Evo-Stik Northern Premier League

Mickleover Sports

Hednesford Town

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Joe Ballinger


Stourbridge (H) 3.4.17

The Pitmen ensure they are no fools on this April 1st as they edge out struggling Mickleover Sports at the Don Amott Arena to move back into the top half of the league table


Monday night's win over Ilkeston had halted a three-match winless run for the Pitmen, who had dropped as low as fifteenth in the table for a short spell before last week's 3-1 win over the struggling Robins. For the trip to another side in danger of relegation, Gary Birch had again shuffled his pack as he brought back Remeao Hutton, Darren Campion and Tony Clarke to the side with Danny Glover, Lewis Wright and Louis Danquah all making way for the trio


Mickleover had spent much of the season nervously looking over their shoulder at the plight of other clubs below them, starting today's game just five points above the drop zone, with only six games remaining in April to save themselves. Player/manager John McGrath made one change to the side that had been beaten by Stafford Rangers in their last outing in midweek with Tyler Blake replacing Aaron Cole up front


On a bumpy pitch and in front of a sparse crowd in Derbyshire, the Pitmen started well with Joe Ballinger heading just over the crossbar from a David McDermott cross in the seventh minute


Three minutes later, neat play down the Hednesford left saw McDermott cross for Clarke, whose low shot was turned just wide at his near post by Nick Draper in the Mickleover goal as the visitors continued to have the better of the opening exchanges

In the twelfth minute, Bradley Peace-McDonald did well to get in front of Clinton Morrison and block the burly veteran's shot at goal from just inside the Hednesford penalty area 


The game was lacking any real cutting edge in the opening quarter of the game, with both defences on top as chances were at a premium. Ballinger, in particular, was impressing for the away side, dealing with plenty of high balls well and organising his defence well alongside youngster Peace-McDonald

On eighteen minutes, Ballinger got on the end of an inswinging free-kick from skipper Tom Thorley but failed to divert the ball goalwards and headed well wide of the target


Sports' first real shot in anger came on twenty minutes, as Dan Crane made a good save to deny young Mansfield Town loanee Blake from close-range after he had raced onto a through ball from Jake Scott


The home side went close to opening the scoring midway through the first half as Scott left Crane rooted the spot with a low drive that missed the post by a matter of inches. Close from the hosts


Player/manager McGrath was next to test Crane's resolve on twenty-six minutes, lifting his long-range drive just over the crossbar as the Hednesford defence backed off him and allowed the Irishman to move into space

The Pitmen's good start to the game had become a bit of a memory at this point as they struggled to get themselves out of their own half; passes were not finding the men in white and lazy balls dropped out of play or straight to the feet of their opponents

Australian midfielder Blake Thompson was once again putting himself about, earning himself a dressing-down from referee Mr Simpson on the half-hour mark for hauling down Dales in the centre circle

Two minutes later, youngster Hutton was the first player to go into Mr Simpson's book for a foul on Scott as the winger skipped past the youth team graduate down the flank


The talented Dales had a sighter at goal for the hosts on thirty-seven minutes, driving a low shot across the face of goal and narrowly wide of the far post, with no-one in red and black on hand to tap the ball home from six yards out for what would have been a simple finish

The Pitmen continued to huff and puff with little end product towards the end of a very poor first-half; Jordan Nadat managed to get goal-side of former Hednesford triallist Pablo Mills on forty minutes but saw McGrath clear the danger before he could get his shot away from twenty yards out

Half-time could not have come soon enough for both sets of players and indeed the supporters who had been served up a dreadful forty-five minutes of 'action' which had all the hallmarks of an end-of-season training game

Dales wasted another good opening for the hosts with the first attack of the second half as he drove towards the Hednesford penalty area and fired wide of goal on forty-eight minutes


The midfielder went even closer to giving Mickleover the crucial lead five minutes later, taking advantage of the Pitmen not clearing their lines to drive into the penalty area and hit a shot that came back off Crane's right-hand post before the visitors cleared their lines through Hutton


This was to prove the turning point in the game for both sides, as the Pitmen responded well and started to exert pressure on the Mickleover defence with several set-pieces. Thompson's thumping header from a David McDermott cross on fifty-one minutes was narrowly off-target before Nadat turned Mills three minutes later and played the ball into the path of striker-partner Clarke, whose bobbling shot was easily saved by Draper


The Pitmen took the lead on fifty-six minutes as a well-hit Thorley corner kick just missed the head of Peace-McDonald but fell at the feet of fellow centre-back Ballinger, who did well to get the ball out of his feet and fire into the roof of the net from an acute angle for his first-ever goal for the club


The industrious Thompson was forced from the field two minutes later, with the midfielder being replaced by Wright after pulling up with an injury in the centre of the park


Mickleover somehow failed to strike straight back with a leveller on fifty-nine minutes as confusion int he Hednesford ranks saw Lewis Belgrave pick up a loose ball in the six-yard box but somehow firing straight at Crane, who turned the ball onto the crossbar and out for a corner kick. A great save from the veteran stopper but a poor miss from Belgrave, who had the whole goal to aim at

A quick break from the Pitmen on sixty-two minutes saw Nadat play Wright into space down the right flank. He took two touches before sending over a fine cross to the far post where Clarke could only glance the ball away from goal, rather than test Draper from eight yards out

Four minutes later, a free-kick from Dales was headed back across the face of goal by the powerful Mills, only for Peace-McDonald to hack the ball clear ahead of the lurking presence of Morrison


The hosts resorted to several underhand tactics in an attempt to get back into the game as a succession of Sports players made their way into the book for overly-aggressive challenges on Hednesford players, with Thorley coming in for particular attention in the centre of midfield. Indeed, such had been the level of aggression on the talented Hednesford skipper, he had to be withdrawn on seventy minutes after limping away from yet another poor challenge on him. He was replaced by forward George Cater in a move that saw McDermott drop into a more central role

This move seemed to affect the Pitmen going forwards as they dropped into a more defensive system looking to protect their lead in the closing stages of the game. Blake's stubbed shot from twenty yards on seventy-four minutes took a nick off the boot of Ballinger before bobbling safely through to Crane

Three minutes later, Wright's persistence down the wing saw him win the ball from Mickleover substitute Will Norcross and cross for the hapless Clarke, who got his legs in a tangle and scuffed his effort into the shins of the covering Mills


Mickleover's poor luck was summed up in one free-kick for McGrath on eighty-three minutes, as the Sports player-manager hit a superb long-range shot at goal, but saw his effort come back off both posts before being hacked away by the Hednesford defence

With five minutes remaining, Scott's run and cross was headed high over the crossbar by Morrison, who was displeased with the effort and was vocal about it after the event


In an attempt to see the game out and protect their solitary goal lead, the Pitmen brought on the more defensively minded Danquah for McDermott with three minutes remaining


As had been the way at Frickley Athletic a few weeks earlier, the Pitmen had done enough in the ninety minutes to earn the three points against a struggling side but had probably not necessarily deserved it. Still, two wins in a week is no mean feat in this uncompromising league, wins that now lift the Pitmen back amongst the mid-table names. Play-off chasers Stourbridge will offer a far sterner test for the inconsistent Pitmen on Monday night when they visit Keys Park, before Stour's local rivals Halesowen make the same trip two days later as the Pitmen face up to another busy week at Keys Park

Mickleover Sports: Draper, Grocott, Ricketts (Norcross 65), McGrath, Mills, Burgin, Dales, Morrison (Cole 81), Blake, Belgrave, Scott       Subs Unused: Dickinson, Lansdown


Hednesford Town: Crane, Hutton , Campion, Thompson (Wright 53), Peace-McDonald, Ballinger, McNaught , Thorley © (Cater 70), Nadat, Clarke, McDermott (Danquah 86)       Subs Unused: Ransome, Glover

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