Vanarama Conference North

Hednesford Town

Oxford City

Coulson (23), Yussuf (54)

(0) 0

(1) 2



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Dan Crane


Solihull Moors (H) 6.4.15

A fourth defeat on the bounce looks to have put paid to the Pitmen's fading play-off hopes this afternoon as Oxford City gave their own flagging top five ambitions a boost with a dominant victory at Keys Park

Defeat to Tamworth in the Staffordshire derby last weekend had further dented the Pitmen's fragile confidence after back-to-back defeats to Boston United and North Ferriby United, leaving Rob Smith's out-of-form side outside of the top five for the first time in several weeks. Smith made three changes to his side for their return home this afternoon as Chris Westwood replaced Adam Thomas, ex-Oxford City man Marvin Robinson returned to the side in place of Steve Diggin up front and Richard Batchelor came back into the team after serving a one-match ban as he replaced Lloyd Kerry

City - sitting in eighth place and some five points behind the play-off pack - had seen their own top five hopes hit last weekend as improving Bradford (Park Avenue) beat them 2-1 at Court Place Farm to continue to move away from the drop zone. City manager Justin Merritt made two changes to his side for the trip up to Staffordshire as Felipe Barcelos and debutant Oxford United loanee Jeremy Balby came into the side ahead of Declan Benjamin and Paul Stonehouse

City started the game brightly and the mercurial Tom Winters led James Hurst a merry dance early on as his run down the left flank in the fourth minute saw him stand up a cross to the near post that Adi Yussuf was beaten to by competent goalkeeping from Dan Crane

More good wing play from Winters two minutes later saw the former Brackley man skip past Tom Thorley as he came in from the flank and attempted a curling shot at goal that sailed high over the head of Crane and into the small band of Oxford supporters standing in the Heath Hayes terrace

However, the Pitmen had the best of the early opportunities in the ninth minute as Ander Del Alamo's loose pass out of defence was seized upon by Walker, who took the ball back into the City penalty area before seeing his shot blocked by Lee Henderson

City goalkeeper Salva De la Cruz was alert to deny the Pitmen in the thirteenth minute as another defensive error saw skipper Jose Lapoujade watch Ben Bailey's long punt forwards to bounce over his head, allowing Jamey Osborne to chase the ball down inside the Oxford penalty area. His shot was blocked by the goalkeeper, who saw the ball run to the incoming Nick Rushton; however, the Wrexham loanee was a yard behind play and the ball ran away from him as he looked to turn the ball into the empty net from ten yards out

Oxford's Mamadou Fofana was inches away from a spectacular opener for the visitors three minutes later as he picked up a loose ball in midfield before unleashing a powerful shot from thirty yards out that whistled just wide of Crane's left-hand post

Good play from Thorley in the nineteenth minute saw the midfield man win the ball from Alesandro Santiago and take the ball into space before playing a superb cross-field ball to Osborne on the right. The talented youngster stepped past Del Alamo and squared the ball to Rushton, who got his foot underneath the ball and lifted his effort over the crossbar from eighteen yards out

The Pitmen were made to pay for their missed opportunities as Oxford took the lead in the twenty-third minute; Balby played a pass into the path of Luke Coulson down the right, who did well to run in behind the ball-watching Walker and get himself into the Hednesford penalty area before striking a low shot across the face of Crane's goal and into the far corner of the net, via a touch from Crane's right hand

Back came the hosts and Westwood headed into the side-netting on twenty-six minutes as he came through a crowd of players to meet Thorley's deep corner kick from the left at the far post

City had the ball in the net again on the half-hour mark as the excellent Winters picked the run of Yussuf out with a fine cross out on the left, whose header at goal was tipped onto the crossbar by Crane. The ball ran kindly for Marlon Jackson, who tapped home the rebound, only to be denied by an offside flag against him on the main stand side as he made a move into the Hednesford six-yard box a little too early

Robinson had struggled to make an impact on the game thus far, having been well shackled by the City defence in the first half-hour of the game. His bustling presence forced an error out of Del Alamo on thirty-four minutes as he won the ball just outside the Oxford penalty area, but the big striker dragged his shot along the ground and made it an easy save for De la Cruz

Batchelor's return to the side was a welcome and timely one as the former Leamington man added bite to the Pitmen's midfield and allowed Thorley and Osborne to play their natural game. He did well to take the ball from Balby on thirty-seven minutes and play the ball into the path of Osborne, whose run and subsequent pass into Rushton was pulled wide by the young striker from fifteen yards out, under pressure from Henderson

The consistent and reliable Bailey gave the Keys Park crowd a moment of concern three minutes before half-time as he remained on the floor following a well-timed tackle on Winters out on the left. After a lengthy bout of treatment from Gavin Blackwell, the centre-back got back to his feet but certainly did not look happy with his movement

With the first half drifting into added time at the end of the first half, Walker's free-kick from the left touchline was played into the Oxford penalty area, where Jordan Tunnicliffe's flick-on skipped wide of the far post as both Rushton and Batchelor just failed to connect with the ball inside the Oxford six-yard box

The Pitmen had competed well so far and no one could question their effort, but they had lacked that quality in the final third and had been guilty of wasting some good chances against an Oxford team that had taken their one good chance of the game with aplomb

Bailey emerged for the second half but still looked uncomfortable with his movement and was taken off just three minutes after the restart as he gestured to the bench that he could not carry on; Andy Todd came on in his place, which saw the Pitmen move to a 4-4-2 formation as Todd slotted into the centre of midfield

Todd was quickly involved for the hosts, making a twenty yard run into the Oxford half with the ball on fifty two minutes before playing the ball to Osborne, whose swerving effort from twenty yards out was watched wide of goal by De la Cruz at his left-hand post

Oxford extended their lead on fifty-four minutes as the Pitmen paid a heavy price for committing men forwards at a corner kick as Oxford cleared their lines and broke through Winters, who sent Yussuf away into space behind the retreating Hednesford defence. The young striker held off Westwood's desperate challenge and finished confidently by striking a low shot beyond the reach of the onrushing Crane from just inside the Hednesford penalty area to make it 2-0; it was the former Burton Albion player's twenty-fourth goal of a prolific season and he will surely be a much-in-demand name in the summer months from clubs higher up the pyramid

The Pitmen made their second substitution of the afternoon before play could restart as young Aston Villa loanee Thomas Strain came on up front in place of the ineffective Rushton

The hosts continued to huff and puff as they looked for a way back into the game, with Thorley's free-kick headed high over the crossbar by Robinson on fifty-nine minutes as he nipped in ahead of De la Cruz to loop his effort over the woodwork from eight yards out

A minute later, Thorley was the first name to be taken by referee Mr Wright as he was shown a yellow card for tripping Fofani just inside the Hednesford half to stop the Oxford man from making a move forwards

More stout defending from the well-organised visitors saw Santiago block another long-range Osborne shot on sixty-two minutes before Lapoujade denied Todd a follow-up shot to the right of the Oxford penalty area

With the Pitmen severely lacking in creativity, Smith elected to put the more attack-minded Thomas on in place of Thorley a minute later, with the Stoke City loanee moving to the right flank to give the hosts an outlet they had been lacking all afternoon

It was the away side that went closer to grabbing a third goal, however, midway through the second half as good build-up play down the left saw Winters' shot rebound back into the path of Lapoujade, whose first-time shot from the edge of the penalty area was pushed away from goal by Crane's full-length save down to his right

Crane was on hand to deny man of the match Winters a third Oxford goal on seventy minutes as Yussuf did well to dispossess Tunnicliffe before sending Winters away down the left, with the winger cutting inside and slightly over-running the ball which allowed the onrushing Crane to make a smothering save at his feet

Thomas tricked his way into the Oxford penalty area on seventy-two minutes and clipped the ball across to Strain, who struggled to bring the ball under control ten yards from goal and allowed Coulson to pick his pocket and clear the danger

Lapaujade was denied by Crane once more fifteen minutes from time as the Oxford skipper rose highest to meet a Winters corner kick, heading downwards and towards the far corner of the net, only for Crane to make a sprawling save down to his left and push the ball away

Robinson's presence in the six-yard box saw him force a mistake out of De la Cruz on seventy-seven minutes as the stopper dropped Walker's free-kick at the feet of the burly forward, only for Mr Wright to pull the striker up for an alleged foul on the goalkeeper in the build-up. Robinson protested his innocence and pointed out that the stopper was standing a yard away from him and had dropped the ball without contact being made

Osborne was shown the game's second yellow card of the game with ten minutes remaining as a combination of petty fouls and constant moaning at Mr Wright earned the youngster a well-deserved booking

The expected Hednesford fightback simply did not materialise in the final ten minutes of the game as Oxford stuck to their task manfully and denied the hosts time or space to create any real openings. Set-pieces remained the Pitmen's best bet of getting back into the game as Robinson looped a header onto the roof of the Oxford net with seven minutes remaining after reaching Osborne's outswinging free-kick

With two minutes of a disappointing afternoon remaining for the hosts, Strain played the ball out to Thomas on the right, with the wiry winger turning past Fofani but getting too much on his cross as the ball sailed harmlessly wide of the far post

It had been a frustrating afternoon for the Pitmen, who had worked hard but had struggled to create much of note against an Oxford side that had deserved their three points through some well-organised defending and taking their chances when they were presented to them. City move to within a point of the Pitmen in the Conference North table, with Smith's side now four points behind Boston in the final play-off place and in the worst form of any side in the play-off mix. The league takes a have a nine-day break from action until Easter Bank Holiday Monday, when the Pitmen make the short trip down to mid-table Solihull Moors looking to break their horrible run of recent form with a positive result

Hednesford Town: Crane, Hurst, Westwood, Bailey © (Todd 48), Tunnicliffe, Thorley  (Thomas 63), Osborne , Walker, Robinson, Rushton (Strain 55), Batchelor      Subs Unused: Kerry, Diggin

Oxford City: De la Cruz, Coulson, Lapoujade ©, Del Alamo, Henderson, Santiago, Jackson, Fofani, Yussuf (Wilson 74), Balby (Benjamin 70), Winters (Barcelos 79)       Subs Unused: Stonehouse, Scott