4.12.2004

Southern Premier League

Hednesford Town

Grantham Town

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Carl Palmer

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Histon (A) 7.12.04

The ten men of Hednesford had to be content with another frustrating draw at Keys Park this afternoon as improving Grantham claimed a point through some resolute defending to make it six clean sheets in their past eight games

 

Last weekend had seen the Pitmen return from Tiverton with a solitary point to continue their stuttering and inconsistent league form in their past six weeks. Player/manager Chris Brindley was able to welcome back top scorer Andy Bell after the striker had missed the trip to Ladysmead due to injury, with the youngster coming back into the side as the only change to the one that had started seven days ago; Lee Williams was the player to miss out despite his impressive midfield performance against the Yellows

Grantham had been steadily rising up the table after something of an inconsistent start to the season, although Lee Glover's men had been dumped out of the F.A. Trophy in midweek as Conference South side Havant & Waterlooville had beaten the Gingerbreads 2-1 at Westleigh Park. Glover had moved into the transfer market to bring in two new faces for today's game as young defender Steve Julian arrived from Corby Town and striker Jason White had returned to the club from Stamford. Julian came straight into the side as one of two changes to Tuesday night's team, with the new boy replacing Neal Spafford and Richard Weale coming in for Adam Sturgess in the other change

On a bumpy Keys park pitch, the yellow-clad visitors made the better start to proceedings as they created two good chances in the opening five minutes of the game. Jason Turner nipped in ahead of the Hednesford defence in the third minute to get on the end of a knock-down from Adrian Speed but saw his rising shot turned over the bar by Young

Two minutes later, Jamie Clarke also tested the reflexes of the Hednesford number one as another flick-on from Speed, this time from Tim Wooding's cross, found the forward, whose low driven shot was well saved by Young down to his left

Back came the host through young midfielder Marlon Walters, who won the ball in midfield from Fabien Smith in the eighth minute before exchanging passes with Maguire as he moved into the Grantham half. Just as the former Wolves man shaped to shoot on the edge of the Grantham penalty area, Wooding produced a timely block to turn the shot away from goal and behind for a Hednesford corner kick

The experienced Wooding was involved at the other end in the eleventh minute as he played the ball beyond Mark Branch and ran into the space behind him, crossing well from the right with a ball in that deceived Young and dropped to Jim Neil at the far post. However, Neil's scuffed goalbound shot was cleared off the line by the ever-alert Lee Barrow, who tracked back to hack the bouncing ball away from his own goal with Young beaten

Four minutes later, the ever-willing Speed beat Carl Palmer to a bouncing ball and lobbed it into the space in behind Branch once more for Wooding to run onto. The former Rushden & Diamonds man crossed first time but sent over a ball that was a little too deep for either Clarke or Dominic Hallows to reach at the far post

At the other end, Anthony Maguire picked up Barrow's forward pass and skipped past Weale on eighteen minutes, cutting inside as he took the ball across the face of the Grantham penalty area. He was forced to make a run all the way across the box and clipped the ball back towards the far post, where the experienced Mario Ziccardi punched the ball away from Bell

Midway through the first half, Young almost had a flashback to his horror show at the South Kesteven Stadium two weeks ago as he came off his line to claim a free-kick from Clarke but inadvertently dropped the ball at the feet of Jason Turner. Fortunately for the stopper, the striker was caught on his heels and had to turn back to control the ball which allowed Teesdale time to recover and clear the danger

Three minutes later, Walters won a free-kick twenty-five yards from goal after being brought down by Jim Neil. Barrow took the resultant free-kick and struck a powerful free-kick past the Grantham wall that was parried away by Ziccardi, but only into the path of the incoming McSweeney, who had reacted quickest of anyone. Luckily for the former Scunthorpe United stopper, McSweeney scuffed his hurried follow-up shot and shanked his effort wide of the post with only the goalkeeper to beat

The Pitmen were enjoying more of the ball at this point and were creating issues for the Grantham back line with their movement. Matt Turner got past a weak challenge from Wooding on twenty-seven minutes and sent over a deep cross towards Bell at the far post. Weale's attempted interception was diverted as far as Walters, who elected to shoot first time rather than take a touch, culminating in the midfield man drilling a shot over the crossbar from twelve yards out

One of Palmer's customary runs from deep created a good opening for Bell on thirty-one minutes as he drove past three men in yellow before teeing up the striker just inside the Grantham penalty area, only for Bell to drive his shot across the face of Ziccardi's goal and just wide of the far post

 

Another incisive pass from Palmer on thirty-five minutes found Matt Turner making a well-timed run in behind the Grantham defence, running in unchallenged behind Wooding, who claimed offside in vain. The winger steadied himself but took a little too long to decide what to do and allowed debutant Julian to make a timely challenge on him before he could pull the trigger

 

Ziccardi kept his side in contention ads the first half started to draw to a close, making a fine save to deny Bell on forty minutes with a superb one-handed stop to push the striker's rising shot from fifteen yards out away for a corner kick

 

Maguire's resultant corner kick was flicked on at the near post by Teesdale, but neither Barrow nor McSweeney could apply the finish at the far post as they made late runs into the six-yard box

 

With three minutes of the first half remaining, another burst of energy from the impressive Palmer saw him shrug off Speed's challenge thirty yards from goal before letting fly with a well-struck right-footed effort that Ziccardi was once again equal to with another flying save

 

The hosts had enjoyed much the better of the first period but had lacked a cutting edge despite the efforts of Bell, McSweeney and Palmer, all of whom had had sights at goal but had failed to take them

 

It was to prove a poor second period in comparison to the first, with clear-cut chances lacking from both sides as they played out a mundane goalless draw. A long ball forwards from Barrow on fifty minutes almost caught the Gingerbreads' back line out as the ball bounced favourably for Bell, only for the impressive Julian to make a timely interception to deny the striker time and space to shoot

 

Two minutes later, Hallows made another excellent tackle, this time to deny Matt Turner as the winger skipped away from Wooding down the right but slightly overran the ball, allowing Hallows to make a covering challenge and halt the winger's run into the penalty area

 

Maguire was the first player to be shown a yellow card in the game on fifty-five minutes as he blatantly pulled Clarke back to stop the winger from getting past him, incurring the wrath of referee Mr Eaton in the process

 

Just before the hour mark, Willis Francis arrived late in the Hednesford penalty area to head a Speed free-kick towards goal, only for Branch to hack the ball away from the danger zone before Clarke could pounce

The hosts elected to make a double substitution on sixty-one minutes as Grant Beckett replaced the muted Walters in midfield and Williams came on for Maguire

 

On sixty-four minutes, Turner sent over a fine corner kick to the near post, where Barrow was allowed to make an unchallenged run into the six-yard box to head the cross just wide of the near post and ruffle the side-netting in the process

 

From Ziccardi's long, searching goal-kick, Grantham had a great chance to open the scoring as Clarke flicked the ball on to send Jason Turner clear of the hesitant Hednesford defence. Despite only having Young to beat, the striker got his angles all wrong and sliced his shot horribly wide from ten yards out. A great chance fluffed by the Gingerbreads

 

Hallows skewed another good chance wide of the visitors on sixty-eight minutes, striking a shot from fifteen yards out that flew wide of the post as Barrow closed him down and forced him into a rushed shot


However, with twenty minutes remaining, the Pitmen were reduced to ten men courtesy of a rush of blood from the combative McSweeney. The striker fouled Julian as the pair challenged for a Palmer pass down the left before reacting badly to the defender's challenge by kicking out at him. The offence was right in front of the referee's assistant who immediately flagged. After a quick conversation between the officials, McSweeney was shown a red card for violent conduct and given his marching orders

 

Grantham looked to take immediate advantage of their numerical superiority as they forced a corner out on the right two minutes later; Speed delivered a fine cross for Francis once more, only for the midfielder to see his goalbound header pushed away from goal by Young, still standing on his line

 

With fourteen minutes remaining, a quick break from Grantham down the right saw Speed supply Wooding once more, whose cross was headed towards goal by Clarke, only for Young to once more come up with the goods with a fine parry that pushed the ball away from the incoming Jason Turner

Despite pushing for a winner, Grantham very nearly handed Hednesford what would have been the winning goal two minutes later; Ziccardi called for Hallows to leave a long Barrow punt, then hesitated himself as the ball bounced short of his penalty area. Beckett nipped in to pick the ball up but was caught in two minds at the crucial moment and allowed Ziccardi to make a great tackle to deny the substitute a shot at goal from twelve yards out

With eight minutes remaining, young striker Craig Marshall was handed his first-team debut after some impressive performances for the youth team in recent weeks as he replaced Bell

On eighty-five minutes, Weale and Clarke linked up well to get past Ross Adams down the left and cross for substitute Jason White, whose weak header was easily fielded by Young at his near post

Two minutes later, the excellent Barrow made a fantastic covering tackle after Teesdale had been given the slip by Hallows just outside the Hednesford penalty area following a through ball from Neil

With the minutes ticking away, both sides traded set-pieces in a bid to find a late winner as Williams clipped a free-kick into the box on eighty-eight minutes that was headed tamely over the crossbar by Palmer

At the other end, Speed and Neil combined at a short corner to cross for Clarke, whose volley bounced into the ground and ended up flying over the upright as he tried to divert the ball into the far corner of the net

In added time, three successive corner kicks for the Pitmen were well dealt with by Ziccardi and his defence to leave both sides content with a point apiece at the final whistle. The ten men of Hednesford had done well to hang on in the final twenty minutes and could have won the game even without McSweeney in the closing stages; Grantham had been a threat going forwards but had lacked any real cutting edge over the ninety minutes to win the game. Tuesday night sees the Pitmen on their travels once more, as they make a first-ever trip to play-off chasing Histon's Bridge Road looking to get back to winning ways after two frustrating league draws

Hednesford Town: Young; Adams, Branch, Barrow, Teesdale, Walters (Beckett 61), Maguire ▆ (Williams 61), Palmer ©, Bell (Marshall 82), McSweeney ▆ (70), M. Turner    Subs Unused: Brindley, Evans

Grantham Town: Ziccardi, Wooding, Weale, Speed, Julian, Neil, Smith, Francis, Hallows, J. Turner (White 79), Clarke       Subs Unused: Duffy, Spafford, Glover, Quailey