Southern Premier League

Hednesford Town

Bell (65)

Hitchin Town

Bridge (11), Sozzo (90)

(0) 1

(1) 2



Current Form

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Paul McMahon



Chesham United (A) 26.2.05

The Pitmen's recent good form is now firmly behind them as struggling Hitchin complete a league double over their hosts at Keys Park this afternoon to leave Chris Brindley's side with three defeats from their past four games

The Pitmen returned home following successive trips to Merthyr Tydfil and Gloucester City, beating the Welsh side 2-0 but then crashing to defeat by the same score at Meadow Lane in midweek. Brindley's squad was starting to be stretched to the limit with injuries and suspensions stacking up for the threadbare Hednesford squad, prompting the player/manager to bring himself back into the side as one of two changes to the one that had started at Gloucester as he replaced the suspended Mark Branch, whilst Paul McMahon started up front alongside Andy Bell as Leon McSweeney was also ruled out due to injury. Youngsters Ross Dyer and Tom Marshall both made appearances amongst the substitutes as Brindley was once more reliant on the youth set-up top pad out his substitute's bench. There was also an appearance amongst the substitutes for recent signing Matthew Barnes-Homer after the former Wolves striker had joined the club following a spell in the USA

Darren Salton's inconsistent Hitchin side - 2-1 winners over the Pitmen at Top Field on the opening day of the season back in August - arrived at Keys Park for their first-ever visit to the stadium off the back of a heavy 4-1 defeat against local rivals Dunstable Town last weekend, leaving the Canaries down in fifteenth place in the Southern Premier League table. Salton made three changes of his own for today's game as James Kidd, Gavin Hoyte and Mark Bridge came into the side in favour of Matt Baldry, Shane Hill and Ieuan Lewis respectively


The recent spell of wet weather had started to dissipate in recent days, with the sun peeking out of the clouds at regular intervals throughout the game. The hosts made a bright start to the game and had the better of the opening exchanges as they stroked the ball around on the brown-looking Keys Park pitch. Bell picked up a pass from new skipper Lee Williams in the fourth minute and turned past James Ayres, but on his weaker left foot drove his effort well wide of goalkeeper Richard Wilmot's near post


Three minutes later, Glen Lamacroft lost out to Marlon Walters in midfield as the pair tussled. The former Wolves youngster played a one-two with Williams before spraying the ball out to Anthony Maguire on the right. The diminutive winger did well to steal a yard on Kidd and whipped in a cross that McMahon reached, albeit with an outstretched toe, prodding the ball straight at Wilmot from ten yards out


Despite the Pitmen's front-foot opening, it was the visitors who were to take the lead in the eleventh minute with their first foray into the Hednesford third of the pitch; Aaron Cavill made a run down the right, playing the ball into top scorer Josh Sozzo, who in turn held off Richard Teesdale to play in Mark Bridge. The midfielder took a touch before confidently slotting past Ryan Young from just inside the Hednesford penalty area to make it 1-0 against the run of play


Teesdale was involved again at the other end of the pitch three minutes later as he headed an inswinging Maguire free-kick into the Heath Hayes terrace after beating Ayres to the ball


In the seventeenth minute, McMahon forced a rushed clearance out of Wilmot as he chased the goalkeeper down inside the Hitchin penalty area, promoting the stopper to scuff his kick straight into the path of Maguire. The winger took the ball back into the Hitchin third of the pitch but overran the ball slightly which allowed Kidd to make the clearance


The visitors were stoic in defence and a constant threat on the counter-attack, with Sozzo played through on goal from a quick break through Bilal Hassan in the twentieth minute, only for an offside flag to deny the striker a shot at goal


Three minutes later, Teeasdale received a ticking-off from the referee after he had upended the lively Sozzo thirty yards for the Hednesford goal to stop the striker from getting away from him


Ross Adams sent over a fine free-kick from the right on twenty-seven minutes that was flicked on by Walters and into the path of Bell, only for a timely clearance from Hoyte to deny the Pitmen's top scorer a clear shot at goal from six yards out


Bridge won a free-kick from Walters on thirty-one minutes and quickly got the ball moving once more by sending Sozzo away down the right; Lee Barrow pushed the Hitchin man wide but allowed him to squeeze in a cross to the near post, where Young was on hand to claim the ball ahead of Hassan

Williams was off-target with a free-kick to the left-hand side of the Hitchin penalty area in thirty-six minutes as his curling shot over the top of the Hitchin wall cleared Wilmot's crossbar and ended up in amongst the Hednesford fans gathered behind the goal

Three minutes later, Bell turned well on a Walters pass to make room for himself just inside the Hitchin penalty area but lashed his low right-footed shot well wide of the post


Four minutes before half-time, Grant Beckett made a rare foray into the Hitchin half down the left as Barrow's long ball forwards was seized upon by the left-back, who lofted a cross into the Hitchin box where Bell's scuffed effort ended up in the side netting

It had been a largely frustrating first period from the hosts, who had enjoyed the better of the chances and possession but had fallen short in front of goal against a spirited and well-organised Hitchin side

The hosts started the second half with real purpose after what had no doubt been a half-time roasting from Brindley and Steve Anthrobus; Bell laid the ball off to Walters on forty-eight minutes, with the midfielder drilling the ball well wide of goal from twenty yards out

On fifty-one minutes, excellent last-ditch defending from Hoyte denied McMahon a certain goal as the striker nipped in behind the Hitchin defence to reach a slide-rule pass from Beckett, only for Hoyte to make a fine block tackle on the centre-forward to divert the ball away from goal from ten yards out

Maguire sent over successive corner kicks for the Pitmen on fifty-four minutes, with the second one flicked on Barrow and into the path of Williams, who drove the rebound wide of goal from twelve yards out

Williams was involved again for the Pitmen two minutes later as his free-kick found Beckett on the left touchline; the defender jinked his way past right-back Gordon Barr and crossed low into the near post, where Wilmot was on hand to beat Bell to the ball

Wilmot's first save of note came on the hour mark as Maguire's superb pass split the two Hitchin centre-backs and found McMahon, who just managed to stay onside to reach the ball. His low shot looked destined for the far corner, but a fine save from the goalkeeper saw him palm the ball away

The Pitmen's pressure finally told on sixty-five minutes as McMahon turned provider for his strike partner Bell with a clever turn and pass into the path of the onrushing striker, who turned the ball past Wilmot from eight yards out to equalise for the hosts

The hosts had their tails up and many of the impressive 702-strong crowd would have expected the Pitmen to go on and claim the points at this point as they camped inside the Hitchin third of the pitch for long periods of the second half. Williams was off-target once more from a long-range free-kick on seventy minutes as he drove in a rising shot that cleared Wilmot's crossbar

Maguire's persistence saw him win the ball from a dawdling Kidd on seventy-three minutes and play Bell into space down the right. The striker got to the byeline and pulled the ball back to McMahon, whose shot was easily saved by Wilmot

With fifteen minutes remaining, the Pitmen made their first change of the afternoon as youngster Steve Brannan came on in midfield as he replaced Beckett. This saw Barrow move to left-back for the remainder of the game to cover for Beckett and allow Brannan to slot into the centre of midfield

With the Pitmen now playing higher up the pitch, the gaps started to appear behind them and Hitchin found some joy on the counter-attack; on seventy-seven minutes, Sozzo made a good run down the right as he pulled Brindley across the pitch and out of position. He held the ball up well and pulled the ball back to Bridge, whose curling shot from the edge of the area dipped wide of Young's far post

With the game entering the final ten minutes, Hitchin had another fine chance to grab a winner through Sozzo as he danced through three half-hearted challenges inside the Hednesford penalty area but was off-target with his low drive

On eighty-four minutes, Teesdale met Maguire's teasing free-kick by the corner flag but saw his effort deflected behind for a corner kick. Maguire took the resultant corner kick and found Barrow with his cross, but the veteran headed over the crossbar from six yards out

With two minutes of the game remaining, the Pitmen rolled the dice up front with Barnes-Homer coming on to make his debut as a late substitute in place of McMahon

A minute later, Brindley did well to deny the dangerous Sozzo as the Pitmen appealed in vain for an offside flag against the striker as he raced onto substitute Hill's long, raking pass. Sozzo took a touch too many as he steadied himself twelve yards from goal and allowed Brindley to make a recovering tackle and concede a corner kick

In the first of four minutes of added time, Young's hurried free-kick forward was flicked on by Bell and into the path of Maguire, who managed to step inside and past Kidd's challenge but weakly curled his effort well wide of the far post

In the fourth minute of added time, Hitchin grabbed a late winner for the second time this season as the hard-working Cavill made a marauding run into the Hednesford penalty area to take Lamacraft's pass into opposition territory; he turned past Adams and squared the ball to Sozzo, who rifled home the winning goal from eight yards out before Teesdale could get across to cover, sparking wild celebrations from the Hitchin players, management and their small band of supporters standing on the Heath Hayes terrace


It was a cruel late blow for the hosts, who were left with no time to react before the final whistle was blown seconds after the restart. Hednesford had lacked in the final third for most of the afternoon, wasting numerous opportunities and being a little guilty of over-playing in the final third against a well-organised and well-drilled Hitchin defence. Back-to-back defeats leave Brindley's men five points adrift of the final play-off place with thirteen games remaining this season and looking for a return to the fine form of December and January that had lifted them from mid-table obscurity to the fringes of the play-off places. A first-ever trip to fellow play-off chasers Chesham United - who sit just above them in the table - is next up for Hednesford at the weekend, with Brindley hoping for the likes of Branch, McSweeney, Carl Palmer and Matt Turner to return to action after the quartet had missed today's game

Hednesford Town: Young, Adams, Brindley, Barrow, Teesdale, Williams ©, Maguire, Walters, Bell, McMahon (Barnes-Homer 88), Beckett (Brannan 75)      Subs Unused: Dyer, T. Marshall, Evans

Hitchin Town: Wilmot, Barr, Kidd, Smith, Ayres, Hoyte, Lamacraft (Hill 70), Cavill, Bridge, Sozzo, Hassan (Lewis 80)     Subs Unused: Furness, McMenamin