Dr. Martens Southern Premier League

Hednesford Town

Barrow (22)

Kettering Town

Watkins (60), Howarth (90)

(1) 1

(0) 2



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Derek Rae



Merthyr Tydfil (A) 16.3.02

The Pitmen sink to another defeat this evening as title contenders Kettering grab a late, late winner and condemn the hosts to a second successive defeat and leave them staring at a battle to stay out of the bottom three once more 

Saturday's defeat to King's Lynn had halted Hednesford's recent run of good form and had once more pushed them back towards the dreaded drop zone. Manager Kenny Hibbitt made one change to the side that had started at the Walks at the weekend with young striker Leon Brown returning to the team after Kevin Francis was once again ruled out by a knee injury to join Graham Lancashire on the sidelines

Kettering were in the midst of a fine run of form that had seen the Poppies move just a point behind league leaders Tamworth ahead of tonight's game after a six-game unbeaten run. Manager Carl Shutt stuck with the same side for a third successive game after coming away from Ilkeston Town on Saturday with a 2-0 win to keep the pressure on the Lambs, who had beaten local rivals Stafford Rangers at Marston Road

Despite having the best away record in the league, Kettering looked susceptible in the opening stages and almost conceded in just the second minute of the game; Stuart Lake's long throw into the Kettering penalty area was flicked on by Derek Rae and into the Poppies six-yard box. The visitors struggled to clear their lines and allowed Wayne Simpson to fire straight at Kettering stopper Paul Pettinger from close range, with Pettinger doing well to push the defender's shot away from goal

A good run from the in-form Stewart Airdrie in the seventh minute saw him drift past Wayne Diuk and cross for Neil Davis, whose goalbound effort was deflected wide by the boot of Martin Matthews for a corner kick

From Lucas's resultant corner kick, Lake flicked the ball on with his head at the near post and into the path of Mark Haran, who failed to turn the ball home as it skipped past him from six yards out

The closest Kettering could get to the Hednesford goal was an off-target effort from the experienced Darren Collins in the twelfth minute that drifted wide of Mark Gayle's goal from twenty-five yards out

Derek Rae did well to win the ball from a dawdling Peter Fear four minutes later and set Lake on his way through the centre of the pitch. The burly midfield man took a touch before unleashing a powerful shot that flew just wide of Pettinger's goal

Davis and Brown linked up well on nineteen minutes to play Airdrie on goal on the corner of the Kettering penalty area, only for a late offside flag to deny the winger a clear shot at goal as he raced through to face Pettinger

The hosts had been on top for much of the opening quarter and took a deserved lead against their in-form opponents on twenty-two minutes; another Lucas corner kick caused havoc in the Kettering and fell to the feet of Haran, who saw his shot saved by Pettinger. The ball found it's way back to Lucas, whose cross was turned home by Haran's central defensive partner Lee Barrow from close-range - it was the former Torquay man's first goal since joining the club in December

Three minutes later, the Pitmen really should have doubled their advantage and put the game out of the reach of their title-chasing visitors as Lake's inviting cross from the right was headed straight into the grateful arms of Pettinger by Davis from point-blank range. On another day you would back the ever-reliable Davis to score such an inviting chance every time, but on this occasion, it was not to be

A quick break from Kettering on thirty-one minutes saw Fear slip the ball into the path of the prolific Dale Watkins, whose subsequent curling effort from the edge of the penalty area just cleared the crossbar

Lake was booked for a pulling Richard Butcher back on thirty-five minutes, whilst Barrow was given a stern lecture by the referee after a culmination of niggly fouls from the centre-back over the course of the half but no card

With five minutes of the half remaining, a long ball forwards from Pettinger was flicked on by Lee Howarth and into the Hednesford penalty area. Collins was alive to the ball and got on the end of it, only for a marginal offside call against the former Rushden & Diamonds man to deny him a chance to level matters from twelve yards out

On forty-three minutes, Ashley Williams quickly took a free-kick just inside the Kettering half and played Airdrie into space in behind the away side's defence. The winger took two touches before looking to pick out Brown at the far post, only for the young striker to miss the cross by a matter of inches

It had been an assertive first period from Hibbitt's men, who had once again proved that on their day they can go toe-to-toe with the best sides in the league when they have to produce a performance

Three minutes into the second half, the Pitmen were once again handed a chance to put clear daylight between themselves and their visitors as Brown was put clean through by Lake's incisive pass, only for Pettinger to save the young striker's angled shot

Kettering had emerged with more purpose after what was no doubt an aggressive half-time talk from former Leeds United man Shutt and pushed the Pitmen back into their own half as they played ten yards further up the pitch. Howarth supplied Watkins with a chance on fifty-one minutes as he clipped the ball into the striker's path, only for Kettering's number ten to drill a shot just wide of goal with a first-time effort

Simpson did well to block a goalbound shot from Collins four minutes later before Brad Piercewright's deep cross was headed tamely into the arms of Gayle by Neil Inman from ten yards out on fifty-seven minutes

Kettering ramped up the pressure on the retreating Hednesford defence and finally got themselves level on the hour mark; Pettinger's long ball was not dealt with by a retreating Hednesford defence and allowed Watkins to latch onto the ball. He turned Haran well before unleashing an unstoppable shot beyond the reach of Gayle from fully thirty yards out. A superb strike but questionable defending from the hosts, who had undone all of their good work in one move

The hosts could have re-established their lead within a minute of the restart with a tremendous passage of play; Lake's fine through ball was cleverly dummied by Davis, who allowed the ball to run through the legs of Matthews and into the path of Airdrie, whose took a touch before returning the ball to the Hednesford striker with a slide-rule pass. With only Pettinger to beat, Davis once again failed to find the net when you would expect him to as he lifted his effort just over the crossbar from ten yards out

The ever-dangerous Collins tested Gayle's reflexes on sixty-five minutes with a snap-shot that was pushed away by his former Rushden team-mate for a Kettering corner kick

Three minutes later, Inman escaped the attentions of Williams and got his shot away from twenty-five yards out that was a yard or so wide of Gayle's right-hand post

Haran headed well wide from an Airdrie corner kick on seventy-one minutes before Simpson recycled a Lucas cross a minute later and found Brown at the far post, only for the youngster to drag his angled shot well wide of Pettinger's far post

Watkins and Collins combined well to play the ball around Barrow with fifteen minutes remaining, only for Gayle to spot the danger and smother the ball at the feet of goalscorer Watkins before he could get his shot away

With ten minutes of a keenly-contested game to go, Pettinger kept his side in contention with a fine save at his far post to deny Haran after Airdrie's cross was headed back across goal by Davis before being headed goalwards by the former Emley man

Brown's mixed evening was brought to an end on eighty-two minutes as he was replaced by Wale-Kwik Ajet up front as the Pitmen looked to force home a winner

Ajet provided Rae with a chance on eighty-six minutes as he laid the ball off into the path of the midfielder on the edge of the Kettering penalty area, only for the former Elgin man to drag his shot wide of goal as he was closed down by the Kettering defence

With two minutes remaining, a corner kick from Lucas was headed goalwards by Lake, only for a combination of Diuk and Howarth to block the effort and clear their lines before Davis could pounce on the loose ball

Kettering's late spell of pressure - roared on by their large travelling contingent - brought them a late winner as they broke Hednesford hearts in the final minute of normal time; Craig Norman's corner kick drifted all the way to the far post, where Howarth was on hand to head into the net from close range to send the away fans into raptures as they invaded the pitch to celebrate with the Poppies players

Despite forcing a couple of late corner kicks, there was to be no comeback from the home side as they were condemned to a second successive league defeat despite more than matching their opponents over the duration of the game and deserving at least a point for their efforts. However, the old football cliche of 'you don't always get what you deserve' had pretty much summed up the Pitmen's performance this evening, with them continuing to teeter just three points above the drop zone having played more games than both Welling United and Newport (Isle of Wight) at this point. It's another relegation six-pointer for Hibbitt's side on Saturday as they travel to South Wales to face second-bottom Merthyr Tydfil looking to arrest this recent slide in form

Hednesford Town: Gayle, Lake , Lucas, Haran ©, Williams, Barrow, Simpson, Rae, Davis, Brown (Ajet 82), Airdrie     Subs Unused: Brownrigg, Shakespeare

Kettering Town:  Pettinger, Diuk, Piercewright, Matthews (Cowling 82), Howarth, Norman, Fear, Inman (Murray 78), Collins, Watkins, Butcher     Sub Unused: Perkins