12.2.2005

Southern Premier League

Merthyr Tydfil

Hednesford Town

McSweeney (75), Barrow (89) (penalty)

(0) 0

(0) 2

Attendance

MoTM

Current Form

Next Match

318

Ryan Young

L W D W D W D W L W

 

Gloucester City (A) 15.2.05

The Pitmen shrugged off their controversial F.A. Trophy defeat at Burton Albion last week as they continued their fine league form with another win and another clean sheet, this time at one-time runaway league leaders Merthyr Tydfil this afternoon

The visitors travelled to South wales still smarting at the manner in which they had relinquished their Trophy title at Eton Park; manager Chris Brindley made one change to his side from the one that started at Eton Park as top scorer Andy Bell was passed fit once more to link up with Leon McSweeney, with the suspended Matt Turner the man to miss out

Merthyr - so long flying high at the top of the Southern Premier League table - have seen their recent form take an alarming dip that has seen the Martyrs drop to fourth place in the table after a run of seven league games without a win, stretching back to mid-December. Manager John Rellish was without several players for today's game and made two changes to his side from the one that had drawn 0-0 with Dunstable Town in their last league game last Saturday; Steve Williams came in for Chris Holloway whilst Dale Griffiths replaced the injured Craig Steins up front

The hosts made a good start to the game and created several early openings in the first fifteen minutes of the game; skipper Jeff Eckhardt headed a fifth-minute chance over the crossbar as he rose to meet a cross from Griffiths just inside the six-yard box but was off-target with his effort

Two minutes later, neat build-up play saw Gethin Jones feed Craig Steins with a fine through ball that evaded Mark Branch, just inside the Hednesford penalty area. The striker tried to work the ball onto his right foot but delayed his shot long enough for Lee Barrow to get across and block the low driven shot

In the eleventh minute, Merthyr hit the crossbar for the first time in the afternoon as Lee Howells left Ross Adams in his wake and crossed from the right, finding Steins arriving at the near post ahead of Barrow. The scorer of the winning goal at Keys Park back in December turned the ball goalwards but saw his effort come back off the post as Ryan Young looked to cover his post

Skipper Carl Palmer was fouled by Chris Bale two minutes later and quickly took the resultant free-kick to spray the ball out to Anthony Maguire. The winger jinked his way past Paul Keddle and also managed to wrong-foot Eckhardt but struck his rising shot well wide of goal from fifteen yards out

Young made his first meaningful contribution of the game in the seventeenth minute as he stretched to turn Jon Holloway's looping header from a Griffiths free-kick over the crossbar for a Merthyr corner kick

In the twentieth minute, Steins got the better of Richard Teesdale as he raced onto a pass from Dean Clarke, but was pulled up by referee Mr Gee as the flag was raised on the main stand side against the striker

Midway through the first half, Young made another good save as he palmed Eckhardt's downward header from a clever Bale clipped cross away from goal and past his left-hand post for a corner kick

The Pitmen responded through Grant Beckett, whose enterprising run down the left on twenty-six minutes saw him somehow keep the ball in twice as it ran down the touchline. He managed to steal a yard on the covering Steve Williams and crossed for Leon McSweeney, whose header lacked power or direction and drifted over the crossbar from eight yards out

Palmer's foul on Bale gifted Merthyr a free-kick ten yards outside the Hednesford penalty area just before the half-hour mark; Holloway clipped the ball into the penalty area and to the far post, where Eckhardt brushed off Barrow's attentions to head just wide of goal. Close from the veteran defender

The home side's domination of proceedings continued through Bale on thirty-three minutes, breathing Palmer and Lee Williams with a mazy run from deep before drilling in a shot from twenty-five yards out that Young claimed at the second attempt

With eight minutes of the first period remaining, Young was beaten as neat play from Howells and Keddle opened the Pitmen up to play Griffiths in down the right-hand side of the penalty area, only for the former Swansea City youngster to scuff his shot past Young but onto the outside of the post and wide once more

The Pitmen had struggled to impose themselves on the game going forwards, relying on set-pieces to get into the Merthyr penalty area. A rare contribution from Bell on forty minutes saw the former Blackburn Rovers man win a free-kick out on the left and allow Lee Williams to take the subsequent kick, crossing well to the far post but getting a little too much on his cross, with the ball sailing over the heads of the incoming players in sky blue and dropping wide of Ashley Morris's goal

In the final minute of the half, Young again excelled for the Pitmen as he made a fine one-handed stop to divert a Steins' snap-shot away from goal and hand Merthyr yet another corner kick

The hosts had dominated the first half of play and could count themselves unlucky not to be ahead in the game, having found both Young and the woodwork frustrating barriers to a goal. The Pitmen had been content to allow Merthyr to have plenty of the ball, but the lack of chances at the other end, with McSweeney a little exposed up front on his own, meant that they should have been happy that the game remained goalless

Merthyr contained to press at the start of the second period and Howells did well to seize upon a long goal kick from Morris in the fiftieth minute, controlling the ball just outside the Hednesford penalty area but striking his shot high and wide of goal when a pass to Keddle may have been a better option

Lee Williams gave Morris something to think about five minutes later as Palmer's marauding run towards the Merthyr penalty area was halted by a foul on the skipper by Eckhardt. Williams assumed responsibility for the free-kick and lifted it over the hosts' wall, but saw the highly-rated Morris push the ball away down to his right-hand side

Beckett and Branch were both left bamboozled by great play from Griffiths and Steve Williams on fifty-eight minutes, playing some intricate football down the right before Griffiths whipped in a cross that was met by the head of Steins, only for Young to make another save down to his lefty and clutch the ball to his body

The woodwork continued to prove a frustration for the Martyrs as they hit the crossbar on sixty-one minutes; Teesdale inexplicably flicked a Holloway free-kick into the path of Eckhardt, whose rising header came back off the bar and dropped to Adams, who hacked the ball clear from six yards out

Once again, the Pitmen were struggling to make inroads on the Merthyr defence in the second period, with Bell twisting and turning on the edge of the penalty area three minutes later but striking a low, bobbling effort straight into the arms of Morris

Jones and Bale set Howells away down the left for the hosts on sixty-eight minutes with a fine piece of midfield play; Adams did well to jockey the midfielder away from goal but could not cut out the cross from Keddle, who found Steins once more in the penalty area. The striker's glancing header once again brought out the best in Young, who made a superb save stretching full-length across his goal to his left to push the ball away

McSweeney's clever play for the Pitmen finally created an opening for them on seventy-one minutes as he showed Eckhardt a clean pair of heels to the right-hand side of the Merthyr penalty area and reversed his pass back into the path of Palmer, whose first-time effort whistled inches wide of the post

The hosts had seen chances come and go all afternoon, and you did feel that they might regret not taking one of them the longer the game remained at 0-0. This was to prove correct as the Pitmen took the lead against the run of play with fifteen minutes remaining; Maguire made a break down the right after Adams had played the ball into his feet - his clever pass through the centre of the Merthyr defence found McSweeney, whose scuffed shot from fifteen yards out was enough to carry it past Morris and find the far corner of the net

The hosts were shocked into action after conceding and brought attacking midfielder Richard French on for Howells a minute later; they also elected to move Eckhardt forward to partner Steins in a bid to add an aerial threat to their forward line

This allowed the Pitmen to exploit the space in behind the Merthyr defence, with Bell and McSweeney linking up well on seventy-nine minutes following a long ball forwards from Palmer, with Bell striking an angled shot straight down the throat of Morris at his near post

Back came the hosts, with auxiliary striker Eckhardt once again rising highest to meet Holloway's corner kick on eighty-two minutes but saw Young claw the ball away for another corner to the home side

The woodwork came to the Pitmen's rescue for a fourth time in the game two minutes later as Eckhardt's downward header at the far post found French, whose low driven shot came back off the base of Young's left-hand post and into the path of Branch, who cleared after getting the ball caught between his legs

In a bid to hang on to their narrow lead, the Pitmen made their only substitution with five minutes remaining as Brindley elected to bring himself on to add experience to the backline as he replaced Teesdale

With three minutes remaining, a period of pressure from the hosts saw the ball worked from right to left across the Hednesford penalty area and into the path of Keddle, who wastefully shot from long-range and cleared the crossbar with a wild effort

With Merthyr committing more and more players forwards in search of a late equaliser, the Pitmen caught their hosts on the counter in the final minute as a Lee Williams clearance was seized upon by Maguire, who in turn sent Bell away into space behind the retreating Merthyr defence. Jones chased the striker back and only succeeded in hauling the striker down in full flight, two yards inside the Merthyr penalty area. Mr Gee was a few yards behind the play but had no hesitation in awarding the away side a penalty kick for the foul

Barrow ignored all of the Merthyr protests and gamesmanship as they tried to delay the taking of the subsequent penalty kick, confidently firing past Morris from twelve yards out to seal a truly backs-to-the-wall three points for the Pitmen

 

The Pitmen can be pleased with their afternoon's work, although they had worked hard for the win after having to defend for long periods against their luckless hosts to grind out their late win and move them level on points with Hitchin in eighth place. A return trip down the M5 is in the offing for the men in blue on Tuesday night as they travel to Meadow Park to face old Southern League adversaries Gloucester City, who sit in lower mid-table currently

 

Merthyr Tydfil: Morris, S. Williams, Keddle, Jones, J. Holloway, Eckhardt ©, Bale, Clarke, Griffiths, Steins, Howells (French 76)      Subs Unused: Carter, Owen

Hednesford Town: Young, Adams, Branch, Barrow, Teesdale (Brindley 85), L. Williams, Maguire, Palmer ©, Bell, McSweeney, Beckett     Subs Unused: McMahon, Walters, Turner, Evans