Dr. Martens Southern Premier League

Kettering Town

Watkins (8)

Hednesford Town

Davis (73)

(1) 1

(0) 1



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Graham Lancashire



Bath City (H) 16.2.02

The Pitmen claimed their third score draw in a row tonight after a very spirited display against old Conference rivals Kettering saw Kenny Hibbitt's side come from behind to earn a point against the new league leaders

Saturday had seen the Pitmen held to a draw at home against mid-table Welling United, leaving the club still hovering precariously just above the drop zone going into tonight's game. Hibbitt was able to welcome back striker Graham Lancashire to the side after the experienced frontman had missed Saturday's game due to failing a late fitness test; he was the only change to the side that had started against Welling, replacing the ineffective Wale Kwik-Ajet. Midfield man Dean Craven also handed Hibbitt a boost as he was passed fit to join the substitute's bench after a spell out injured

Kettering had recently displaced long-time league leaders Crawley at the top of the table as, unlike the Pitmen, they looked for an immediate return to non-league's top flight at the first attempt. Player/manager Carl Shutt - the former Sheffield Wednesday and Leeds United striker - stuck with the same side that had beaten Moor Green at Rockingham Road at the weekend, resisting the temptation to bring himself back into the fold as he remained amongst the substitutes

In front of a large, expectant Rockingham Road crowd, the hosts made a good start to a chilly evening's work by pushing the Pitmen back into their own half in the early exchanges. The prolific Darren Collins - a thorn in previous Hednesford sides in the 90s - went close to opening the scoring in the fourth minute of the game as Richard Butcher's deflected cross was turned just over the bar and into the band of Hednesford supporters huddled behind the goal

It was perhaps unsurprising that the Poppies stole into the lead in the eighth minute of the game as another spell of possession led to the evening's opener; a corner from the right from Wayne Duik was flicked on by Lee Howarth and into the path of Dave Watkins, who added to his brace on Saturday by nodding into the net from close-range via a slight touch off Matt Gardiner

The hosts went close to adding to their lead three minutes later as former Aston Villa man Bryan Small - a target of Hibbitt recently before he elected to join Kettering instead - sent over a fine cross from the left that was stabbed wide of goal by Collins from twelve yards out as he stole in behind Gardiner

The Pitmen's first sight at goal came in the nineteenth minute of the game as Stewart Airdrie won a free-kick for the visitors just outside the Kettering penalty area. Lee Barrow stepped up to leather a shot through the Kettering wall and shaving the outside of the right-hand post in the process with an unstoppable shot

Three minutes later, Andy Brownrigg went close for the all-white-clad Pitmen as he picked up a pass from Wayne Simpson down the right-wing before cutting inside and firing narrowly past Kettering keeper Ian Bowling's far post

Kettering responded with a quick break down the right flank by Butcher on twenty-eight minutes, skipping past a challenge by Richard Lucas before cutting inside and drilling an angled shot into Mark Gayle's side-netting

The Pitmen seemed to be reliant on their defensive players to create openings as another Hednesford defender went close to equalising for the visitors on the half-hour mark. A corner kick from Airdrie was flicked on at the near post by Simpson and into the path of Gardiner, who failed to get enough on the ball and glanced his effort wide of the far post from six yards out

The game became stunted and turgid in the final fifteen minutes of the first period as both clubs struggled to break down the opoosition defence. Craig Norman's long-range effort sailed over the crossbar and into the open terrace on thirty-six minutes, followed two minutes later by a first-time shot from Lancashire from ten yards out that failed to test Bowling

Gardiner's topsy-turvy night continued a couple of minutes before half-time as he was shown a yellow card after sending Collins sprawling down the Kettering left-hand side

It had been a frustrating first period from the Pitmen, who had matched Kettering in many areas of the pitch but once again fell slightly short at both ends against a confident, in-form side

Hibbitt got in amongst his side at half-time and saw a response from his side at the start of the second period. The anonymous Damien Charie got more of the ball down the right flank and played Davis into space on fifty minutes, only for a timely challenge from Lee Howarth to smuggle the ball away from the Pitmen's number nine

Gardiner did well to deny the hosts a second goal on fifty-three minutes, deflecting the ball away from goal in a timely manner to deny Watkins after the in-form striker had been played in by Duik

A good run from Brownrigg two minutes later saw the former Rotherham man take the ball into space and pick out Lancashire with an angled cross, only for Lancashire to nod the ball tamely into the arms of Bowling

With the Pitmen looking to take control of the midfield area whilst on top, Hibbitt elected to bring on central midfielder Craven for wide midfielder Charie on fifty-seven minutes

Bowling was called upon once more on the hour mark to make a flying save as he turned a well-struck low free-kick from Barrow around the post for a Hednesford corner kick. From the resultant Lucas cross, Barrow rose highest but could not get enough purchase on the ball and glanced his effort wide of goal

Collins and Butcher played a quick one-two around Gardiner on sixty-six minutes to play Norman into space in on goal, only for an offside flag to pull up the midfield man before he could get his shot away with only Gayle to beat

Ajet was brought on by Hibbitt on sixty-nine minutes to add pace to the front line in place of Airdrie, who had been in mixed form throughout the evening's proceedings

Ajet was involved in the Pitmen's leveller on seventy-three minutes with his first meaningful contribution as fellow substitute Craven crossed from the left and found Ajet lurking at the near post - his shot was well saved by Bowling, who could only parry the ball into the path of the incoming Davis, who showed his poacher's instinct to turn the ball home from close-range

Davis had a great chance to put the Pitmen into the lead three minutes later as he escaped the attentions of Howarth and turned Simpson's pass goalwards, only to thwarted by a fine save by Bowling


With ten minutes remaining, the Pitmen were handed a let-off as a shot from Collins appeared to be handled on the line by Barrow after a goalmouth scramble inside the Hednesford penalty area. Despite the Poppies' protests, the referee remained unmoved and allowed the game to continue

Three minutes later, the home side had their own let-off on the goal line as Howarth's loose pass allowed Davis to seize upon the ball down the left. The striker took a couple of touches before squaring the ball to Lancashire, whose first-time shot was cleared off the line by the recovering Duik

With the minutes ticking by, Kettering went more direct in their approach as they looked to force home a winner to continue their title charge. Butcher's chip to the far post on eighty-seven minutes was headed wide by Howarth, followed by a shot from Small that drifted wide of the far post as he lashed an effort at goal from the edge of the Hednesford penalty area

In added time, Inman and Watkins both tried to force a corner kick home from close-range but once again the Hednesford defence showed commitment and composure to clear their lines

It had been a battling second-half display from the visitors, who once again showed that there is fight amongst their ranks in their bid to pull away from the bottom three. The key to their survival will be keeping the strike duo of Davis and Lancashire fit for the remainder of the season as they could well prove to be the difference with their ability in front of goal. Fellow strugglers Bath City visit Keys Park on Saturday in what will be the first of a number of potential six-pointers facing Hibbitt's side in the coming weeks

Kettering Town: Bowling, Duik, Small, Matthews, Howarth, Perkins (Murray 79), Inman (Fear 70), Norman, Watkins, Collins, Butcher        Subs Unused: Shutt

Hednesford Town: Gayle, Brownrigg Lucas, Haran ©, Gardiner Barrow, Simpson, Airdrie (Ajet 69), Davis, Lancashire, Charie (Craven 57)     Subs Unused: Francis