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Zamaretto Southern Premier League

Oxford City

Steele (25), (65)

Hednesford Town

(1) 2

(0) 0



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Cheyenne Dunkley


Evesham United (H) 23.1.10

Hednesford's return to action after five weeks away ends in defeat at a freezing cold Oxford City tonight, as two Lee Steele goals seal the managerless Pitmen's fate

The spell between the Pitmen's last game at Bedford Town on 15th December and now had seen much change on and off the pitch for the Pitmen, as manager Simon Line had tendered his resignation after citing personal issues in his ability to continue in the job. This had come in the midst of a long spell without games due to the poor weather as five successive games over Christmas and New Year had been called off. Caretaker manager Delwyn Humphries had been tasked with preparing the side for tonight's trip to Court Place Farm and had made a number of changes to the side, having seen several departures since Line's resignation; out had gone Gary Anslow and Paul McMullen, who returned to former club Market Drayton, whilst Sam Aiston had also been released. In had come Zak Martin on a permanent deal following his contractual issues with King's Lynn, whilst two young loanees had arrived to add to the ranks in the form of Cheyenne Dunkley from Crewe Alexandra and Sam Adkins from Walsall. Both were named in the starting line-up for tonight's game, whilst highly-rated teenager Jamey Osborne was also moved up from the youth team after a string of impressive performances. Finally, former youth team graduate Steve Brannan was named amongst the substitutes after he had returned to the club from Leek Town

Sixth-placed Oxford - still smarting from their 4-2 defeat at Keys Park last month - had themselves gone nearly three weeks without a game after a 1-1 draw at home to Bashley on New Year's Day. Manager Mike Ford made two changes for tonight's game as Andy Ballard and Mark Janes returned to the starting XI in place of Steve Davis and Michael Lyon

In front of a sparse crowd, the opening exchanges were exactly the kind that you would expect from two teams with no recent form to call upon; misplaced passes, rusty-looking shots and a general lack of fitness all round stood out as both sides struggled to get a grip on the game

Hednesford were first to fire a shot in on goal, with Elliott Durrell darting down the right-hand side before laying the ball into the path of Ross Dyer on ten minutes. The Pitmen's captain got his shot away from the edge of the penalty area, but Oxford keeper Will Puddy easily fielded Dyer's weak effort

The hosts responded with a good move involving Dave Savage and Mark Bell, whose ball played in former Hednesford striker Jon Douglas. He cut the ball back to Lee Steele, who clipped a clever shot just wide of Stuart Brock's left-hand post

Tyrone Barnett, looking to get back on the goal trail for the Pitmen to add to his nine goals this term, went close to getting into double figures for the season on twenty minutes. Dyer played a superb ball into his strike partner's path, but Barnett's powerful shot on the run narrowly missed the foot of the post

Despite having the clearer chances in the first quarter, the Pitmen found themselves a goal down on twenty-five minutes. Josh Emery and Mark Janes combined down the Oxford left, crossing to find Steele all alone in the area. His well-taken shot just did enough to evade Brock and find the corner of the net

It was very nearly 2-0 just a minute later, as Martin conceded a free kick on the edge of the penalty area. Bell's free-kick found Andy Ballard, whose header dropped into the grateful arms of Brock - either side of the Hednesford stopper and it would surely have been a goal for the home side

Hednesford struggled to put any real pressure on an Oxford defence that seemed comfortable in shackling the Pitmen's forward line. The closest they came to real opportunities were long-range efforts from Durrell and Barnett, both of which were well saved by Puddy

Puddy did well a couple of minutes before half time, racing out to the edge of his area to smother the ball as Dyer broke into the area but allowed the ball to overrun

The hosts still looked more likely to open up the Hednesford defence and extend their lead, and with the final move of the half, Steele picked up a ball from David Perpetuini but fired straight at Brock

The Pitmen continued to struggle in the opening exchanges of the second half, with Oxford forcing a succession of corners within five minutes of the restart. On two occasions, headers caused havoc in the Hednesford defence, with Douglas heading over from one corner, whilst Andy Gunn saw his downward header hacked off the line by the impressive Dunkley as Oxford looked to force a second goal

Grant Goodhead was on hand to turn Ballard's effort away from goal on fifty-six minutes, deflecting the ball away from goal as it looked to have beaten Brock from close range

Douglas and Steele were  giving the Pitmen problems with their movement up front, with the former almost adding to Oxford's advantage on the hour mark with a deflected header that cleared the crossbar

There was a feeling amongst the few that were there that Oxford's pressure was due to pay off, and on sixty-five minutes it did. A simple route one ball undid the Pitmen at the back, with Puddy thumping a long ball up to Emery, who touched the ball on to Steele; he took advantage of Hednesford's hesitancy to nip in, round the onrushing Brock and slide the ball home from an angle

The Pitmen, to their credit, dug deep and refused to lie down, enjoying a much better spell in the final quarter. Durrell's firmly-hit shot was saved brilliantly by Puddy, turning the ball away to his left to deny the youngster

Dyer was looking weary and ring rusty at this point, with the forward firing high over the bar with a wild effort after Durrell's shot had found its way to Dyer

And yet it was Durrell who was taken off a minute later, with Brannan making his second debut for the club since re-signing from Leek as his replacement. Four minutes later, Luke Chapman came on for Martin, who had incurred the wrath of the referee and had been booked earlier

Dunkley very nearly capped a fine debut with a goal, but the young defender somehow missed the target with a header at the far post after Steve Jagielka had supplied the cross

The chances kept coming for the Pitmen in the final ten minutes, but again reckless finishing was the team's undoing. Barnett and Jagielka were denied by Puddy, before Dyer wasted a glorious chance to score, somehow hitting his shot narrowly wide of goal when he really should have scored

Barnett was also guilty of missing an easy opportunity with two minutes left, failing to turn the ball home at the far post as he stretched to meet Adkins' deep cross

There was still time for Oxford to threaten a third goal, with Janes firing straight at Brock in added time as he looked to heap more misery on the Pitmen

Whilst it was good to finally get back on the pitch, Humphreys will have his work cut out to bring the Pitmen back up to speed if they are to climb the table once again. The chances they created will give him confidence, but ongoing defensive woes will need to be addressed first and foremost with the games now likely to come thick and fast in the coming weeks with so many to catch up on. The Pitmen play their first home match of the new year on Saturday when they host ninth-placed Evesham United 

Oxford City: Puddy, Ballard, Perpetuini, Savage ©, Clarke, Gunn, Bell (Brooks 66), Emery, Douglas, Steele, Janes       Subs Unused: Morris, Knight

Hednesford Town: Brock, Platt, Martin ▆ (Chapman 73), Bailey, Dunkley, Goodhead, Durrell (Brannan 70), Jagielka, Barnett, Dyer ©, Adkins    Subs Unused: Flynn, Overton, Osborne

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