18.2.2012

Evo-Stik Northern Premier League

Hednesford Town

Durrell (55)

Marine

Moore (39)

(0) 1

(1) 1

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Jay Denny

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Frickley Athletic (A) 25.2.12

A lacklustre first half costs the Pitmen two more points in their search for a play-off place this afternoon, as fellow top-five chasers Marine take a useful point back to Liverpool after a competitive day's work for both sides

Without a game in a fortnight following the bad spell of weather, manager Rob Smith had had a lengthy spell in which to decide on his side. Darren Campion and Jamey Osborne were still suspended, whilst Marvin Robinson had left to join Brackley Town the previous week. Left-back Michael Ricketts, who made his debut in the defeat at FC United of Manchester two weeks ago, was not in the matchday squad. With all this in mind, Ben Bailey made a return to the side at right-back, with Kyle Haynes filling in at left-back in the space vacated by Ricketts. Liam Blakeman was also included in the side at the expense of Ben Jevons, with Nick Wellecomme returning to the squad as a substitute after a number of games out

A strong start from the Pitmen saw them force three early corner kicks, as they searched for an early goal against a young Marine defence that had suffered a number of injuries in recent weeks. Recent signing Jermaine Johnson headed the third corner kick wide of goal after Chris Clements had found the defender lurking at the far post

The patched-up visitors soon got a grip of proceedings and used the strong wind at their backs to force Hednesford into a much deeper defensive line with a succession of corner kicks of their own. Neil Harvey headed well over the crossbar from the first kick on eleven minutes, whilst Sam Barnes went closest for Marine a few moments later, arriving late to drive one such corner into the side netting at the far post

Harvey was allowed time and space to create an opportunity for himself on twenty minutes, beating two half-hearted challenges before firing straight at Dan Crane at the near post

The Pitmen were struggling to create anything of note, as they failed to give any support to strikers Gary Hay and Mark Beesley. Blakeman and Elliott Durrell were both virtual spectators in midfield as Jay Denny and Chris Clements dropped deep to assist the young Hednesford defenders

Another succession of corner kicks on the half-hour mark tested the Pitmen's resolve, with Harvey again going close for Marine with a miscued header over the crossbar

Marine finally found a way through Hednesford's unconvincing defending six minutes before half time, although Crane will not want to see any replays of the opener. A hotly-disputed free-kick was awarded to Marine out towards the left-hand side of the penalty box, allowing Thomas Moore to float the ball towards the near post. Crane appeared to make an attempt at punching the ball away but allowed the ball to squirm through his hand and find the bottom corner of the net

It took a conceded goal to spark the Pitmen into life, with Beesley driving the ball wide with a snapshot from eighteen yards out a minute later after good build-up play involving Hay and Clements

Despite this response, it could have been Marine going into the half time break two goals to the good as Louis Barnes fired narrowly over the bar from an angle

After what was no doubt an aggressive half time team talk from Rob Smith and Larry Chambers, the Pitmen looked much brighter after the break, as Durrell seemed to start in a more solid right-wing spot rather than the free role he appeared to have started the game with. This proved a masterstroke, as Durrell grew more and more into the game

Just two minutes into the half, Durrell got away from his marker with a typically bustling run; his dangerous cross, aimed at Beesley at the far post, was only inches away from the boot of the former Burscough man and 1-1

Due to injury over the last eighteen months, Hednesford fans have rarely seen the best of the Elliott Durrell of old - the trickery, the direct nature of his play and the long-range goals have only been seen in patches as the playmaker has recovered from two serious injuries.

However, he produced an absolute gem of a finish to bring Hednesford level on fifty-five minutes. Picking up a loose ball thirty yards out, Durrell brought the ball under his control and unleashed a dipping, swerving shot that that beat Marine keeper Callum Williams all ends up to equalise

Three minutes later, Hay's afternoon was brought to a premature end as the big striker was forced off with an injury he sustained early in the second half. Wellecomme replaced him up front, in a move that saw the Pitmen change to a more direct style of play, aimed at the tall and physical Wellecomme

There were optimistic calls for a penalty kick for the Pitmen a minute later, as Blakeman went to ground under a Marine challenge, but the referee was unimpressed with the midfielder's tumble and ushered him back onto his feet

Beesley - so prolific at Burscough before joining the Pitmen in January - continued the search for his first Hednesford goal, and really should have found it on sixty-two minutes. Durrell pulled the ball back from the bye-line to Beesley, who manoeuvred his way past two challenges but fired straight at Williams from eight yards out with a weak shot

Three minutes later, Durrell almost replicated his goal with another piledriver from the same position, only for Williams to get his angles right this time and turn the ball over the crossbar for a corner. Clements' corner drifted towards the far post, where Bailey headed over the crossbar

The visitors had spent much of the half under pressure but still offered a threat on the counter-attack. The strike partnership of Harvey and Aaron Rey is regarded as arguably the best in the Evo-Stik Premier League, keeping Cheyenne Dunkley and Johnson busy as they worked the flanks with menace and pace

With eleven minutes remaining, Blakeman was replaced by Ben Jevons, who offered a more direct option playing predominately down the left-hand side with Haynes

Harvey was presented with a great chance to put Marine back into the lead with ten minutes remaining, as substitute Liam Dawson played the ball into the path of the big striker. However, rather than work Crane, he only succeeded in firing wide of goal from close range

The Pitmen's direct nature came to the fore in the final minutes, as Wellecomme's impressive cameo saw him at the heart of proceedings. After heading over the bar from Durrell's cross, he then played Haynes in with a knockdown, only for the makeshift left-back to fire high over the bar

At the other end, Rey continued to threaten as he beat two players but stalling on a shot that allowed Hednesford defenders to recover and block the ball

It was Beesley who had the last chance, looping Haynes' cross onto the roof of the net from close range with a minute left of the game

Both sides will no doubt feel that it was a hard point earned, but in the grand scheme of things, it was very much two points dropped as other clubs in the play-off race won. What was also evident was how evenly-matched sides are at this level of  - there has been very little to separate teams such as Hednesford, Bradford Park Avenue, Marine and FC United of Manchester after recent meetings. Things are likely to get very interesting in the next few weeks, as the final placings in the league take shape

Hednesford Town: Crane, Bailey, Haynes, Dunkley, Johnson, Denny ©, Durrell, Clements, Beesley, Hay (Wellecomme 59), Blakeman (Jevons 78 )       Subs Unused: Landell, Benjamin-McFarlane, Grice

Marine: Williams, Duff, Shaw ©, S. Barnes, Goulding, Brown (Fowler 75), Moore (Lundon 63), Rey, Harvey, Latham (Dawson 68)      Subs Unused: Byers, Brazier

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