Pitching In Southern Premier League Central

Hednesford Town

Flanagan (43), Styche (54) (penalty)

Needham Market

Ingram (48) (penalty)

(1) 2

(0) 1



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Reece Flanagan



Stourbridge (A) 16.8.21

Hednesford made a winning start to the 2021-2022 Southern Premier League Central season as they edge out Needham Market by the odd goal in three at the PRG Stadium @ Keys Park this afternoon

It had been a topsy-turvy pre-season campaign for Keenen Meakin-Richards' side with some indifferent performances during the build-up to the new season as the Pitmen's manager looked to stamp his authority on the side ahead of the new campaign. There was no place in the starting XI for either Ben Bailey or Andre Brown for the hosts as Kyle Rowley and George Cater were both given the nod over their more established team-mate for today's curtain-raiser

Needham Market were topping the league table at the point of the 2020-2021 season being voided back in January so were looking to pick up where they left off and lay down a marker on the opening day of the campaign. The Marketmen's pre-season programme had seen them in similarly inconsistent form with three wins and three defeats for Kevin Horlock's side, although their last game had seen them confidently beat Colchester United's U23s 4-0 at Bloomfields ten days ago

It had been an overcast morning in South Staffordshire, with a spell of drizzle leaving the Keys Park pitch slick and free-running at kick-off. There was almost an explosive start to the game as the Pitmen broke quickly in the first minute of the game and Reece Styche got on the end of a long pass forwards. As he entered the penalty area he appeared to be brought down by Needham Market goalkeeper Marcus Garnham as he looked to take the ball around him, only for referee Mr Pearson to wave away the striker's protests

Reece Flanagan - returning to the side after a pre-season punctuated through injury - did well to make some space for himself in the seventh minute just outside the Needham Market penalty area and sent over a fine cross that was aimed at Andre Landell, who was just too far behind the ball to turn it home at the far post

Two minutes later, Carter Lycett whipped in a free-kick from wide on the left flank but got too much behind it and curled his cross beyond the reach of the incoming Lewis Ison at the far post

Needham Market countered with a run from Kyle Hammond and pass through to Andrew Fennell in the eleventh minute. He beat Callam Mendez-Jones for pace and sent over a fine cross that Kyle Rowley deflected away for a corner kick to the visitors

The away side went close to opening the scoring in the sixteenth minute as a cross-field ball from Callum Sturgess was headed back across goal by Fennell and into the path of wing-back Jake Dye, who was just behind the ball and could not turn the ball home from close-range

Styche was looking lively and showing urgency in his play and went closest of anyone to breaking the deadlock a minute later as he seized upon a long ball forwards from Ison to streak away from the Needham Market defence, taking a couple of touches before striking a low shot at goal that was turned away by Garnham

From the resultant George Cater corner kick, Rowley rose highest to meet the inswinging cross at the far post and headed towards goal, only for Garnham to make a sprawling save at the far post

On nineteen minutes, Flanagan played a free-kick into the path of Lycett, whose crisply-hit low shot from twenty yards out was narrowly wide of the right-hand post

Andy Wycherley's first involvement in the game came midway through the first half as he got behind a shot from Byron Lawrence after Fennell had cut inside from the right flank and beaten Lycett for pace before setting his team-mate up

Youngster Todd Parker was next to register a shot for the hosts as he picked the ball up thirty yards from goal on twenty-seven minutes and drove forwards before unleashing a low shot that Garnham pushed away for a corner kick

Wychereley made a fine save to deny the visitors on thirty-one minutes as the dangerous Fennell once again supplied a ball from the right flank, this time to striker William Hunt, whose shot was turned away from goal by the Hednesford stopper low down at his right-hand post

Styche warmed the hands of Garnham once more two minutes later as he cut inside from the right flank and tried his luck with a powerful angled drive that was saved by the goalkeeper at his near post

Needham Market were awarded a free-kick on thirty-five minutes which Fennell clipped into the penalty area and saw his cross headed high over the crossbar by skipper Daniel Morphew

Andre Landell's first sight at goal came three minutes later as he cut inside from the right flank and saw his low drive deflected behind for a corner kick, which was easily cleared

As the half seemed to be drifting towards a goalless conclusion, the Pitmen struck the first goal of the game courtesy of Flanagan; the midfield man picked the ball up just outside the Hednesford penalty area and exchanged passes with Mendez-Jones before firing a low shot beyond the wrong-footed Garnham and into the net at the far post from twenty yards out

It had been a fairly attritional first period from both sides, who were still looking to find their feet and get into top gear at the start of another long hard season. The Pitmen had been the more active in front of goal, having forced Garnham into a series of good saves so could be pleased to have converted one of their chances into a goal just before the break.

Horlock's side emerged much more positively at the start of the second half and went close to an equaliser just seconds after the restart as Dye played striker Ben Fowkes into the penalty area with a slide-rule pass from the right, only for the Needham Market number eleven to lift his effort just over the crossbar

Two minutes later, the Marketmen's early pressure told as they were awarded a penalty kick; Fowkes picked up a loose pass from Lycett and fed Luke Ingram inside the penalty area, only for Mendez-Jones to clumsily bring the striker down before he could shoot. Ingram spotted the ball after Mr Pearson had awarded the visitors a penalty and fired home to Wycherley's left, although the stopper got a hand to the spot-kick and very nearly kept it out

Despite allowing the away side back into the game after a sloppy start to the second half, the Pitmen were handed a penalty kick of their own six minutes later as the ball was worked wide to Cater, who made a marauding run into the Needham Market penalty area before being grounded by a challenge from Sturgess. Mr Pearson awarded the home side a spot-kick which looked a little soft, allowing Styche to take the resultant kick and to fire beyond the reach of Garnham to his left with a well-struck penalty to give the hosts the lead once more

The Pitmen were forced into a substitution on fifty-nine minutes as Mendez-Jones limped off holding the back of his leg and was swiftly replaced by Sam Griffiths

Styche drilled a powerful left-footed shot at goal from the edge of the penalty area on sixty-one minutes that was deflected just wide of the post. Cater's well-worked corner was worked to Courtney Richards inside the 'D', whose well-hit shot was just wide of the post

Cater was wasteful with a good chance played to him three minutes later as he fired wide of the post after picking the ball up fifteen yards from goal with a snatched effort

Hammond was shown the first yellow card of the game on sixty-eight minutes for blocking a free-kick that Lycett wanted to take quickly just inside the Needham Market half

A minute later, the visitors went close to levelling the game once more as substitute Tariq Issa - making his first contribution of the game - played Ingram into the penalty area, who turned past Ison but fired inches wide of the base of Wycherley's left-hand post

Rowley seemed a little surprised to see his number go up on seventy-one minutes as the Pitmen made their second change of the afternoon, with Ison seemingly expecting his number to be shown; after the confusion was cleared up, Rowley was replaced by club great Ben Baily for the final twenty minutes

A minute later, Hammond played Issa in on goal with a reverse pass into the penalty area, but Wycherley was equal to the substitute's effort. Ingram mis-kicked his follow-up before Fowkes eventually fired over from twelve yards out

The dangerous Ingram went close once more for the away side on seventy-four minutes as he picked up a cross from Sturgess but fired narrowly wide with a first-time effort from ten yards out. Close from the visitors

The Pitmen's final change of the game came a minute later as Styche was applauded off the pitch by the Keys Park crowd as he was replaced by fellow striker Andre Brown

Brown's first action saw him get on the end of a fine pass from Cater with ten minutes remaining, only for a late offside flag on the main stand side to deny the big striker a shot at goal

Brown turned supplier for Landell two minutes later with a fine threaded pass through to the inside-forward, whose angled drive drifted just wide of Garnham's left-hand post

With six minutes remaining, Griffiths made an overlapping run down the right to get on the end of a flowing cross-field move from the Pitmen involving Brown, Cater and Landell, only to find Garnham equal to his low shot with his legs

The Pitmen were finishing the game strongly and Landell went close once more a minute later with another off-target effort from just inside the Needham Market penalty area.

Brown was booked for the Pitmen a minute later for a foul, with Meakin-Richards also shown a yellow card by Mr Pearson for kicking the ball away in frustration

A late salvo from the visitors saw a long free-kick from the centre-circle find substitute Noah Collard, whose shot from fifteen yards out was easily fielded by Wycherley

In the final minute of the game, Morphew's deep free-kick into the Hednesford six-yard box was headed away from danger by Bailey, who cleared his lines ahead of Ingram

The five minutes of added time saw the Pitmen hold out against a late flurry of Needham Market corner kicks to record a welcome three points on the opening day of the season. Monday night will see the Pitmen face a different threat in the form of title favourites Stourbridge, who have spent heavily on highly experienced players in all positions this summer in a bid to finally reach step two after years of trying


Hednesford Town: Wycherley, Mendez-Jones (Griffiths 59), Lycett, Ison, Rowley (Bailey 71), Richards ©, Landell, Parker, Styche (Brown 75 ), Flanagan, Cater    Subs Unused: Hanna, Williams

Needham Market: Garnham, Dye ▆ (Collard 59), Sturgess, Lawrence, Pollard, Morphew ©, Fennell, Hammond , Hunt (Issa 69), Ingram (Maycock 80), Fowles       Sub Unused: Santa De La Paz


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