22.8.2006

UniBond Northern Premier League

Grantham Town

Sneddon (81)

Hednesford Town

Whittaker (43), Julian (85) (OG) 

(0) 1

(1) 2

Attendance

MoTM

Current Form

Next Match

330

Danny Jellicoe

L W

Radcliffe Borough (A) 26.8.06

The Pitmen got their UniBond Premier League campaign off to a belated start this evening in controversial circumstances as the nine men of Hednesford held out to claim a win at Grantham Town for the first time in eleven attempts

After suffering an opening day defeat against Marine and having learned many harsh lessons about life in the Northern Premier League, there were many changes afoot for Hednesford manager Phil Starbuck in tonight's selection with no fewer than four change to the side; Tom Marshall and Kyle Perry were both dropped from the squad in favour of new signing Tom Groves and youngster Steve Brannan respectively, with Brannan playing in an unorthodox central role. Phil Hadland and Mario Pedro moved to the bench to allow for starts to Marlon Walters and Ross Dyer

Hosts Grantham had been subject to the dreaded restructuring over the summer months and had been shunted sideways from their traditional position as a Southern League side to also make the NPL debuts in 2006-2007 as the Pitmen were. Manager Lee Glover - a former team-mate of Starbuck's in the playing days at Nottingham Forest - made one change to his side from Saturday's 1-1 draw at title favourites AFC Telford United as Michael Sneddon came into the side at the expense of Mark Wilson

 It could have been a disastrous start to the evening for the visitors, wearing their new all-red kit for the first time, as youngster Brannan's first involvement in the game saw him pull back Grantham's Adam Sturgess back in the penalty area as the pair tussled. Referee Mr Jones had no hesitation in awarding the hosts a penalty kick, handing striker Jason Turner the chance to score from the spot. However, from the resultant kick, Hednesford goalkeeper Ryan Young guessed correctly and turned Turner's effort away to his right with a fine stop

 Turner nearly made amends for the Gingerbreads in the ninth minute as he did well to hold off the attentions of skipper Danny Jellicoe and get to a cross from Sneddon first, only to sidefoot his effort from eight yards out just wide of the near post

Four minutes later Grantham's Richard Weale went even closer to handing the home side the lead as he linked up well with striker Jon Douglas before firing straight into the midriff of Young, who was well-positioned in his six-yard box

It had been all Grantham in the opening quarter and former Hednesford man Ian Robinson was the latest player in back and white to try his luck from a free-kick on twenty minutes but lifted his shot narrowly over Young's crossbar

Despite being very much second best so far, the Pitmen almost found themselves in front four minutes later as Martin Ridley's corner kick was flicked on at the near post by Tom Franklin and into the path of Dyer, who tried to bundle the ball past Grantham goalkeeper Leigh Walker but only succeeded in fouling the stopper as he looked to turn the ball home

Back came the hosts and a succession of corner kicks from Sneddon out on the right-hand side tested the Hednesford rearguard. One ball into the box in the thirty-second minute was cleared as far as Doug Wade, who brought the ball down and worked it onto his right foot but only managed to fire his shot over the crossbar and onto the athletics track around the perimeter of the pitch

 

Good play from the creative Adrian Speed saw him drift past Groves's challenge there minutes later and supply a fine ball into the feet of Turner, who did enough to get goal side of Jellicoe but could only toe-poke his shot wide of the target

Ridley had impressed at the weekend with his ability to get forwards from the right-back position and he did so again on thirty-eight minutes, receiving a pass from Franklin out wide before whipping in a fine ball that Dave Whittaker was only a matter of inches away from connecting with inside the six-yard box

A similar move down the right brought the Pitmen the opening goal of the evening on forty-three minutes however, as a fine flowing move involving Walters and Dyer played Ridley into space down the right, with the full-back picking out Whittaker once more at the far post. This time the former Leek man was on the spot to turn the ball home from close-range and record the Pitmen's first-ever goal in the Northern Premier League

The hosts were on the front foot at the start of the second half as they looked for a swift way back into the game after conceding such a late goal at the end of the first period. Speed and Robinson combined to play Douglas into space in behind the Hednesford defence, only for a timely challenge from Ross Adams to deny the young striker a clear shot at goal

The Pitmen very nearly gifted Grantham a leveller on fifty-four minutes through some careless goalkeeping from Young, who almost blotted his copybook as a simple clearance from the stopper hit the chest of the onrushing Turner and looped over the head of Young, only for the ball to dip just wide of the empty goal behind the former Hucknall stopper. A real let-off for the Hednesford keeper

On the hour mark, the Pitmen made their first change of the evening as Alexander was brought on in place of the ineffective Dyer up front in a like-for-like swap

 The away side's topsy-turvy night took another turn just after the hour mark as Mr Jones was forced into showing Brannan a red card for an alleged stamp on Weale in midfield. The Hednesford players argued their case, but there was to be no swaying of the referee's mind at the Pitmen were down to ten men with a third of the game remaining

Speed fired over the crossbar with a wild effort on sixty-four minutes, followed a minute later by a looping header from Sturgess that dipped just over the crossbar and onto the top of the net

On sixty-seven minutes, midfield man Franklin was taken off in favour of winger Hadland as Starbuck made a tweak to his team in light of Brannan's red card

 Jellicoe was an immovable object at the back for the Pitmen and was putting in a man of the match performance for the visitors to frustrate the Gingerbreads attack. His presence on the shoulders of Douglas was enough to put the striker off once more on seventy minutes as he forced Douglas into a wild first time effort from Nathan Morris's cross

Three minutes later, Alexander got the better of Steve Julian as he tussled with the defender in the penalty area to get on the end of a cross from Ridley, only for his header to drift narrowly over the crossbar

 

Things got worse for the Pitmen on seventy-six minutes as they were reduced to nine men as the hot-headed Walters was booked twice in sixty seconds, joining Brannan in earning a red card with a reckless showing of dissent from the former Wolves man

Grantham's superior numerical advantage was starting to tell on the Pitmen as they struggled to hang on to their slender lead; Sneddon's free-kick on eighty minutes bounced around the Hednesford six-yard box and was close to being turned home by both Douglas and Sturgess before being cleared by Adams

 

Another spell of Grantham pressure finally told nine minutes from the end as the Gingerbreads got themselves back on level terms once more; a curling free-kick from Weale on the edge of the penalty area was brilliantly turned away by Young, but could only push the ball into the path of the incoming Sneddon, who turned the rebound home after beating Adams to the rebound

You felt that there was likely to be only one winner at this point with the Pitmen hanging on to the draw and being dragged around the pitch by the Grantham attackers. Douglas was denied a chance on eighty-three minutes by an offside flag as he ran in behind the hesitant Hednesford defence to latch on to a Speed pass

And yet there was still one more twist as the Pitmen somehow defied the odds to take the lead once more with five minutes remaining; Alexander's flick-on at the near post from an Iain Screatom long throw-in dropped into the Grantham six-yard box, with Julian inexplicably turning the ball into his own net from close range as he looked to clear the ball away from the looming presence of Whittaker

With something to hold onto once more, the Pitmen went into an all-out-defensive shape for the remainder of the game and forced Grantham into taking pot-shots from long-range with their remaining efforts. The closest the hosts came to grabbing a leveller came in the first minute of four minutes of added time as Robinson's clever reverse pass into the penalty area was seized upon by substitute Tom Bellingham, only for Jellicoe to once again produce the goods with a smothering tackle to his right and clear the danger

 

A superb backs to the wall win for the Pitmen and three points on the board after such a disappointing start to the new season on Saturday for Starbuck and his players. They face a second successive game on the road at the weekend as they make what will be the first of several first-ever trips to teams in this new league as they travel to the much-fancied Radcliffe Borough on Saturday afternoon 

Grantham Town: Walker, Morris, Weale, Sturgess, Julian, Speed, Wade (Popple 70), Robinson ©, Turner (Bellingham 66), Douglas, Sneddon       Sub Unused: Wilson

Hednesford Town: Young, Ridley, Groves, Brannan (62), Jellicoe ©, Adams, Screaton, Franklin (Hadland 67), Dyer (Alexander 60), Whittaker, Walters   (76)      Sub Unused: Pedro