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Southern Premier League

Hednesford Town

McSweeney (50)

Merthyr Tydfil

French (2), Steins (70)

(0) 1

(1) 2



Current Form

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Lee Williams



Chippenham Town (A) 18.12.04

The Pitmen drop into the bottom half in the league table once more this afternoon as league leaders Merthyr Tydfil score a goal in each half to take the points at a wintery Keys Park

Three successive draws had stunted the Pitmen's recent league progress, adding to draws against Tiverton and Grantham's Town with a 1-1 draw at Histon in midweek. Player/manager Chris Brindley made two changes to his side for this afternoon's return home as Grant Beckett came in at left-back in place of Mark Branch and top scorer Andy Bell returned the side after injury as he replaced Lee Williams

Table-toppers Merthyr arrived at Keys Park off the back of a 2-1 defeat at Aylesbury United on Tuesday night, which was the Martyrs' third away game in a row with today's trip to South Staffordshire their fourth. Manager John Relish made just the one change to his side for this afternoon's league clash as the prolific Garry Shephard - a thorn in previous Hednesford sides - was ruled out by injury and was replaced by Craig Steins up front

On a chilly and grey afternoon, the all-red clad visitors started well and took an early lead in just the second minute of the game with their first foray into Hednesford territory; right-back Kris Whitcombe made progress down the flank before playing Dean Clarke into space on the overlap. He stepped inside and pulled the ball back into the path of Richard French, who had the simple task of firing past Ryan Young from eight yards out

French was to have quite an unconventional game for the Martyrs and followed up his early goal with an early yellow card in the fifth minute as he brought Richard Teesdale down as the pair challenged for a long ball forwards from the highly-rated Ashley Morris in the Merthyr goal

The Pitmen's first sight of goal came three minutes later as skipper Carl Palmer quickly took a free-kick in the centre circle and played Anthony Maguire into space down the right. The youngster skipped past Paul Keddle's sliding tackle and played an instinctive pass into the feet of Leon McSweeney, whose scuffed effort was easily fielded by Morris

French's eventful afternoon was brought to a sudden end in the eleventh minute as the striker's challenge on Lee Barrow was deemed illegal by referee Mr Ackerman, who showed French a quickfire second yellow card and sent the player off

The hosts looked to take advantage off their numerical superiority with a spell of pressure and a host of good chances; Bell provided McSweeney with a good chance in the fourteenth minute as his through ball through the legs of Jon Holloway found the Irishman, who dragged his low shot beyond Morris's far post from twelve yards out

Teesdale headed wide for The Pitmen two minutes later as he met Maguire's inswinging ball full-on at the near post but headed straight into the Hednesford supporters behind the goal


On twenty minutes, Beckett's long ball forwards was brought under control by Matt Turner, who did well to steal a yard on Whitcombe to cross into the six-yard box, where Morris did well to punch the ball away from the lurking presence of Bell. The rebound dropped to Palmer, who saw his low shot deflected away from goal by Dale Griffiths

A quick break from the ten men of Merthyr on twenty-four minutes saw Holloway's lofted ball controlled well by Steins, whose quick turn caught Barrow out as he looked to close the striker down. The former Leeds United trainee took a touch and tried his luck from twenty-five yards out, but his shot lacked direction and flew wide of the post

Right-back Ross Adams produced a great cross from the flank just before the half-hour mark as he picked up Walters' free-kick and sent over a deep ball into the path of Turner, whose first-time effort was tipped over the crossbar by Morris for a corner kick

On thirty-three minutes, Barrow's downward header from Turner's cross caused panic in the Merthyr ranks before the ball was hacked clear by Griffiths, under pressure from McSweeney

McSweeney forced Morris into another good save four minutes later, tricking his way into the Merthyr penalty area with a run from left to right before firing in a low shot that Morris pushed away for a Hednesford corner kick

With six minutes of the first half remaining, Bell should have done better when played through by Palmer but took a touch too many as he tried to work the ball onto his right boot and allowed Holloway to clear the danger from fifteen yards out

In the final minute of the half, a late offside flag on the Wimblebury side denied The Pitmen a great chance as Maguire's punt forwards found McSweeney in behind the Merthyr defence, only for the assistant to pull the striker back before he could pull the trigger

The hosts had enjoyed plenty of possession against their ten-man opponents but had been wasteful in front of goal and had struggled to turn their openings into clear-cut chances, with Morris making a clutch of good saves. Half-time saw the more defensively-minded Beckett taken off in place of the experienced midfield man Williams

The Pitmen started the second half strongly and Williams got straight into the game with a forty-eighth-minute free-kick that beat the four-man wall but was claimed by Morris on his line

They were rewarded for a forceful restart with an equalising goal two minutes later through McSweeney, who was played through on goal by Williams' fine through ball, holding off the challenge of Holloway before dispatching a confident finish beyond the reach of the onrushing Morris from fifteen yards out

Hednesford had their tails up and went close to turning the game on its head four minutes later as Turner's cross-field pass three minutes later found Walters down the right, who in turn played Maguire into space. After trying to beat Paul Keddle, Maguire returned the ball to Walters, whose sweeping cross was turned over the crossbar by Bell's glancing header from ten yards out

You felt that there was only going to be one winner at this stage as The Pitmen forced three successive corner kicks out of Merthyr's overworked defence in a two-minute spell of pressure. Barrow headed a Maguire corner over the crossbar on fifty-eight minutes as he got goal side of Griffiths to head over

A rare move forwards from Merthyr on the hour mark saw winger Lee Howells get past Adams as the pair clashed down the wing, with Howells emerging with the ball and crossing for Steins, whose shot was pushed away by Young at his near post

Walters was lucky not to be shown a yellow card four minutes later as he clattered into Chris Bale in midfield and incurred the wrath of Relish and his bench in the process. Mr Ackerman chose to lecture the former Wolves youngster rather than book him for the tackle

Good play from Williams again on sixty-six minutes saw the former Peterborough man exchange passes with Palmer and shoot from nearly thirty yards out, only for Morris to make a regulation save

Despite spending much of the second period defending, Merthyr somehow managed to get their noses in front once more with twenty minutes remaining as Bale made an enterprising run forwards, getting past Walters and playing the ball through to the hardworking Steins, who showed great composure to side the ball past Young from just inside the Hednesford penalty area

The Pitmen looked for an immediate response through Bell, whose first-time shot from the edge of the Merthyr penalty area was pushed behind by Morris for a corner kick

Sixty seconds later, Walters dispossessed Howells and started a break through midfield which involved Palmer and Maguire, eventually finding McSweeney on the edge of the Merthyr penalty area. His neat backheel found Turner, whose powerfully-struck effort was saved by Morris once more

In a bid to add to the Pitmen's aerial threat in the final third of the pitch, Brindley brought himself on with fifteen minutes remaining to play up front in place of Turner

Teesdale's up and under three minutes later was flicked on by Brindley into the path of Maguire, who jinked his way past Keddle before pulling the ball back into the path of Palmer, whose rising shot cleared the crossbar from twenty yards out

Another header from the veteran player/manager - this time from a Williams free-kick - found McSweeney once more on seventy-nine minutes, with the striker twisting and turning past Holloway and shooting from an angle that Morris watched into his side-netting

With eight minutes of the game remaining, Williams found Bell, who had his back to goal on the edge of the Martyrs' penalty area. He turned past substitute Jeff Eckhardt and slipped the ball into the path of Palmer, who was once again wasteful from a good position as he dragged his shot wide of the far post

Two minutes later, Brindley and Barrow got in each other's way as they both looked to get on the end of Maguire's corner kick, with Barrow getting a flick on the ball but heading over the crossbar

Young midfielder Jack Rogers was handed his first-team debut by the Pitmen with four minutes remaining as he came on in place of skipper Palmer for the remainder of the game

In the final minute of normal time, the experienced Eckhardt did well to clear the danger as Brindley's flick-on at the near post was aimed at McSweeney, only for the veteran former Cardiff City and Newport County centre-back to get enough of a touch to divert the ball away

There were more chaotic scenes inside the Merthyr penalty area in added time as the Pitmen were camped inside the visitors' third of the pitch; Bell's low shot was deflected away from goal by Holloway and into the path of Walters, who also saw his shot blocked by Andrew York

Merthyr had certainly shown their title credentials in grinding out a fine three points against all the odds against an out-of-sorts Hednesford side that had struggled to turn their possession into goals throughout the eighty-eight plus minutes they played with a man advantage. It's back to the drawing board for Brindley and assistant manager Steve Anthrobus, who may look to shuffle the pack and possibly look to bring in a couple of new faces before they travel to title-chasers Chippenham Town next weekend

Hednesford Town: Young, Adams, Beckett (Williams 45), Barrow, Teesdale, Walters, Maguire, Palmer © (Rogers 86), Bell, McSweeney, Turner (Brindley 75)       Subs Unused: Marshall, Evans

Merthyr Tydfil: Morris, Whitcombe, Keddle, York, Holloway, Griffiths (Eckhardt 80), Bale (Carter 78), Clarke, French  (11), Steins, Howells       Subs Unused: None 

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