13.4.2012

Evo-Stik Northern Premier League

Northwich Victoria

Armstrong (90) (penalty)

Hednesford Town

Clements (58), Durrell (78)

(0) 1

(0) 2

Attendance

MoTM

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282

Ben Jevons

D W L W L L D L W W

North Ferriby United (H) 17.4.12

What a difference a week makes! For many, last weekend's defeat to Kendal Town signalled the end of Hednesford Town's play-off ambitions. Fast forward six days and successive 2-1 wins have catapulted the Pitmen into fifth place - although tonight's win at Leek Town's Harrison Park only just begins to tell the story of a, quite frankly, incredible Friday evening in North Staffordshire

Monday's win at local rivals Chasetown had given Rob Smith's side renewed hope of launching a late, if a little hopeful, bid of overhauling FC United of Manchester in the final play-off place. Smith made only one change to the side that started at Chasetown; striker Mark Beesley, available again after suspension, came back into the side up front, replacing Liam Blakeman who dropped to the bench

Both sets of supporters were greeted with a heavy, uneven pitch upon their arrival at Leek, with the sides having to get to grips with the bobbly surface early on. Northwich were first to threaten on three minutes, as Tom Field's cross was headed away from danger by Cheyenne Dunkley as Chris Budrys lurked at the far post

Dunkley again excelled five minutes later, as he made a sliding challenge to deny Budrys again after Field had played a great ball over the top of the Hednesford defence and into the path of the former Stafford striker

The 'home' side continued to have the better of the game in the opening, quarter, as another flowing move saw Graeme Law cross for midfielder Steve Abbott, who headed wide of goal at the far post

The Pitmen were dealt a blow midway through the first half, as Sam Craven fell awkwardly on the turf after an aerial challenge with Budrys. The worrying sight of the stretchers coming on were unfortunately justified, as it later transpired that the youngster had damaged ankle ligaments, which will rule the youngster out for the remainder of his loan from Mansfield Town

A reshuffle was required by Smith, as he put Elliott Durrell on in place of Craven; Ben Jevons reverted to Craven's centre back role and went on to put in an imperious performance in an unfamiliar position alongside Dunkley

The Pitmen started to get to grips with the poor underfoot conditions and swept the ball around with more purpose after the reshuffle. Chris Clements found more and more space to start attacks off in midfield, with all of Hednesford's best moves going through the highly-rated youngster. However, Clements was soon to have his movement stunted after limping out of a challenge wide on the right-hand side on the half-hour mark. After treatment on the sideline, Clements returned to the fray with a slight limp but determined  to play on

Budrys won another header against Dunkley on thirty-four minutes, heading a foot or so wide of goal after meeting Field's cross

The reinstated Beesley, who can split opinion amongst Hednesford supporters, was presented with a superb opportunity to justify the club's faith in him with five minutes of the first half remaining, as Clements took advantage of a Kyle Armstrong slip to play the ball through a high Northwich defensive line. Beesley raced onto the ball, but dithered as he shaped to shoot, and ended up taking the ball wide of Northwich keeper Ben Hinchcliffe. His shot lacked power and allowed Law to get back and clear his lines

The final attack of the half saw Beesley involved again, but for the wrong reasons as Jamey Osborne came in from the right-hand side and hit a shot towards goal. Beesley, made a dart across goal,  inadvertently deflected the cross-shot away from goal and the out-stretched leg of Nick Wellecomme behind him,

Northwich started the second half with purpose, kicking up the notorious Leek slope. A long throw from Armstrong found the head of Michael Clarke, whose flick header was turned over by Dan Crane

Clements looked to have shaken off the effects of his earlier injury, and a trademark curling effort from long range from the midfielder on fifty minutes whistled just wide of Hinchcliffe's post

Four minutes later, Clements tried his luck with another 'sighter' as Beesley flicked the ball into his path, leaving Clements to drive the ball low past the post

Dunkley's burgeoning reputation was further added to on fifty-six minutes, as he made a quite superb block to deny Tony Evans a shot on goal

The evening's real drama kicked off in earnest two minutes later, as firstly the Pitmen took the lead; Clements was the man to grab the all-important opener, turning past Armstrong and firing a lovely swerving shot into the bottom corner of the net from twenty yards out

As the Hednesford supporters celebrated their goal, the ground suddenly crackled with breaking news posted on the Evo-Stik League website, with the Northern Premier League officials confirming that Northwich had been deemed to have broken a number of league rules, thus expelling the Vics from the play-offs and terminating their membership of the Evo-Stik League at the end of the season. The news came as a massive shock for all Northwich supporters in the ground and was greeted by glee by the Hednesford supporters, who knew that this news essentially confirms their place in the play-offs if they were to hang on to all three points. The timing of the announcement was, by all accounts, sketchy to say the least with the Vics currently in action

The Hednesford players seemed to thrive on Northwich's heads dropping at the news and pushed forward in search of a second goal. Wellecomme was again putting in a tremendous effort up front, dragging the Vics defenders all over the park as he looked for an opening. Durrell was also impressive after coming on down the left-hand side, jinking inside a couple of Northwich challenges but getting his shot all wrong on sixty-six minutes

The first half injury to Clements seemed to hamper him once more as the half wore on, as his influence on the game dropped off. On seventy-six minutes, the playmaker gestured to the bench that he needed to come off. He was replaced by Blakeman in the centre of the park

It was Durrell who looked like he had wrapped up all three points with twelve minutes remaining, as he took advantage of a defensive mix-up to fire low past Hinchcliffe from fifteen yards out and double the Pitmen's lead with a firmly and accurately struck shot

To be fair to Northwich, they continued to plug away and create chances in the final ten minutes. Budrys supplied the cross for Tony Evans, who put his shot wide of goal

With eight minutes remaining, Beesley was replaced by Darren Campion as the Pitmen looked to close the game up by adding another defensively-minded player

The final minute of the game saw Northwich gifted a lifeline, as Dunkley stroked a through ball away with his arm, leaving the referee with little choice but to award Northwich a penalty. Armstrong stepped up and confidently fired straight down the middle of the goal to reduce the deficit

There was enough time for the Vics to earn a last-ditch corner, and some desperate Hednesford defending hacked the ball clear with what was the final action of a very unique, and unforgettable evening for both sides

The win puts Hednesford back in the top five, and now puts the onus on FC United to get a result against Matlock Town on Saturday. Two home games next week for the Pitmen are now absolute must-wins, disregarding the issues that Northwich have created with tonight's announcement. Smith's side must concentrate on their own business and see how the next week pans out in this crazy Evo-Stik Premier League season

Northwich Victoria: Hinchliffe, Law, Collins ©, Armstrong, Fitzpatrick, Abbott (Johnson 70), Roddy, Field (Wade 70), Clarke (Woolfe 70), Budrys, Evans       Subs Not Used: Wright

Hednesford Town: Crane, Haynes, Shaw, Dunkley, Craven (Durrell 26), Denny ©, Osborne, Clements (Blakeman 77), Wellecomme, Beesley, Jevons       Subs Unused: Ordish, Campion, Landell