Evo-Stik Northern Premier League


Hednesford Town

Bailey (34), Taylor (84)

(0) 0

(1) 2



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Ben Bailey


Stocksbridge Park Steels (H) 27.4.13

The destination of the league title will definitely go down to the final day after the Pitmen and championship rivals North Ferriby both carved out away wins this afternoon to move on to 87 points apiece with two games to play

Hednesford came into this afternoon's game on the crest of a wave, unbeaten in the last eight games and having won their last three. Perhaps unsurprisingly, the side selected by manager Rob Smith was unchanged for the third game in succession, with Alex Melbourne deemed fit enough to take his place amongst the substitutes after an ankle injury

Ilkeston have recovered well from a nightmare start to their first season back at this level, and have consolidated well in thirteenth place. The New Manor Ground was a splendid sight at kick-off time, with bright sunshine highlighting a simply superb playing surface that would put many teams to shame in pre-season, never mind three games from the end of the current campaign

It was Hednesford who made all of the early running with the revitalised John Disney pacing forwards early on to hit a low shot that was deflected away for a Pitmen corner

Michael Lennon - the man in form right now for the Pitmen - earned his side a free-kick right on the edge of the penalty area on seven minutes, twisting and turning before he was brought down to the left-hand side of the box. Despite being presented with a great opportunity, Elliott Durrell's weak free-kick was easily cleared by the hosts

Ilkeston enjoyed an excellent spell of their own in the next fifteen minutes, with youngster Kane Richards giving Disney a torrid time down the Ilson left with his pace. Skipper Laurie Wilson wasted a great chance for the hosts on fifteen minutes, volleying over the bar after the midfielder had picked up a loose header from Darren Campion

On two separate occasions midway through the half, Richards again got the better of Disney as he looked to get a cross in, with Disney bringing the former Derby youngster down on the second occasion, gifting Ilkeston a free kick on the edge of the area

Another neat passage of play from Ilkeston on the half-hour saw Rob Kozluk playing in down the right-hand side. The veteran former Sheffield United and Derby County full-back went down very easily in the box under pressure from Campion and was rightly booked for simulation by the referee

Dan Crane was called upon to make a superb save a minute later, as James Reid's rising shot was brilliantly turned over by Crane for a corner kick

Despite having been under pressure for a good spell, the Pitmen snatched the lead against the run of play on thirty-four minutes through the once-again superb Ben Bailey. Durrell's inswinging corner from the right was flicked on by Francino Francis before being powerfully headed goalwards by Bailey, whose downward header was hacked away from goal through desperate Ilkeston defending. The linesman on the right-hand side immediately signalled that the ball had fully crossed the line, and the goal was given by the referee

Neil Harvey - looking more and more like his old self in recent weeks - looked to add his recent goal glut just before half time as he was played through by Disney, but his effort was blocked by an Ilkeston defender

A harsh half time team talk from Smith and Chris Brindley saw the away side emerge with more purpose during the early stages of the second half, with the Pitmen squandering two glorious opportunities to put the game out of Ilkeston's reach

Two minutes into the half, Lennon crashed a shot from fully twenty yards out against Ilkeston's left-hand post with the ball rebounding along the goal line before it was hacked clear

Three minutes later, MacPherson went even closer to putting clear air between the two sides, as one of his trademark piledrivers from the edge of the area was deflected onto the crossbar and bounced down onto the goal line. More last-ditch defending from Ilkeston prevented Harvey or Lennon from getting to the rebound, as the Pitmen turned the screw

A slightly under-par performance from Durrell was brought to a halt just after the hour mark, as he was replaced by Nathan Woolfe for the third consecutive game. This gave the Pitmen more width to their game, as Woolfe gladly chased the ball down the left-wing and forced Kozluk into giving up his attacking role down the Ilson right

Just a few moments later, Smith - with one eye on Wednesday night's Staffordshire Senior Cup Final against Rushall - made a second change as Aaron Rey replaced Harvey up front

Veteran striker Gary Ricketts - the scourge of Hednesford defences past - came on for the hosts and should have equalised soon after coming on; a cross from Wilson set Ricketts up to turn the ball home, but he somehow managed to take his eye off the ball at the crucial time and scuffed his shot wide of goal

The Pitmen responded two minutes after through Woolfe, whose mazy run and cross was headed narrowly over the crossbar by MacPherson

Jamey Osborne's tenaciousness saw him slalom his way towards goal, on eight four minutes before he was unceremoniously brought down twenty-five yards from goal. After a period of treatment, Osborne limped away and allowed Kris Taylor to spot the ball. The on-loan midfielder has scored twice in his last three outings - including a superb free-kick at Buxton in midweek - and repeated the feat once more by lifting a shot over the Ilkeston wall and beating Ilson keeper Chris Martin to his left - a brilliant strike

The injury to Osborne saw him eventually relent with five minutes of the game remaining as he was replaced late on by the returning Melbourne in midfield

The Pitmen's second goal saw the game end with a whimper, as Ilkeston's attacking intent dissipated with Taylor's strike. A quick check on the scores elsewhere confirmed a 3-1 win for North Ferriby at Marine, meaning both sides move on to next weekend with all still to play for. This result did at least confirm one fact - no other side could now catch the Pitmen in second place after this round of games, meaning that if it is to be the play-offs once more for Hednesford, it will be home advantage for the semi-final and the final if they make it through any semi they play

Ilkeston: Martin, Kozluk , Partridge, Cullingworth, Cooke, Wilson ©, Reid, Russell (Peel 78), Hooton (Ricketts 73), Richards, Ford    Subs Unused: Timmins, Pearson, Maguire

Hednesford Town: Crane, Disney, Campion ©, Bailey, Francis, MacPherson, Osborne (Melbourne 85), Durrell (Woolfe 64), Harvey (Rey 71), Lennon, Taylor       Subs Unused: Patterson, Barnes

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