19.4.2014

Skrill North

Oxford City

Ballard (45)

Hednesford Town

MacPherson (15), Johnson (72)

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Worcester City (H) 21.4.14

The Pitmen took an almighty step towards sealing that dream spot in this season's Skrill North play-offs after victory over struggling Oxford City at Marsh Lane this afternoon. A hard-fought victory - their third on the bounce - now means that Rob Smith's troops simply need a point from their last two games to seal a top-five place

With confidence high after back-to-back wins in Skrill North in the last fortnight, Hednesford made the trip to Oxfordshire looking for three more points to put the pressure on their nearest challengers for the play-off spots - Guiseley and Boston United, who both faced tricky games against Colwyn Bay and Leamington respectively. Smith was still unable to call upon the injured pair of Jamey Osborne and Charlie Anagho-Ntamark, so named the same side that had beaten Guiseley the previous Saturday in a thrilling game at Keys Park

Oxford were still looking for a clutch of points from their final three games to see off any lingering hopes of being dragged into a relegation dogfight, with City only four points above Histon and Stalybridge Celtic in the battle to avoid finishing second bottom of Skrill North. Despite having beaten AFC Telford at Marsh Lane two weeks previously, they had suffered successive reverses to Gainsborough Trinity and Altrincham in the previous seven days

On a bright, sunny Spring day, the hosts kicked off on a heavily sandy pitch that looked uneven, bobbly and inconsistent in grass length, with City making the more confident start to the game. The hosts pushed the visitors back with four corner kicks inside the first five minutes, testing the resolve of the excellent Ben Bailey and Paul McCone in the air as they tried to force an early goal

City's Kayden Jackson snatched at a half-chance on ten minutes, following another corner kick that had been partially headed away. Jackson got far too much on his follow-up effort, lifting his shot high over Dan Crane's crossbar after swivelling on the edge of the penalty area

The Pitmen responded swiftly and decisively, as they took the lead in the fifteenth minute with their first meaningful attack. Wayne Riley whipped in a corner kick to the far post, where he found Bailey lurking. The big centre back rose highest to head the ball down into the path of Dave MacPherson, who knocked the ball home from close range

City responded through Tom Winters, making a marauding run down the left and firing into the side netting after Andy Ballard had played him in behind the Hednesford defence

Two minutes later, the Pitmen had a great chance to double their advantage through Wayne Riley; another towering header from Bailey from Marvin Johnson's free-kick saw him knock the ball down to Riley, who headed inches wide of goal with a stooping effort

The teams continued to trade chances, with Crane coming to the Pitmen's rescue on thirty-two minutes with a superb save. Michael Pook's long, rangy free-kick found the head of the experienced Ballard, who saw his goalbound effort brilliantly turned away by the left palm of Crane

 

Set pieces have been a constant source of goals for the Pitmen this season, at both ends of the park, with McCone almost capitalising on a long throw from defensive partner Bailey on thirty-eight minutes. A deep throw from Bailey found the head of McCone, whose flick header drifted just wide of the far post

As the first period entered its final five minutes, Riley thought he had scored the Pitmen's second goal of the game, but his rifled effort was ruled out for an earlier offside flag after MacPherson had played him in

Glover took 'one for the team' on forty-three minutes, taking the pain of a full-blooded free-kick from Winters full in the groin as the Pitmen looked to clear the ball

City finished the half strongly and thought they had their equaliser in the final minute of the half. Winters' marauding run found Darren Pond, who slipped the ball into Jackson, who in turn fired impressively past Crane. However, an offside flag put paid to Oxford's celebrations, as the goal was disallowed by the referee

In the third minute of added time, Oxford did indeed get the equaliser that their efforts deserved, as the Pitmen switched off at a set-piece once again. A throw-in on the left-wing looked like a blatant foul throw, with the Pitmen leaving Paul Stonehouse completely unmarked on the edge of the penalty area. His cross found Ballard, who turned and fired home with what turned out to be the final act of the first half to send Oxford in at the break on level terms

Hednesford started the second half on the front foot, as they went searching for a second goal that could seal their play-off place at the end of the game. Glover managed to get the better of the Oxford defence just two minutes into the second half, running in behind the City back line but being denied by a last-ditch challenge by Mark Preece

From the resultant corner kick from Riley, McCone headed over the crossbar with a free header from just six yards out

Oxford responded with a great chance for Jackson two minutes later, with the Swindon loanee's dipping, swerving effort from fully thirty yards crashing off the crossbar with Crane beaten all ends up

The Pitmen were reduced to ten men on fifty-five minutes, as Riley was shown a straight red card by the referee after he voiced his dissatisfaction at a free kick for Oxford a little too vociferously. If the Pitmen are to make the play-offs, it will mean Riley will miss one of the two games in the semi-final as a result

After Jackson had fired just wide of goal for City once more, a long throw from Ballard found the head of Preece on sixty-six minutes, with the Oxford skipper flicking his effort just wide of goal

A minute later, the hard-running Glover was allowed a well-earned rest as the Pitmen brought on the powerful, experienced Marvin Robinson, who rejoined the club from City in December

The Pitmen were playing mostly on the counter-attack, using the aerial ability of Robinson to hold the ball up and bring the likes of MacPherson, Johnson and Tom Thorley into the game from midfield

It was one of those creative midfielders - Johnson - who was to have the final say in the game with eighteen minutes remaining. A quick break down the right from the Pitmen saw Johnson seize upon the ball and run in towards goal. With Disney taking two City players out of the game with his overlapping run, Johnson was given time to pick his spot and curl a delightful shot beyond Bulman and into the far corner of the net

With their noses in front once more, the Pitmen looked to shut up shop with two banks of four in front of the Oxford attack as Alex Melbourne dropped into a more familiar defensive midfield role to support the excellent MacPherson and Thorley

In a further attempt to see the game out, Kris Taylor was given another late run out as he continues his return to the side following illness, replacing the tireless MacPherson for the final five minutes

It was Taylor who had a chance to seal it for the Pitmen on eighty-seven minutes, as Robinson earned his side a free-kick right on the edge of the penalty area. Taylor rifled straight into the wall from his resultant dead ball effort, opting for power rather than placement

In the final minute, Johnson almost grabbed an audacious third goal as he nipped in and lobbed the onrushing Bulman from fully forty yards. The ball bounced towards goal, but lacked enough pace and allowed Viv Soloman-Otabor to get back and clear

A win for the Pitmen here and a draw for Boston at Leamington means that Smith's side are now within touching distance of an incredible finish inside the top five, with a positive result at home to Worcester City on Bank Holiday Monday allowing the club to plan for a fourth successive year in the play-offs. Exciting times indeed at Keys Park as we enter the final three weeks of the campaign, with Hednesford currently topping the form table and seemingly the team many would want to avoid in that top five shootout

Oxford City: Bullman, Henderson, Stonehouse, Pook, Learoyd, Preece ©, Benjamin (Solomon 70), Ballard, Jackson, Pond, Winters (Symonds 70).     Subs Unused: Cook, Wilmott, Basham

 

Hednesford Town: Crane, Disney, Campion ©, Bailey, McCone, MacPherson (Taylor 84), Riley (55), Johnson, Glover (Robinson 70), Melbourne, Thorley       Subs Unused: Lennon, Francis, Sullivan

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