Nationwide Conference North

Nuneaton Borough

Murphy (39), (53), (58)

Hednesford Town

McSweeney (75) (penalty), McMahon (90)

(1) 3

(0) 2



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Leon McSweeney



Droylsden (A) 30.12.05

Despite a late rally, the Pitmen are condemned to their third defeat in four games this Boxing Day afternoon as local rivals Nuneaton continue to keep pace with the league leaders Stafford Rangers and Northwich Victoria by taking the points at Manor Park

Having had nine days off since the 4-2 defeat at Solihull Borough in the F.A. Trophy, caretaker manager Steve Anthrobus had been busy in the transfer market with two players coming in and one going out. In had come young Walsall player Sean Platt, who had joined the club on a month's loan from the Saddlers, followed into Keys Park by the familiar face of Leon McSweeney, who returned to the club after spending the past six months at league rivals Hucknall Town. Both players came straight into the side for today's game as two of three changes, with Platt replacing the now-departed Danny Scheppel and McSweeney reuniting with Andy Bell up front as he replaced Ross Dyer. The third change came down the left, with Colin Hunter passed fit to return to the side in place of Mark Branch, with Grant Beckett reverting to left-back to play in place of Branch

Nuneaton's highly experienced squad had been tipped to do well this term and sat in third place in the table ahead of play today; Roger Ashby's men had more than one eye on next Monday's huge F.A. Cup third-round tie at home to Premier League side Middlesbrough, a side well known to anyone of a Hednesford persuasion after their epic 1997 fourth-round tie at the Riverside Stadium. Ashby made two changes to his side from the one that had beaten Gainsborough Trinity nine days ago at Northolme as Terry Angus and Martin Reeves replaced Michael Love and Kevin Wilkin respectively

In front of a large festive crowd, with the Pitmen backed by over 300 fans from Staffordshire, the all-green clad Pitmen made a good start to the game and McSweeney went close to making a dream return to the club with a great chance to open the scoring in the fifth minute as Mark Briggs' forward pass was turned back to goalkeeper Darren Acton by David Staff, only for the veteran stopper to scuff his clearance straight to McSweeney, whose first time shot from twenty yards out sailed just over the crossbar

Two minutes later, Bell broke clear down the left as Lee Williams played him into space behind Robert Oddy; his low cross into the near post was aimed at the incoming McSweeney, who was beaten to the ball by Neil Moore, as the defender turned the ball behind for a Hednesford corner kick

Nuneaton's first chance of the afternoon came in the eleventh minute as Stuart Whittaker made an enterprising run down the left, taking the ball past Ross Adams and crossing for Gez Murphy, who scuffed his left-footed effort wide of Adam Jenkins' near post from ten yards out

Five minutes later, Boro skipper Terry Angus headed wide of goal for the hosts as he reached a left-wing free-kick from Whittaker but headed over the crossbar from eight yards out

Sixty seconds later, Jenkins made his first save of the afternoon as he leapt to tip Brian Quailey's looping shot over his crossbar after the striker's chipped shot took a deflection off the boot of Ian Wright

In the nineteenth minute, a superb pass from Williams played Bell in behind the flimsy Nuneaton offside trap down the left once, with the young striker taking a couple of touches before pulling the ball back into the path of McSweeney, whose low driven shot whistled past the post from six yards out

Midway through a competitive first period, debutant Platt won the ball in midfield from Mark Noon and found Hunter out on the left. The experienced winger jinked his way past Oddy and attempted a curling effort from the edge of the Nuneaton penalty area that dipped just wide of Acton's far post

The lively Murphy was denied a clear shot at goal by a linesman's flag on twenty-five minutes as he got in behind Tom Marshall to reach Noon's threaded pass, but referee Mr Naylor pulled the former Telford United man back before he could slot the ball beyond Jenkins

The home side's best chance of the afternoon so far came just before the half-hour mark as Martin Reeves was allowed to take the ball twenty yards forward and into the penalty area unchallenged before curling a shot beyond the reach of Jenkins and inches wide of the post

The hosts were starting to find their feet after a slow start to the game and Matt Collins played a neat one-two with Reeves on thirty-two minutes before playing the ball out to the experienced Whittaker. The former Leigh RMI man turned Platt one way, then the other before working a yard of space for himself to cross for Quailey, whose touch took the ball wide of the far post from just outside the six-yard box

Tom Marshall was alert to the danger posed by Murphy on thirty-six minutes as he managed to divert the striker's low shot wide of Jenkins' left-hand post after Murphy latched onto a Staff cross from the left

The hosts took the lead with six minutes of the first half remaining as Whittaker once again teased his way to the left-wing byeline and crossed for Murphy, who had been left all alone in the six-yard box to head firmly past Jenkins and open the scoring for the play-off hopefuls

On forty-two minutes, Noon won a free-kick just inside the Hednesford half after being brought down by Beckett; Reeves gestured to his team-mates to move into the penalty area and lofted the ball into the penalty area, where Angus's looping header was turned over the crossbar once more by Jenkins

Successive Nuneaton corner kicks tested the Pitmen's resolve once more before Moore lashed his shot from the edge of the penalty area high over the crossbar and into the Nuneaton fans gathered behind Jankins' goal

Hednesford had been left to rue their missed changes in the opening quarter of the game after making a good start to proceedings but had been guilty of giving Nuneaton too much time and space on the ball in the latter stages of the half in which to build up a head of steam and grab Murphy's opening goal

After some choice words from Anthrobus at the half-time break, the Pitmen started the second half with purpose and had two good chances to level matters within the first five minutes of the second half. On forty-eight minutes, McSweeney made his way past two challenges and cleverly fed the ball through to Bell with a neat flick of the outside of his left boot - Bell seized upon the ball just inside the Nuneaton penalty area but saw his tame shot held by Acton inside the six-yard box


On fifty minutes, a swift passing move involving Williams and Bell set up Hunter, who cut inside from the left-wing and attempted a curling shot from the corner of the penalty area that cleared Acton's crossbar by a matter of inches

This was to prove a costly miss from the visitors as Nuneaton extended their lead two minutes later with their first attack of the half; Ross Adams was the guilty party for the Pitmen as missed the ball in attempting to cut out Noon's pass through to Murphy, gifting the striker all the time and space he needed inside the penalty area to slot the ball past the onrushing Jenkins

Nuneaton went in search of a killer third goal and Angus's downward header inside the Hednesford six-yard box on fifty-five minutes was hacked clear by Wright after Collins had crossed from the right

Boro did indeed grab their third goal on fifty-eight minutes as Murphy completed his hat-trick, escaping Tom Marshall's attentions to meet Whittaker's inswinging corner kick at the far post and headed home from close-range

The Pitmen did not let the bleak-looking scoreline affect their attacking threat and went close to reducing arrears on sixty-two minutes as a Williams corner kick was met by Tom Marshall's powerful header but his effort was inches wide of the post

A minute later, the visitors made a double attacking change as Briggs was replaced by top scorer Paul McMahon and Steve Brannan came on in place of Williams

Platt linked up well with Brannan down the right-wing on sixty-five minutes, with Brannan squaring the ball to Bell on the edge of the Nuneaton penalty area. However, the striker's low drive bounced twice before landing in the arms of Acton

McSweeney remained a threat to the Nuneaton defence with his guile and presence, firing wide of the post on sixty-nine minutes as he stepped past Moore and worked the ball onto his left boot fifteen yards from goal

On seventy-one minutes, Beckett won a free-kick for the Pitmen out on the left-hand touchline after being pulled back by Oddy and took the kick himself, whipping the ball into the box where McSweeney turned the ball over the crossbar from close-range

The Pitmen made their final substitution of the afternoon with fifteen minutes remaining as young striker Ross Dyer was given another chance to impress as he replaced Bell up front

Within a minute, Hednesford reduced the deficit from the penalty spot as Hunter's powerful run into the Nuneaton penalty area was halted by the hapless Oddy, prompting Mr Naylor to point to the spot. McSweeney stepped up and drilled the ball past Acton to make it 3-1

Despite the scoreline still heavily favouring the hosts, the Pitmen continued to press and Dyer's forceful run down the right on eighty minutes saw him get to the byeline and pull the ball back to Brannan, whose scuffed shot ended up sailing wide of goal

There was warm applause from both sets of supporters a minute later as veteran midfielder Gary Fitzpatrick came on for the hosts in place of Reeves, prompting a warm response from the Hednesford fans for his contribution to the Pitmen's rise through the leagues in the nineties

Two minutes later, a quick counter-attack from Nuneaton caught the Pitmen chasing back as Noon's pass into substitute Kevin Wilkin found the striker in on goal, only for the former Rushden & Diamonds man to take a touch too many and allow Jenkins to make a smothering stop

Wright glanced a header wide of goal for the away side with four minutes remaining as he nipped in ahead of Moore to head Beckett's cross behind at the near post

In the final minute of normal time, the Pitmen grabbed a second goal and set up a grandstand finish as Platt played Brannan into space down the right, with the teenager sending over a fine cross into the path of McMahon, who showed a fine turn of skill to control the ball and turn past Acton in the same move before slotting into the empty net from close-range


Alas, there was not to be an equaliser in added time for the Pitmen as Nuneaton stood firm in the three minutes of added time to record a crucial three points in their chase for top spot. Results elsewhere were not kind for Anthrobus's side, with the Pitmen dropping down the twenty-first position in the table as Worcester City, Leigh RMI and Alfreton Town all recorded wins. The Pitmen's final game of 2005 sees them on their travels for the fourth game in succession as they travel to play-off chasing Droylsden in what will be a first-ever meeting between the two sides

Nuneaton Borough: Acton, Oddy, Staff, Reeves (Fitzpatrick 81), Moore, Angus ©, Collins, Noon, Quailey (Frew 59), Murphy (Wilkin 66), Whittaker       Subs Unused: Poole, Rea

Hednesford Town: Jenkins, Adams, Hunter, Briggs (McMahon 63), Wright, T. Marshall, Platt, Williams © (Brannan 63), McSweeney, Bell (Dyer 75), Beckett     Subs Unused: Branch, Whittle