Nationwide Conference

Nuneaton Borough

McGregor (39), (65) (penalty), Francis (80), (87), Sykes (82)

Hednesford Town

Davis (34)

(1) 5

(1) 1



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Stewart Airdrie



Oldham Athletic (H) 18.11.00

The Pitmen's alarming lack of discipline struck once more this afternoon at a wet and wild Manor Park as Mark Gayle's red card led to a second-half collapse from the visitors as Nuneaton plundered four goals in twenty-two minutes to canter to the win

Last weekend's tight defeat at home to Southport had left the Pitmen languishing in nineteenth place in the Nationwide Conference table at the start of play, just a single point outside the bottom three. Under-pressure manager John Baldwin was without the services of the injured Stuart Evans and replaced the former Hereford right-back with Paul Bagshaw in the only change of personnel to the side that had started against the Sandgrounders

Fifteenth-placed Nuneaton had recently parted company with long-serving manager Brendon Phillips after an indifferent run of form and appointed former Hednesford great Steve Burr as caretaker manager. Burr's temporary spell had seen Boro beat league rivals Stevenage Borough in the fourth qualifying round to set up a potentially huge payday at Stoke City's Britannia Stadium in the first round next Saturday. The focus was very much on today's game, however, with Burr making one change to his side from the one that had lost 2-1 at Dover Athletic last weekend as Simon Weaver replaced Jon Gittens

For the fourth successive game, heavy rainfall met the two sides ahead of kick-off, with the Manor Park pitch heavy and bobbly but deemed playable by referee Mr Probert

The hosts made the brighter start of the two teams to the game, with former Hednesford striker Delton Francis striking an early warning shot just wide of Mark Gayle's goal in the second minute after good play from club stalwart Dave Crowley had played Francis into space twenty yards from goal

The in-form Stewart Airdrie had his dancing shoes on once more for the Pitmen, showing Michael Love a clean pair of heels in the sixth minute to leave the full-back in his wake before striking a low shot at goal that was saved by Chris McKenzie down to his left

Crowley was the first - and only - player to go into the book in the eleventh minute of the game as he was shown a yellow card by Mr Probert for a crunching tackle on Airdrie to bring the winger down in full flight

Desperate defending from Nuneaton saw them finally clear their lines at the third time of asking on fourteen minutes as Terry Angus's attempted header away from a Neil Pointon cross hit Love and dropped into the path of Neil Davis, who was denied a shot at goal by a timely sliding challenge from the recovering Angus, whose tackle was finally hacked clear by Love

Neil Pointon's quick throw-in found Scott Bonsall in space down the left three minutes later, with the youngster stealing a yard on Carl Bacon before pulling the ball back to Val Owen, who miscued his shot and pulled his effort high over McKenzie's crossbar and into the Nuneaton fans gathered in the Cock & Bear terrace

Bagshaw had looked a threat down the left after returning to the side for this afternoon's game and should really have handed the Pitmen the lead on twenty-one minutes as he was played clean through by Mark Cooper, picking up the ball just inside the Nuneaton penalty area but dragging his low shot wide of McKenzie's near post when he really should have made the former Bromsgrove Rovers man work

On twenty-five minutes, Airdrie used his pace to good effect once more as he made a yard of space for himself to cross for Bagshaw at the far post, only for his fellow Yorkshireman to head tamely into the arms of McKenzie from six yards out

Two minutes later, a typically accurate Cooper corner kick from the right was met by a full-blooded header at goal by veteran defender Russell Bradley, but his effort whistled inches wide of the far post

Bagshaw was guilty of fluffing his lines once more on thirty-two minutes as he squandered another great chance to give the Pitmen the lead; a corner kick from Nuneaton was hacked clear by Pointon to Davis, who in turn sent Airdrie away down the right and into acres of space. He held off Love's faltering challenge and crossed for Bagshaw once more, whose diving header from eight yards out went just the wrong side of the post with the goal at his mercy

Two minutes later, the Pitmen finally got the goal that their efforts deserved with the game's opener; it was a mistake from McKenzie that was to gift the visitors their goal as he scuffed his attempted clearance on the greasy turf straight into the path of Bonsall, who turned the ball back into the penalty area and into the path of Davis, who once again showed his poacher's instinct to nip in ahead of Angus and turn the ball home from an angle six yards out

Nuneaton had offered very little as an attacking threat in front of their own supporters but were now forced to come out and play after a lacklustre first half-hour for the hosts. Love's cross on thirty-six minutes was flicked on by Marc McGregor and into the path of Francis, only for the ex-Hednesford and Birmingham City man to tamely scuff his shot well wide of goal from eight yards out

Love was involved again, however, as Nuneaton did get themselves back on level terms with six minutes of the first half remaining. His corner kick was played to the near post, where Gayle looked to collect the ball ahead of McGregor. The Hednesford stopper, under severe pressure from the striker, dropped the ball and allowed McGregor to head the loose ball home from close range. Gayle and his team-mates protested that the stopper had been fouled in the build-up but Mr Porbert awarded the goal and waved away the Pitmen's protests

With their tails up, Nuneaton finished the half strongly as Crowley's run and pass found Ian King, who was forced wide by Stuart Lake and could only fire wide from a tight angle sixteen yards from goal

With a minute of the half remaining, the giant Angus made a late run into the Hednesford six-yard box to meet a corner kick from Love but headed narrowly over the crossbar as he got goal side of Bradley

The Pitmen will have been smarting at not being able to hold their lead going into the half-time break, having worked incredibly hard against a useful Nuneaton team and looked far the better side over the first forty-five minutes. The hosts made a change at the break as Bacon was taken off in favour of Alex Sykes at right-back

The hosts upped the tempo straight from the off at the start of the second half as Burr's words appeared to have the desired effect. Lee Charles - who had been well shackled by Bradley in the first period - was involved on forty-nine minutes as he played a neat one-two with Francis on the edge of the Hednesford penalty area to break into the box, overrunning the ball slightly and allowing Gayle to come out of his six-yard box and boot the ball clear

Excellent defending from Lake on fifty-three minutes saw the wantaway utility man slide in on the sodden turf with a perfectly-timed challenge to deny McGregor a clear shot at goal right on the edge of the penalty area as the former Forest Green striker threatened to pull the trigger

Ian Robinson made an unchallenged run down the right for the Pitmen three minutes later, taking the ball fully thirty yards into space before teeing up Cooper with a ball through the legs of Crowley. The former Rushden man took a touch before rifling in a shot from twenty-five yards out that curled away from McKenzie's goal and wide of the target

On the hour mark, Lake flicked on a Cooper corner kick at the near post and found the midriff of Davis, who seemed a little surprised at the pace that the ball came at him and could not react in time to turn the ball home, allowing Angus to chip the ball clear of danger

Any hopes the Pitmen had of taking all of the points were crushed on sixty-four minutes as their game imploded with a red card for Gayle. A corner kick from Love dropped into the Hednesford six-yard box, prompting a melee at the near post as both sets of players scrambled in the mud to make contact with the ball. With Pointon eventually clearing the ball away from danger, Gayle took exception to McGregor's challenge on him in the scrap for the ball and exchanged angry words with the striker before the stopper raised his arms and clearly punched McGregor, laying him out on his goal line. Angry Nuneaton players waded in to protect their team-mate and both sides entered into a bout of pushing and shoving. Mr Probert saw the whole event unfold and, after settling the two sets of players down, showed Gayle a straight red card for violent conduct and awarded Nuneaton a penalty kick

With Gayle going off, substitute goalkeeper Andy Carney - a summer signing from Stocksbridge Park Steels and yet to make an appearance for the club - replaced Bagshaw to face McGregor from the spot, but was sent the wrong way by the Nuneaton number nine as he made it 2-1 from twelve yards out

To the Pitmen's credit, they continued to plug away despite a man disadvantage and went close to an equaliser on sixty-seven minutes as Owen did brilliantly to fashion a shot from twenty yards out, curling the ball beyond the reach of McKenzie but saw his goalbound effort come back off the base of the far post and back into play

Two minutes later, the Pitmen made their second change of the game as they looked for a more physical presence up front, with Micky Norbury replacing Pointon. This saw Bradley move to left-back to act as cover and allow Norbury to join Davis and Bonsall up front in a 3-3-3 formation

On seventy-two minutes, Cooper's corner kick was headed out by Angus but only as far as Davis, whose first-time volley back into the danger zone from sixteen yards out was brilliantly parried by McKenzie; the ball dropped at the feet of Bradley, whose rebounded effort from ten yards out came back off the crossbar

With fifteen minutes of the game remaining, a quick break from Nuneaton saw Francis use his pace to good effect to get away from Bradley and play King into the penalty area. The former Rushden youngster neatly sidestepped Lake's desperate recovering tackle but dragged his shot across Carney's goal and wide of the far post from eighteen yards out

Nuneaton finally made their numerical advantage count with a killer third goal just ten minutes from the end as a mistake from Carney gifted Francis his fourth league goal of the season. Lake's risky downward header back to his stopper inside his own box bounced up at Carney, who fumbled the ball inside his six-yard box and allowed Francis to nip in and head home from close-range. A completely avoidable goal to concede from the Pitmen and yet another example of individual errors costing the side badly

Two minutes later and Nuneaton grabbed a fourth goal of the afternoon with the best strike of the game through Sykes; picking up a loose ball just outside the penalty area, the former Forest Green midfielder took a touch before unleashing an unstoppable rising shot that flew past a bemused Carney and into the top corner of the net

With the game now quickly slipping away from the Pitmen, Baldwin opted to bring on the more defensively-minded Jake Sedgemore in place of Cooper on eighty-four minutes to shore up the leaky Pitmen defence

The hosts were rampant against a Hednesford side that was simply holding on at this point, with King testing Carney on eighty-five minutes as he drove another low shot across the sodden turf from twenty-five yards out that the substitute held at the second attempt

However, Carney's baptism of fire at Conference level continued with another costly error from the goalkeeper on eighty-seven minutes to gift Nuneaton a fifth goal of the game. A hopeful cross from Love on the right proved too hot for Carney to handle as the ball slipped out of his hands once more, allowing Francis to snaffle up another opportunistic chance as he prodded the loose ball home from four yards out before celebrating in front of a delighted Cock & Bear terrace

It had been a sobering and frustrating afternoon for the Pitmen, as the scoreline suggests a heavy beating when in reality they had been the better side for the first sixty-four minutes of the game before the red card and may well have gone on to claim all of the points with a touch more good luck. Defeat leaves the Pitmen slumped down in twentieth place as Northwich Victoria moved above them courtesy of a 3-2 win at fellow strugglers Kettering Town. Next weekend sees the Pitmen take another break from their league struggles as they play host to League Two strugglers Oldham Athletic in the first round of this season's F.A. Cup

Nuneaton Borough: MacKenzie, Bacon (Sykes 45), Love, Crowley © ▆ (Simpson 85), Weaver, Angus, Wray, Charles, McGregor, King, Francis      Subs Unused: Williams, Taylor, Young

Hednesford Town: Gayle  (64), Bradley, Pointon © (Norbury 69), Robinson, Lake, Owen, Bonsall, Cooper (Sedgemore 84), Davis, Bagshaw (Carney 64), Airdrie     Subs Unused: Haran, Colkin