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Dr. Martens Southern Premier League

Newport County

Shepherd (81)


Hednesford Town


(0) 1

(0) 0



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Michael Bingham



Stafford Rangers (H) 23.11.02

Ian Painter's side continue to struggle on their travels this season, as a late goal from Newport's Gary Shepherd condemns the ever-changing Hednesford side to defeat this afternoon at Spytty Park to leave the Pitmen with a gap to make up in the top six sides in the Dr. Martens Southern Premier League


Ian Painter - coming under pressure from the supporters in recent games for chopping and changing his side - Mark Jones had been dropped and transfer-listed after a barren spell in front of goal for the striker coincided with the return to fitness of Kevin Francis. Carl Adams paid the price for being at fault for Bath City's second goal at Keys Park last weekend, dropping to the bench for the first time this season as Painter elected to bring Stuart Ryder back into the side at left-back and push new signing Bryan Small further up the pitch after his debut last Saturday


Newport - now in their third season in the Southern Premier League - were some people's tips for a run at the league title at the start of the season, although the Exiles had flattered to deceive so far in sitting in a mid-table position at the start of play. Experienced ex-Cardiff City keeper Pat Mountain marshalled a strong Newport defence, with the familiar figure of Neil Davis plundering goals for the club following his summer move from Keys Park. Last week had seen Newport come away from high-flying Grantham with a 2-1 win, their first win in the league in four games


Spytty Park is an athletics stadium not really equipped for football purposes, with the pitch looking bobbly and uneven surrounded by a running track and athletic equipment sitting on the edges of the playing surface. The Pitmen made a strong start to the game through Stewart Airdrie, whose superb run down the right wing saw him pull the ball back into the path of Steve Piearce, only for the striker to lift his shot high over Mountain's crossbar in the sixth minute


Two minutes later, Small showed good awareness in his new, more advanced, position, making a surging run down the left wing before Billy Clarke managed to toe-poke the ball away from the former Aston Villa man as he shaped to shoot on the edge of the penalty area


Newport's early chances were limited to set-pieces, with Clarke heading wide of goal and onto the running track on twelve minutes following a corner from midfielder Mike Fowler


A tussle involving Kevin Francis and Clarke saw the referee intervene on seventeen minutes, as the pair squared up just inside the Newport half following an aggressive challenge on the giant striker from the Newport defender


Mountain made a fine save to deny Piearce another goal to add to his recent goal glut on twenty minutes, parrying Piearce's goalbound effort away from danger after Airdrie's superb through-ball had found Piearce in behind the Newport defence


The Newport keeper was alert to more danger three minutes later, tipping an inswinging Paul Ware corner over his own crossbar as it threatened to dip under the upright with Chris Brindley and Francis both loitering with intent


Winger Airdrie created an opening for himself on the half-hour mark, twisting and turning past Steve Benton before lifting his shot well wide of Mountain's goal, with a little assistance from the wind that was blowing in from the Bristol Channel


Francis was again the target man for the Pitmen's set-pieces on thirty-three minutes, heading over the crossbar from another pinpoint delivery from Ware that was begging to be finished at the far post


The big man turned provider four minutes later, as his quick feet slipped Airdrie in through the inside left position, only for Mountain to spot the danger early and smother Airdrie's shot just inside his penalty area


Newport striker Garry Shepherd was finding it tough going up front for the hosts, finding the long balls forward no use to him as Brindley and Les Robinson combined well to snuff out any danger in the air. He did do well to turn Robinson on forty minutes after being played in by Fowler, only for the ball to run away from him and allow Brindley to hack the ball clear


The first half had very much belonged to the Pitmen, although many of their old failings were in attendance - wasting good balls into the box and showing a lack of conviction to strike at goal when the chance if offered to them. Painter was forced into a half-time change, as Airdrie came off after complaining of feeling unwell and was replaced by Shaun Wray in a like-for-like swap


The second half was a very different story for both sides, as Newport exerted their authority on the game from the restart and started to take control of proceedings


Forward Steve Cowe, like strike partner Shepherd, had had a quiet first period, but came out with a renewed purpose in the second and fired just wide of goal on fifty-two minutes after linking up well with Fowler


The strike duo combined two minutes later just inside the Hednesford penalty area to drag the visitors' defence out of position, culminating in a turn and shot from Shepherd that Michael Bingham did well to save


On the hour mark, Shepherd took advantage of the Hednesford defence stopping for what they felt was an offside flag that never came to race in one-on-one with Bingham. The new Hednesford keeper did brilliantly to put the striker off his stride, forcing Shepherd to blast his low shot wide of the post when he really should have scored


Clarke met a Fowler free-kick on sixty-four minutes with his head, rising above Brindley to head towards goal, only for the ball to take a cruel deflection off the back of Cowe and bounce out of play


On sixty-nine minutes, Ryder was replaced by Adams as the Pitmen shuffled their pack in a move that saw Small return to left-back and Wray switch wings to allow for Adams' introduction


Bingham did well again on seventy-one minutes to once again put Shepherd off his stride, as a freak kick from Mountain caught the wind at just the right time to sail over the heads of the Hednesford defence and land at the feet of the striker. Bingham was alert to the danger and made a darting run to the edge of his box to narrow the angle and force Shepherd to try an audacious lob that dropped harmlessly wide of goal


Fowler was next to be frustrated by the excellent keeping of Bingham on seventy-eight minutes, as his well-struck effort from twenty yards out was brilliantly tipped away by Bingham, diving full-length to his right-hand side


However, Shepherd was not to be denied, and struck what was to be the winning goal with just nine minutes remaining; yet again, it was an individual error that was to cost the Pitmen, and one from the vastly experienced Robinson, who allowed a simple ball to run under his boot and let Shepherd in behind him. The striker was not passing this particular opportunity up to score, firing past Bingham from just inside the Hednesford penalty area to seal all three points for the Exiles


The ineffective Francis made way for the youth of Damien Charie before the game could get underway again, with Charie having the Pitmen's best chance of the remaining minutes as his goalbound shot was well saved by Mountain


The Pitmen threw everything at Newport in the final moments, forcing three successive corner kicks in added time, with the final one working its way back to Adams. His shot nestled into the net for what he thought was a late equaliser, only to have been denied by the full-time whistle as he struck the shot. A cruel way to end the afternoon for Hednesford


Once again, another frustrating afternoon for Painter and the Pitmen supporters -  until the players can learn to cut out the individual mistakes that are leading to key goals, they will continue to meander down in the lower reaches of the top ten as other teams above them move away from them at a key point in the season. The tough games continue next week with a visit from deadly rivals Stafford Rangers, themselves on a good run of form recently

Newport County: Mountain ©, Stanton (Dupres 81), Benton, Clark, Thomas, Stevenson, Rose, Fowler, Plant (Walker 67), Shepherd, Cowe     Subs Unused: Jones, Davis, Hart

Hednesford Town: Bingham, Williams, Ryder (Adams 69), Robinson ©, Brindley, Simkin, Airdrie (Wray 45), Ware, Francis (Charie 82), Piearce, Small     Subs Unused: Lancashire, Jenkins

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