27.4.2002

Dr. Martens Southern Premier League

Newport (Isle of Wight)

Hednesford Town

Rae (54)

(0) 0

(0) 1

Attendance

MoTM

Current Form

905

Derek Rae

L W W L W D L W L W

 

Hednesford Town just about do enough to maintain their step two status this afternoon after an afternoon of high drama on the Isle of Wight saw Kenny Hibbitt's Pitmen earn the win required to keep them in the Dr Martens League and condemn hosts Newport (Isle of Wight) to relegation back to step three after only twelve months at this level

Tuesday night's late defeat at the hands of fellow strugglers Cambridge City had left the Pitmen with work to do on the final day of the season to ensure their participation in the league once more in 2002-2003. Manager Kenny Hibbitt made two changes to the side that had started at Milton Road as skipper Mark Haran was ruled out due to injury and replaced by Wayne Simpson at the back; Damien Charie made a surprise return to the starting XI despite not being expected to play again this season after being ruled out with a long-term injury, replacing Wale-Kwik Ajet up front

Newport's first season at this level had been one of constant struggle with the Islanders entrenched in the bottom five for the majority of the season. They too required a win from the last day of the season to save their league status in a winner take all encounter that still offered a scenario of both sides being relegated if the game ended in a draw and results elsewhere counted against them. Manager Tony Mount made two changes to his side that had drawn 0-0 at home against King's Lynn on Tuesday night with Adam Holbrook coming in for Dave Wilson and former Aston Villa and Portsmouth man Guy Whittingham bringing his experience into the side at the expense of Ben Thompson up front

The Pitmen were backed by a large travelling support that had made the long journey across the Solent to push their players over the line and give them one last roar to victory when the needed it most. The visitors made a bright start on a bumpy, threadbare St. Georges Park pitch with Neil Davis driving an early shot wide of goal after Stewart Airdrie had played him through on goal

Some indifferent Hednesford defending in the sixth minute almost gifted Newport their first sight at goal as Whittingham's presence forced Matt Gardiner into a short backpass to Mark Gayle and had to rely on the mobility of Lee Barrow in clearing the ball from Whittingham's boot

Both sides seemed nervous at the prospect of handing the other the advantage, perhaps understandably so with one goal tipping the balance of favour of one side and potentially condemning the other to relegation, hence the chess match going on in the opening quarter of the game. Newport striker Dave Wakefield lifted a shot high over the crossbar for the hosts on fourteen minutes with the best of the limited efforts on goal

Derek Rae's over-exuberance in winning the ball back from Leigh Cole saw him spoken to by the referee on twenty minutes as he hauled back the Newport midfield man inside the centre circle

A neat pass from Stuart Lake found skipper-for-the-day Richard Lucas in space down the left flank midway through the half, with the former Boston United man whipping in a delicious cross that skipped past the incoming Davis and Charie before dropping wide of the far post

Charie's pace saw him dispossess Chris Collins down the Hednesford left once more on twenty-six minutes and make progress into the Newport half but had to go it alone with one-one up to support him, culminating in the teenager lashing an angled shot high over Newport keeper Colin Matthews' crossbar

Davis went close for the away side a minute later as he looked to add to his season's tally by breaking clear of a Newport defence that seemed to be waiting for an offside flag against the striker, only to drag his shot across the face of goal just wide of the far post

Matthews came to his side's rescue following a partially-cleared Hednesford free-kick on thirty-one minutes as he palmed a lofted ball from Lake over his own crossbar under pressure from Gardiner

Newport had been limited in their approach going forwards despite being the home side, looking to catch the Pitmen on the counter-attack with long balls down the channels for the likes of Wakefield and Danny Gibbons to chase. Gibbons did well to escape the attentions of Andy Brownrigg on thirty-four minutes but chipped his cross weakly into the arms of Mark Gayle rather than pick out the unmarked Whittingham in the centre of the penalty area

Three minutes later, Lake's thunderous shot from long-range was deflected into the path of Charie by Holbrook, whose follow-up shot ended whistling past the side-netting and into the sizeable away following behind the goal

Rae went closest of anyone to opening the scoring with five minutes of the first half remaining as Airdrie did well to beat Steve Leigh and cross for the former Elgin City man, whose flick header looked goalbound until it came back off the far post before being hacked clear

With two minutes of the half remaining, Newport had their clearest opening of what had been a disappointing first-half display from the hosts as Gary Green was afforded time and space to pick the ball up just outside the Hednesford penalty area before lifting his shot over Gayle's crossbar

Results in the other games were currently keeping both sides in the league, but a goal either way could change things dramatically with results at Cambridge City, King's Lynn, Hinckley United, Newport County and Worcester City all on a knife-edge involving the other sides in the six-way fight to avoid the final two relegation spots

The Pitmen continued to look the more threatening side in the early stages of the second period with Airdrie's threaded through-ball finding Charie on forty-nine minutes, only for the youngster to suffer a bout of stage-fright with the goal opening up for him and allowed Cole to make a recovering tackle

Simpson was ticked off by the referee on fifty-one minutes for dragging back fellow veteran Whittingham as he threatened to break down the right flank before being halted illegally by the former Port Vale man

The key moment in both side's seasons came in the fifty-fourth minute of the game as the Pitmen grabbed the all-important goal; Lake's free-kick into the Newport penalty area was flicked on by Davis and into the path of Rae, who arrived right on cue to turn the ball into the net at the far post from close-range and spark wild celebrations amongst the away supporters and a mini-pitch invasion

The job was not done yet however and the Pitmen had to be on their guard against a Newport fightback with their league standing now in jeopardy. In truth, the Port never really looked likely or capable of getting themselves back in contention as the experienced Hednesford rearguard stood firm against a limited Newport attack

Indeed, it was the Pitmen who looked the more likely to extend their lead as they controlled long spells of possession to keep the ball away from their hosts. Davis and Charie linked up well on sixty-three minutes but Charie's low bobbling shot was easily saved by Matthews

 

Five minutes later, Barrow headed high over the crossbar from a firmly-struck Airdrie corner kick that seemed to surprise the former Barry Town man at the far post as he beat Gibbons to the ball

The hosts threw on another striker in the form of Ben Thompson on sixty-nine minutes to add to their numbers up front before the usually-dependable Gayle gave the away fans the jitters a minute later as he completely missed a Green free-kick from the left flank and was left to thank Lake for his presence in mind to track back and head the ball over the crossbar

Lucas and Charie linked up well down the left to find Davis in the Newport penalty area, only for the striker to drag his shot well wide of goal; he was perhaps waiting on an offside flag that never arrived with the Newport defenders raising their arms against the former Aston Villa man

Lake headed wide from a Lucas corner kick with fourteen minutes remaining before Charie stumbled on the uneven St.Georges Park surface after running onto a pass from the impressive Rae two minutes later

 

   The expected Newport response was still not forthcoming with the game in its final minutes, with Rae presented with a great chance to wrap things up for the Pitmen with four minutes remaining; the tiring Newport defence stood still as Rae latched on to Airdrie's through ball, but fired straight into the arms of Matthews from fifteen yards out rather than take the ball a few yards further on

With a minute of normal time remaining, the Pitmen elected to make their only change of the afternoon as Wayne Thomas came on in place of Gardiner to give the back line more freshness and pace for the final minutes

A late flurry of corner kicks from Newport failed to sufficiently test Gayle and his defence and left the Pitmen to run the clock down with relative ease before the referee brought the game to an end. Another pitch invasion ensued from the away fans, with Hibbitt receiving the adulation of the Hednesford supporters in keeping their club in the league after taking over a desperate situation following Paul Raynor's disastrous tenure

It had been a real rollercoaster of a campaign on and off the pitch for Hednesford, who had started the season in confident mood of returning to the Conference on day one and ended it thankful that they remained a Southern Premier League club. One would hope that the club will have learnt from the lessons of 2001-2002 and can build on this close call of back-to-back relegations to come back a stronger outfit next term. It remains to be seen whether it will be with Hibbitt at the helm as the former Wolves star will look to hold talks with owner Steve Price over the summer in a bid to thrash out a deal for next term

Newport (Isle of Wight): Matthews, Collins, Lang (Wilson 76), Holbrook, Rofe, Cole, Leigh, Green, Gibbons (Thompson 69), Whittingham, Wakefield       Sub Unused: Laws

 

Hednesford Town: Gayle, Brownrigg, Lucas ©, Simpson, Gardiner (Thomas 89)Barrow, Lake, Rae, Davis, Charie, Airdrie       Subs Unused: Francis, Ajet

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