10.3.2012

Evo-Stik Northern Premier League

Hednesford Town

Northwich Victoria

Kearney (44), Armstrong (89) (penalty)

(0) 0

(1) 2

Attendance

MoTM

Current Form

Next Match

511

Jermaine Johnson

W D D W L L D D W L

Burscough (A) 13.3.12

Hednesford's iffy recent form continued to hamper their play-off ambitions this afternoon, as Northwich Victoria leap-frogged the Pitmen into second place after a well-deserved win at Keys Park in the battle of third versus second

With the Pitmen coming off a morale-boosting victory over Whitby Town last weekend, manager Rob Smith made a couple of changes to his side in this key clash. Kyle Haynes had recovered from illness to regain his place at left-back, with Ben Jevons dropping to the bench to allow Jamey Osborne to resume his midfield role after filling in for Haynes at right-back last week. Up front, Mark Beesley's first goal for the club last time out saw him rewarded with a place in the starting line-up, at the expense of Gary Hay who dropped to the bench

Vics, coming off a 4-1 mauling at Kendal Town in midweek, started much the stronger, and an early corner from David Fitzpatrick was met by the head of skipper Ian Kearney at the far post; Dan Crane was alert to the danger at claimed the ball easily on his line

Chris Clements - quiet in recent games after his storming start to the season - looked to play Beesley in on ten minutes, but the ball bobbles badly for the striker and his shot was well wide of Northwich keeper Ben Hinchcliffe's goal

The Pitmen attempted to take advantage of a slip from Kearney on eleven minutes, with Elliott Durrell seizing on the ball and advancing on goal. His shot at goal hit Nick Wellecomme and deflected just wide of the target, although Wellecomme was adjudged to have been offside and any goal would not have stood

A Darren Campion corner kick midway through the first half almost created the opening goal for striker Wellecomme, with the big man turning quickly on the ball and lashing it wide of goal

A clash between Campion and young full-back John Disney saw the Northwich man earn a booking for a foul on the Hednesford number three. Osborne took the resulting free-kick out on the left-hand side and only just missed the crossbar with a dipping, swerving effort on twenty-nine minutes

Clements went even closer to grabbing the opener three minutes later, picking up a Durrell cross and cutting back inside before firing over the bar with a rising shot

Back came the Vics, with Fitzpatrick sending over a cross for Steve Abbott to head inches over the crossbar from close range on thirty-five minutes

The pressure on the Hednesford defence continued to be cranked up by the Northwich forwards, with Jermaine Johnson excelling at the back for the Pitmen. However, they could do little to stop Northwich from taking the lead just before half time. Hinchcliffe played a long ball deep into the Hednesford half, causing a miscommunication between Cheyenne Dunkley and Crane. Kearney seized upon the ball and turned the ball home from twelve yards out

The early stages of the second half saw more of the same, as Northwich created more chances to extend their lead. Wayne Riley wasted a great chance after firing wide of goal, followed by a shot over the crossbar by Fitzpatrick after good approach play down the wing

With fifty eight minutes on the clock, Kearney was presented with an opportunity to double his, and Northwich's, lead after a Disney free kick was headed on by Abbott into the path of the Vics captain, but his volleyed effort was watched over the crossbar by Crane

The Hednesford keeper was called upon to make a smart save on sixty-six minutes as Ryan Wade picked up a Tom Field ball and struck a firm shot into the body of the Pitmen number one

Frustrated with his team's lack of cutting edge, Smith made a bold double substitution on sixty eight minutes. Hay replaced the ineffective Beesley, whilst Jevons came on in place of Durrell, who clearly disagreed with the decision as he threw his shirt to the floor in an act of petulance after coming off. A few moments later, Andre Landell was sent on in place of Kyle Haynes as the Pitmen went for broke

This seemed to have the desired effect, as the three substitutes made an impact on the final quarter of the game as Hednesford looked to rescue at least a point. A lay-off into the path of Johnson almost conjured up an equaliser on seventy four minutes, with the big defender rocketing a shot over the crossbar from the edge of the penalty area

With ten minutes remaining, Jevons thought he had given the Pitmen a vital lifeline as fellow substitute Hay squared the ball into the path of the midfielder, who was lurking just five yards out. His goalbound effort was brilliantly turned away by Hinchcliffe, who enhanced his reputation as the best keeper in the league by denying Jevons low down to his left

The Pitmen's pressure continued to build throughout the final minutes, winning three successive corner kicks in the process. However, the impressive Northwich back line coped well with the aerial threat posed by the likes of Dunkley, Johnson and Wellecomme and confidently cleared their lines

Jevons was again holding his head in his hands with five minutes remaining, as Wellecomme's blocked shot rebounded kindly to the midfielder. His shot was this time cleared by a last-ditch block from centre back Dominic Collins

Hay should have rescued a point for the hosts with two minutes remaining, as the ball pin-balled around the six yard box and dropped to the feet of the striker. He managed to prod the ball towards the corner of the net, but again Hinchcliffe made an outstanding save low down to keep Northwich ahead

As is the case on so many occasions, the attacking team committed too many players forward in search of an equaliser, and left themselves open to the counter-attack. A quick break from Northwich with a minute to go caught the retreating Pitmen on the back foot, with Dunkley and Riley coming together just inside the Hednesford penalty area as the pair chased the ball down. Dunkley's challenge was deemed illegal by the referee, despite many in the ground believing he was first to the ball. After awarding the Vics a penalty, the referee then came under verbal attack from Campion, who felt aggrieved at the decision. After protesting with both the referee and the assistant on the near side, Campion was shown a second yellow card for dissent, trudging off to a chorus of boos from frustrated Hednesford supporters who expected a better example from their captain

Kyle Armstrong stepped up to fire past Crane from the resultant kick and seal the win for Northwich, who move above the Pitmen into second place as a result. With a number of tricky games still to come, the Pitmen's form must improve for them to seal their place in this year's play-offs - starting on Tuesday night at relegation-haunted Burscough

Hednesford Town: Crane, Haynes  (Landell 73), Campion ©  (89), Dunkley , Johnson, Denny, Durrell  (Hay 67), Clements, Wellecomme, Beesley (Jevons 67), Osborne       Subs Unused: Bailey, Blakeman

Northwich Victoria: Hinchcliffe, Disney , Fitzpatrick, Collins , Kearney ©, Fields , Riley, Abbott, Clarke (Evans 45), Wade (Armstrong (76), Woolfe       Subs Unused: Rossy, Budrys, Short