutes, heading back across goal where both Andy Bell and Walters failed to connect from close-range

Three minutes later, McSweeney was once again left frustrated by an offside flag on the Wimblebury side as his effort was chalked off after he had moved too quickly in behind the Gloucester defence to get onto a Barrow pass

Jimmy Cox came on for Gloucester in the sixty-third minute after a long injury lay-off and almost scored with his first touch two minutes later; Smith was sent away down the right by Burns' lofted pass, delivering an early cross into the path of Cox just inside the Hednesford penalty area. The substitute took a touch and fired past Young, but found Barrow a formidable barrier once more as the in-form centre-back blocked the shot and saw his clearance drop into the arms of Young

The Pitmen's attacking desire seemed to have subsided as the half had worn on, with the game essentially already won and Gloucester resigned to their fate. Good play from Beckett on sixty-seven minutes saw him win the ball from Webb and drive forwards into the Gloucester half, striking a rising shot that sailed over Bath's crossbar from fully thirty yards out

The Pitmen's first substitution of the afternoon came with twenty minutes remaining as Bell was afforded the applause of the Keys Park crowd for another good job done as he was replaced by Paul McMahon for the remainder of the game up front

Bath had to be alert to mop up a chance for the Pitmen created by his own defenders two minutes later, hacking the ball into the stand and away from the clutches of McSweeney after the striker had seized upon a loose pass from Marvin Thompson on the edge of his own penalty area

McMahon was straight into the action, looking to make his mark in Bell's absence up front; on seventy-five minutes, the diminutive striker made a charge into the Gloucester penalty area before leaving Griffiths on his backside with a clever drop of the shoulder. However, his shot did not match the build-up and McMahon ended up lashing his shot well wide of goal from eighteen yards out

Five minutes later, the home side made their second substitution of the afternoon as Brindley elected to watch the remainder of the game from the bench as he came off in favour of Brannan

Brannan's pace and aggression created an opening for Walters within two minutes of him coming on as he won the ball off fellow substitute Cox and took the ball twenty yards forward before squaring it to Walters, whose shot with the outside of his boot sailed harmlessly over the crossbar

The vastly experienced Keith Knight was booked for the visitors on eighty-three minutes as he angrily lashed out at McSweeney after a coming-together between the pair and raised his hands to both the Hednesford man and the referee. He was perhaps lucky then that he was not sent off by Mr Barratt, who showed some rare common sense to diffuse the situation and only show the 36-year-old a yellow card, along with a dressing-down

With six minutes remaining, recent signing Nicky Campbell was handed his home debut by the Pitmen as he came on to play out on the left-wing in place of the tiring Beckett, who had once again been one of Hednesford's unsung heroes out on the left

Campbell and Branch did well to double up on Smith with three minutes remaining as the young left-back charged into the penalty area to get on the end of Campbell's pass, only for his cross-cum-shot to skip across the face of goal and out of play

McSweeney himself incurred the wrath of Mr Barratt late on as he was also booked after he and Wilkinson had clashed in midfield, leaving McSweeney on the ground initially before he made a miracle-like recovery to take exception to Wilksinon's tackle

It had been a fantastic day's work from the Pitmen, who have given themselves as good a chance as possible to remain in the top five at the end of the season. They will still require points against both Aylesbury United and Dunstable Town, with the trip to Buckingham Road next weekend likely to be a winner takes all six-pointer against a Ducks side starting to fade in their quest for a play-off place

Hednesford Town: Young, Adams, Branch, Barrow ©, Teesdale, Williams, Brindley (Brannan 80), Walters, Bell (McMahon 70), McSweeney , Beckett (Campbell 84)      Subs Unused: Brindley, Evans

Gloucester City: Bath, Smith, C.Thompson, Griffiths ©, M.Thompson, Burns, Reid (Knight 78 ), Varnham, Addis (Cox 63), Webb, Wilkinson 
Sub Unused: Harris

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