30.12.2017

Evo-Stik Northern Premier League

Lancaster City

Hednesford Town

Oji (75)

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Charlie Gatter

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Stafford Rangers (H) 1.1.18

Hednesford end a rollercoaster calendar year on a high this afternoon, as they record a sixth win in seven games with a hard-fought away win at Lancaster's Giant Axe

 

Boxing Day's impressive win over Rushall Olympic had moved the Pitmen back into the top ten in the table, with Smith arriving in Lancashire looking to repeat that performance against Liam McDonald's side. Rather than making changes to his side, Smith stuck with the XI that had started against the Pics, bringing in the returning Reece King and Jim Mutton to fill the substitutes bench after losing Danny Glover and Louis Harris to suspension

 

Lancaster's return to step three had seen them consolidate in a mid-table position after a decent start to the campaign; Phil Brown's side had been frustratingly inconsistent since the start of the month, winning two, drawing two and losing one game. A 2-2 draw against Workington on Boxing Day had left the Dolly Blues just a point and a place below the Pitmen in the table at the start of play

 

On a grey, miserable day in Lancashire, with rain in the air and a strong wind picking up on occasions,, the away side made a bright start with a great chance falling to on-loan Mason Walsh in the fourth minute. Fellow winger James Fitzgibbon picked up a lovely through ball from Tom Thorley, before sweeping the ball across the pitch and towards Mason Walsh. The on-loan winger looked to be favourite to turn the ball home, but just failed to connect with the curling cross as it bounced away on the uneven pitch

 

Lancaster responded with a succession of corners, aimed towards giant striker Steve Williams, without any real penetration on the makeshift Hednesford defence

 

Fitzgibbon offered up another teasing cross for his team-mates to attack on twelve minutes, receiving the ball from Walsh before sending over a superb deep cross that drifted wide of goal, rather than being attacked by anyone in grey

 

More great wing play from the excellent Fitzgibbon saw him escape the attention of the Lancaster defence on fifteen minutes, as Matt Curley's throw was flicked on to Fitzgibbon by Joey Butlin, who forced Lancaster stopper Chris Cheetham into a low save at his near post with an angled drive

 

James Wren was called upon to make his first contribution to the game on seventeen minutes, making a save low down to his right to deny Tom Kilifin a clear shot on goal after the striker was played in on goal by Paul Jarvis

 

Two successive corners for the hosts saw them crank up the pressure on the Pitmen's defence, with the second ball in floated towards the back post, where it was headed goalwards by centre-back Glenn Steel. Fortunately for the Pitmen, Callam Mendez-Jones was alert to the danger, and headed the ball off the line and away from danger

 

The away side continued to live dangerously at the back, as Rob Henry's deep cross was met at the far post by Jarvis, whose header back  drifted across the face of Wren's goal and out of play

 

A great run from Curley saw him take the ball fifty yards down the pitch on thirty three minutes, before he slipped the ball into the path of the dangerous Fitzgibbon. Curley had continued his run into the box and was picked out by Fitzgibbon on the six-yard line. His first time shot was blocked by Steel, with the ball rebounding into the face of the unfortunate Butlin. He failed to turn the loose ball home and nor could Walsh, who seized upon the bouncing ball and saw his shot blocked

 

Butlin had more luck with his next effort, testing the reflexes of Cheetham on thirty-six minutes with a powerful long-range that the Lancaster number one palmed away down to his left-hand side

 

Charlie Gatter - growing into his role in the side in his fifth start for the club - had the Pitmen's final chance of an entertaining half of football, rising highest to meet James Lawrie's deep corner but headed the ball well wide of goal

 

The second half continued in much the same vein as the first, with two evenly-matched sides trading half chances on a bumpy, muddy pitch. Wren made a simple save to deny Kilifin on forty nine minutes, handling the ball at his far post after the striker had drifted in to turn the ball goalwards

 

The Pitmen went closest of all to opening the scoring on fifty five minutes, as Walsh seized upon a loose ball in the Lancaster penalty area and created an opening for himself with his trickery, curling in a shot from the edge of the penalty area that seemed to take an age to reach the goal before coming back off the foot of the post and into the grateful arms of Cheetham

 

Walsh continued to gave Lancaster problems with his quick feet, forcing Lancaster skipper Craig Carney into a foul. Lawrie's subsequent free kick from twenty five yards out went close, just dipping wide of the post as it curled towards goal

 

The Pitmen had had the better of the past ten minutes, and went close once again through the superb Sam Oji on sixty eight minutes; a Fitzgibbon corner kick was headed goalwards by Oji, who saw his effort turned away from goal by Cheetham at his near post

 

The visitors made their first change of the afternoon on seventy two minutes, with Jordan Graham coming on for Walsh to play up alongside Butlin

 

Then, the turning point in the game - as the Pitmen struck the killer blow with fifteen minutes of the game remaining. A Lawrie free kick found the head of Butlin, whose flick on to the far post was turned home by Oji, who dived in the head home from close range

 

In an attempt to see the game out, the Pitmen made a defensive substitution four minutes later, with King returning to the side as he came on in place of Fitzgibbon

 

There as plenty of commitment from Lancaster in the final ten minutes, as they looked rescue a late point in a similar manner as four days earlier against Workington. A clutch of corner kicks failed to break the Hednesford resistance, with best chance falling to skipper Carney on eighty eight minutes - his header from a Kilifin cross came back off the post, although any the rebound would have been ruled out due to an earlier offside flag

 

In added time, Hednesford gave themselves an extra layer of protection with the introduction of Laurence Taylor for Lawrie

 

A long trip north was well rewarded for the Pitmen faithful that had travelled up the M6, who can now look forward to the big New Years Day clash with Stafford Rangers with confidence. Smith and Larry Chambers once again proved themselves the masters of the classic away win, making changes at the right time and keeping it tight in defence against a very decent Lancaster side. With the Pitmen now only four points off the play-off places, who would dare suggest that this season is dead at this point, with Smith and Chambers currently wringing out every ounce of effort from their players and getting results

 

Lancaster City: Cheetham, Henry (Akrigg 84), Clark, Willis, Steel, Mercer, Winder (C. Bailey 78), Carney ©, Williams (S. Bailey 72), Kilifin, Jarvis   Subs Unused: Dugdale, Hudson 

 

Hednesford Town: Wren, Mendez-Jones, Curley, Fitzpatrick, Oji, Gatter, Walsh (Graham 72), Thorley ©, Butlin, Lawrie (Taylor 90), Fitzgibbon (King 79)  Subs unused: Mbunga, Mutton

 

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