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Nationwide Conference North

Hednesford Town

McMahon (73)

Northwich Victoria

Sale (9), Allan (22), (33), (64)

(0) 1

(3) 4



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Paul McMahon



Leigh RMI (A) 17.9.05

The Pitmen's recent run of good form was brought to an end in no uncertain terms this afternoon as they are handed a lesson in finishing by a powerful and prolific Northwich team that put down a marker in their search of the Conference North title this afternoon at Keys Park

Hednesford manager Chris Brindley had something of an injury crisis on his hands for this afternoon's return home and was without key men Rob Heath and Andy Bell after the pair were ruled out with knocks, joining Steve Brannan on the sidelines. This meant that Craig Marshall was handed a full debut up front in place of Bell, whilst Grant Beckett made his first start of the season in midfield as he replaced Heath. The squad was stretched to such a point that both manager Brindley and assistant manager Steve Anthrobus named themselves amongst the replacements to pad out the thin-looking substitute's bench

Northwich - relegated from the Conference last season - had started the new season well and had been tipped by many to make an immediate return to step one with a strong and experienced squad under former Hednesford favourite Steve Burr. The Vics had beaten Hinckley United 3-1 at Hinckley's new Marstons Stadium last weekend to make it five wins from their first six games and put them top of the early standings. Burr was without the services of Steve Payne, who was suffering from a bout of tonsilitis and was replaced in the team by Mike Carr, who had recovered from injury to return to the side in the only change to Burr's side from last Saturday

The home side started well on a bumpy Keys Park pitch and could have taken a surprise early lead in the second minute of the game as Mark Branch played the ball into the path of Colin Hunter, who turned past the experienced Jon McCarthy and let fly from the corner of the Northwich penalty area that cleared goalkeeper Kris Rogers' crossbar

Northwich's first chance came in the sixth minute as good build-up play saw Peter Handyside chip the ball into the Hednesford penalty area and into the path of Jon Allan, who out-muscled Richard Teesdale just inside the Hednesford box and drove a low shot just wide of Tommy Whittle's near post 

The Vics did grab the opening goal of the afternoon in the ninth minute, however, as they conceded the opener to Mark Sale; Kieran Charnock's long ball over the top of the Hednesford defence caught the Pitmen ball-watching, which allowed giant striker Sale to nip in and fire past Whittle from twelve yards out, despite muted calls from the Hednesford defence for an offside call against the former Birmingham city man

The visitors were living up to their early season reputation of being big, powerful and uncompromising, as the hosts struggled to break them down and create clear-cut openings. Set-pieces seemed to be their best bet of a response, with Lee Barrow heading into the away fans gathered in the Heath Hayes terrace as he met a Lee Williams free-kick in the twelfth minute

A quick counter attack from the visitors four minutes later saw Allan pick up McCarthy's pass and switch play across the pitch with a pass out to youngster Carlos Roca on the left flank. The former Carlisle man jinked his way past Ross Adams and crossed to the near post, where Whittle did enough to smother the ball and push it behind for a corner kick ahead of Sale

Sale used his height to good effect on twenty minutes as he flashed a header narrowly wide of goal as a cross from McCarthy found him lurking at the far post to meet the outswinging ball ahead of whittle, who lost the flight of the ball

Midway through the first half, Northwich doubled their lead as Whittle was guilty of a crucial error of judgement to allow Allan to grab his first goal of the afternoon; the striker turned well just inside the Hednesford penalty area and hit what appeared to be a fairly tame low shot that Whittle somehow allowed to squirm underneath his body and bundled it into his own net

The visitors were very much in command of proceedings and went in search of a third goal to kill off their hesitant hosts. On twenty-six minutes, Sale headed a cross from Roca down into the path of strike partner Allan, but he skewed his effort wide of the post from eighteen yards out

Three minutes later, a mis-kick from Barrow allowed Allan to pick up the loose ball and take it into the Hednesford penalty area. The striker looked to work the ball onto his right foot, allowing Teesdale to do enough to put him off and send his curling effort well wide of goal

The away side capitalised on their domination of the game with a third goal just after the half-hour mark as McCarthy was given the freedom of Keys Park to make an unchallenged run down the right flank and crossed from the byeline, finding Allan in the six-yard box to apply the finish with a close-range header

Williams offered a rare response for the hosts with a free-kick on thirty-seven minutes after Hunter was fouled by McCarthy just outside the Northwich penalty area. His curling free-kick cleared the Northwich wall but also cleared Rogers' crossbar as it flew tamely over the Hednesdford end stand

Allan went close to making it a first-half hat-trick on thirty-nine minutes as he made a perfectly-timed run into the Hednesford penalty area to get on the end of a through ball from Stuart Elliott but pulled his first-time shot wide of goal from ten yards out with only Whittle to beat

In the final minute of the first half, Beckett played Jamie Barrett into space in the Northwich half, with the former Gresley Rovers man holding off Charnock's challenge and firing wide of goal from twenty yards out

The Pitmen had been solidly second best in the first period, having been led a merry dance by a Northwich side who looked a threat every time they made a move forwards. In Sale and Allan, the Vics had two strikers in good form with a supporting cast behind them that were creating openings at will against a hesitant Pitmen defence

The away side made a bright start to the second half and went close to making it 4-0 on fifty minutes as Roca slipped his way past Adams and crossed for Sale, who could not get in front of Barrow to reach the ball as it skipped across the face of goal

Michael Byrne - on as a half-time substitute for the injured Danny Mayman - exchanged passes with Roca on fifty-four minutes before firing in an angled drive that Whittle watched wide of his post

The Pitmen were carved open again by Northwich three minutes later as Barrett lost out to Charnock in midfield and played the ball into the feet of Allan, whose quick turn left Teesdale in his wake. His clipped pass found Roca, whose scuffed shot was easily saved by Whittle

On the hour mark, the Pitmen made a double change to their side as assistant manager Steve Anthrobus made his first appearance of the season, replacing Barrett. He was joined on the pitch by debutant Tom Marshall, with the young left-sided defender coming on in place of Beckett

Hednesford's first sight at goal in the second half final came on the sixty-two minutes as Craig Marshall's flick-on from Adams' long ball forwards was dragged wide by McMahon from ten yards out as he got a poor connection to the ball

Northwich wrapped up the points with a fourth goal of the game on sixty-four minutes as Roca's run down the left saw him ghost past Adams and pull the ball back into the path of Allan, who managed to bundle the bouncing ball home at the near post. Again, question marks on Whittle's positioning as he failed to cover his post and allowed the ball to nestle in the bottom corner of the net

Barrow almost provided an immediate response for the hapless Pitmen on sixty-seven minutes as he spotted a free-kick just outside the Northwich penalty area after McMahon had been hauled down by the experienced Peter Handyside. The Hednesford skipper's firmly-hit effort beat Rogers but bounced off the top of the crossbar

The hosts did reduce arrears after a period of pressure in and around the Northwich penalty area on seventy-three minutes as Branch made a move forwards and crossed from the left with a low ball into the box. Northwich struggled to clear their lines as both Carr and Chapman stuck a Hednesford player, allowing McMahon to pounce and turn the loose ball home from eight yards for his fifth goal in four games

To the Pitmen's credit, they continued to plug away after grabbing their goal and Craig Marshall was denied a maiden goal on seventy-seven minutes as a late offside flag against the youngster prevented him from applying the finish to Williams' fine through ball

Two minutes later, Teesdale's miscued header from a Williams corner went straight up in the air and forced Rogers into a hurried piece of backtracking to palm the ball over the crossbar and stop the ball from looping into the net

With eight minutes of the game remaining and some of the home supporters starting to file out of the exit gates, Craig Marshall teed up his strike partner McMahon with a cute flick from a Williams pass, only for the Hednesford goalscorer to lift his shot over the crossbar from twelve yards out

On eighty-six minutes, Tom Marshall took a quick free-kick just inside the Northwich penalty area and found Branch on the overlap, whose cross was a yard or so just too far in front of the advancing McMahon, who had once again lost his marker Carr in the Vics penalty area

The hosts ran out of ideas at this stage as they accepted their fate and allowed Burr's side to play out the remaining minutes in relative safety to record yet another win that keeps them top of the league table and still unbeaten so far this term. It's back to the drawing board for the Pitmen, who were handed a genuine footballing lesson in the first hour of today's game from an impressive Vics side that should be up there challenging at the end of the season. A trip to former Conference rivals Leigh RMI is next up for Brindley's men, who make their first visit to Hilton Park since September 2000 next Saturday

Hednesford Town: Whittle, Adams, Branch, Barrow ©, Teesdale, Williams, Barrett (Anthrobus 60), Beckett (T. Marshall 60), C. Marshall, McMahon, Hunter    Subs Unused: Brindley, J. Rogers

Northwich Victoria: K. Rogers, McCarthy, Chapman, Handyside, Carr, Charnock, Mayman (Byrne 45), Elliott, Allan, Sale, Roca        Subs Unused: Jaghan, Battersby, Garner, Connett

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