2.1.2006

Nationwide Conference North

Hednesford Town

Nuneaton Borough

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Attendance

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1,011

Mark Briggs

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Barrow (H) 7.1.06

The Pitmen produced one of their best team performances of the season today against title-chasing Nuneaton Borough - but drew a blank as they had to settle for a point after wasting a host of good chances

Just forty-eight hours after their 1-1 draw at play-off chasers Droylsden, the Pitmen returned to Keys Park with one change to their side for today's A5 derby as Ian Wright was ruled out due to a foot injury and was replaced by the fit-again Richard Teesdale at centre-back. Leon McSweeney returned to the squad but had to be content with a place amongst the substitutes after missing the Droylsden game

Title-chasing Nuneaton's growing focus was on their upcoming glamour tie in the F.A. Cup third round against Premier League side Middlesbrough at the weekend, with manager Roger Ashby making one change to his XI from the one that had beaten Barrow 2-1 on Friday as Terry Angus returned in defence to replace Kevin Wilkin, who dropped to the bench

In front of the Pitmen's second four-figure crowd of the season, the hosts made a flying start to the game and have five good chances in the opening twelve minutes of the game. In the third minute, Grant Beckett was allowed time and space to move into the Nuneaton penalty area and strike a firm shot just wide of Darren Acton's near post from twelve yards out

In the sixth minute, Colin Hunter's deep corner to the far post was met by the head of the returning Teesdale, who glanced his effort wide of the post as he beat David Staff to the ball

The Pitmen continued to dominate the opening spell of the game and Hunter pulled a good chance wide of goal in the ninth minute of the game as he cut across the ball wide a shot from twenty yards out but lifted his effort wide of goal as Angus bore down on him

In the twelfth minute, striker Andy Bell saw his effort blocked by Rob Obby as he was played in on goal by a fine threaded pass from midfield man Mark Briggs, who was making his home debut for the Pitmen

Nuneaton were nervy at the back and error-strewn in midfield, with Brannan handed a chance to open the scoring in the sixteenth minute after Staff had given the ball away cheaply to him, only for the teenager to waste the hosts' lastest chance with a wayward shot over the crossbar

In the twentieth minute, Beckett's long throw from the left was flicked on by Bell and fell into the path of Ross Dyer as Nuneaton once again struggled to clear their lines, but the 17-year-old pulled his shot wide and into the fans seated behind Acton's goal

 

 Good play from Briggs on twenty-five minutes saw the midfielder spray a fine pass out to Hunter on the left from the centre circle. The winger - who had given Oddy a torrid time in the reverse fixture last week - got past the full-back once more and stood up a cross to the far post, where Acton did enough to palm the ball away from the incoming Bell to deny the striker a simple tap-in

Bell pulled another good chance wide of goal for the hosts on the half-hour mark as he turned quickly on a Beckett pass to gain half a yard on Angus but struck his shot wide of the target from eighteen yards out

Boro made what appeared to be a tactical change in the thirty-fifth minute as Staff was taken off without appearing to have an injury and was replaced by the more attacking Stuart Whittaker

Whittaker's introduction seemed to have a galvanising effect on the visitors, with the winger making an immediate impact with his first touch by cutting in from the left and trying his luck with a dipping angled shot that just cleared Whittle's crossbar

A minute later, Whittaker's corner kick aimed at the far post was latched onto by Neil Moore, who got above Ross Adams but headed over the crossbar from six yards out

Back came the Pitmen on forty minutes with a neat passing move involving Brannan, and Bell before the striker played his partner Dyer in on goal. The teenager took the ball into the penalty area but dragged his effort inches wide of the post

With half-time looming, a superb pass from ex-Hednesford favourite Gary Fitzpatrick found Brian Quailey in space just inside the Hednesford penalty area; the former West Brom man worked the ball onto his right foot but struck his shot straight into the arms of Whittle

The Pitmen will wonder how they were not winning the game by a good number of goals at the half-time break, having dominated large parts of the first period but had struggled to take the various good chances that had fallen to them against a Nuneaton side that looked as though they had other, more pressing concerns on their mind

The tone of the game continued into the second half, with Dyer and Bell continuing to cause problems for the visitors on the break; another fine pass from the impressive Briggs on fifty minutes found Dyer in space down the right, with the youngster laying the ball back into the path of Brannan - his first-time shot was watched over the crossbar by the experienced Acton

Four minutes later, Teesdale strode forwards as the play opened up in front of him with Nuneaton backing off; the centre-back's shot from long-range lacked direction, however, and drifted into the Heath Hayes terrace

Just before the hour mark, a clever ball from the improving Dyer played Bell in behind the ball-watching Angus, only for the striker's low shot to be beaten away from goal by the legs of Acton from ten yards out

The same combination linked up once more on sixty-four minutes as Dyer's chipped ball forwards found Bell in space once more. On this occasion, however, Bell took a touch too many and allowed Moore to come across to block his shot

Nuneaton's first real chance of the game came on sixty-eight minutes as Fitzpatrick found space inside the Hednesford half and played Gex Murphy through on goal, but the Boxing Day hat-trick hero was stretching to reach the ball and dragged his shot wide of Whittle's near post

With twenty minutes remaining, substitute Michael Frew made a run in behind the Pitmen's defence to get on the end of Murphy's through ball but Whittle made a brave stop at the midfielder's feet

The Pitmen made a double attacking change with fifteen minutes remaining as McSweeney replaced the hard-running Dyer and Bell was replaced by super-sub Paul McMahon

Two minutes later, Whittle turned a looping header from Angus over his crossbar after Whittaker's inswinging free-kick was met by the head of the veteran Nuneaton skipper

With eleven minutes of the game remaining, another fine pass from Briggs saw the midfielder play Brannan in on goal as the teenager made a run into the inside right position; Brannan played the ball across goal and into the path of Hunter at the far post, who in turn pulled the ball back to McSweeney - his header from six yards out lacked direction however and he glanced the ball over the crossbar from close-range

Sixty seconds later, there was a let-off for the Pitmen as Mark Noon's cross was met by Whittaker, whose downward header from close-range was cleared off the line by Hunter. The visitors claimed that the ball had crossed the line before Hunter had cleared the ball, but the match officials were unconvinced and play continued

Hunter was involved at the other end of the pitch on eighty-four minutes as he won a free-kick just inside the Nuneaton half after Oddy had brought him down. He took the kick himself and sent Beckett away down the left, whose cross was headed over the crossbar by McSweeney

The Pitmen should have claimed the points in added time as McMahon almost added to his collection of late strikes with a run into the Nuneaton penalty area to get past Moore, taking the ball around the dive of Acton but taking one touch too many as he shaped to shoot, which allowed Acton to recover and dive on the ball

It had very much been two points dropped rather than one earned for the hosts, who will be kicking themselves at not taking at least one of the several good chances that had fallen their way today to see off the challenge of one of the top sides in Conference North. They can take heart from two impressive performances against Nuneaton over the festive period and a battling performance at Droylsden, which they will look to carry into Saturday's home game against mid-table Barrow

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

Nuneaton Borough: Acton, Oddy, Staff (Whittaker 35), Angus ©, Moore, Collins, Fitzpatrick, Noon, Quailey (Wilkin 78), Murphy, Love (Frew 67)      Subs Unused: Rea, Reeves