17.2.2007

UniBond Northern Premier League

Hednesford Town

Radcliffe Borough

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Iain Screaton

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Witton Albion (A) 20.2.07

Hednesford's attempts to close the gap on league leaders AFC Telford United were frustrated today as they failed to unlock a resilient and resourceful Radcliffe Borough side who earned themselves a fine point in their battle against the drop

 

Hednesford manager Phil Starbuck was still looking to solve the problems of the Pitmen's recent slump in form so far in 2007 and had used the fortnight's break well, making three signings in the form of Rothwell Town striker Justin Jenkins - signed for a nominal fee thanks to a donation from the Pitmen's Teambuilder 200 account - defender Lee Soar from Eastwood Town and giant forward Mark Sale from Northwich Victoria. The latter pair missed out on today's game but Jenkins was named in the starting XI as one of two changes to the side that had started against Leek Town as he replaced Dave Whittaker, whilst Mario Pedro replaced the injured Gary Sucharewycz

Radcliffe made their first-ever trip to Keys Park sitting in a precarious position in the UniBond Premier League table, just two points above the relegation zone at the start of play. Manager Andy Johnston made one change to the side that had drawn 3-3 at home to Lincoln United two weeks ago as Lee Hendley replaced Andy Heald out on the flank

The home side started in an urgent mood and Danny Bacon won a free-kick just on the edge of the Radcliffe penalty area in the third minute; Tom Marshall's powerful effort cannoned back off the wall and into the path of skipper Chris White, who pulled the ball back to Ross Dyer. However, the young striker snatched at his effort from six yards out and drove his effort across the face of goal and wide of the target

Good play from Phil Hadland in the seventh minute saw the winger drift past Tony Whealing and sent over a deep cross to the far post, where Dyer arrived late but got underneath the ball and only managed to loop his header over the crossbar from eight yards out

The experienced Jenkins - formerly of the likes of Hinckley United and Ilkeston Town - was putting himself about with a display of aggression and power against the Radcliffe defenders and almost grabbed a debut goal in the thirteenth minute as Bacon and Pedro linked up well down the left for the Portuguese winger to pull the ball back into the path of Jenkins, only for the new number ten to scuff his shot from ten yards out wide of the target

Radcliffe had set up a defensive formation to test the Pitmen's attacking threat in a clear message that they were playing for a point to take back to Greater Manchester. Their only effort of note in the opening quarter of the game came Ian Fitzpatrick's run on seventeen minutes as he skipped past Iain Screaton but was dispossessed by Marshall as he entered the Hednesford penalty area

Ryan Young was called upon to make his first contribution to the game midway through the first period as he managed to hold a firm low cross from Hendley at his near post under pressure from the incoming Fitzpatrick

Pedro and Radcliffe's Scott Wilson had a coming together on twenty-seven minutes as the pair challenged for a Jamie March forward pass, resulting in a bout of pushing and shoving between the two players. Referee Mr Pardoe settled the players down and awarded the away side a free-kick, which Young collected and sent Dyer away with a quickly-taken kick. The young striker showed great skill to turn past two challenges but overran the ball at the crucial moment as he entered the penalty area and was dispossessed by Ian Kearney

More good wing play from Hadland on thirty-two minutes saw him shimmy his way to the byeline and cross for Jenkins, whose header was just the wrong side of the right-hand post

Wilson and Pedro got into another tangle in midfield four minutes later with the Radcliffe man bringing the winger down after another coming-together. Mr Pardoe elected to show Wilson a yellow card on this occasion as a warning to the men in yellow

From the resultant Ross Adams free-kick, the ball dropped onto the head of his defensive partner Marshall, only for his header to also sail wide of the Radcliffe far post

 With only a couple of minutes remaining in the first half, Hadland got goal side of Whealing once more as he latched onto a cross-field pass from Pedro, but drilled his angled shot narrowly wide of Tom Dittmer's near post

It had been a dominant, but frustrating, first half for the hosts, who had seen plenty of the ball in opposition territory but had found the Radcliffe defence in a stoic mood

The visitors were forced into an early substitution just three minutes into the second half as Lee Duffy was forced off due to injury and was replaced by Haydn Eames

On fifty minutes, Screaton won a free-kick to the left of the Radcliffe penalty area which was taken by Adams, who in turn found Marshall charging in at the far post. However, the young defender's bullet header was a foot or so wide of the post with Dittmer beaten

The two Hednesford wingers combined four minutes later as Pedro won the ball from Whealing and played Hadland into space down the right. The former Rochdale man's initial shot was blocked but fell kindly to him once more, only for his follow-up shot to drift wide of Dittmer's post

Marshall was denied from an Adams corner kick on the hour mark as Dittmer came off his line to deal with the ball but completely missed it, allowing Marshall to bring the ball under control and shoot goalwards. He found a forest of legs in front of him however and saw his low effort deflected away from danger

 Bacon could have given the hosts a priceless lead on sixty-four minutes, turning well on the edge of the Radcliffe penalty area before firing in a shot that just cleared the far post

Bacon and Jenkins had shown a real understanding up front for the hosts in what will be seen as a promising start to their partnership; the pair linked up well on sixty-eight minutes as Bacon played Jenkins through on goal with a fine pass, only for a combination of Dittmer and Whealing to deny him a shot at goal

Another fine free-kick delivery from Adams on seventy minutes saw the ball land at the feet of White, whose shot was blocked. The ball was turned goalwards by Dyer, who was also denied by a block tackle which saw the ball run to Bacon, whose follow-up shot was inches wide of the post

 Despite a lack of attempts at the other end, Radcliffe went close to taking an unlikely lead three minutes later as Matty O'Neill broke clear down the left and crossed low for Hendley, only for the forward to miscontrol the ball at the crucial moment inside the six-yard box and allow Young to clear the danger

Hadland was presented with a great chance at the other end a minute later, taking advantage of Eames' poor positioning as he allowed an Adams pass to bounce over his head and into the path of the winger, only for Hadland to fire wide of the post from fifteen yards out

With twelve minutes remaining, a visibly frustrated Starbuck shook things up with an attacking change as Whittaker came on in place of the hard-working Bacon

Whittaker almost had an immediate impact two minutes later as a Hadland free-kick was headed into his path by Marshall's downward flick-on, only for the substitute to skew his shot wide at the far post

Screaton was also guilty of wasting a good chance three minutes later as he tamely curled an effort straight into the grateful arms of Dittmer from an Adams pass

The Pitmen were committing more men forwards in search of a winner in the final minutes, with Marshall spending more and more time in the opposition penalty area. Screaton's long throw on eighty-seven minutes was glanced into the path of Jenkins once more, only for the debutant to see his scrambled effort cleared away for a corner kick

Despite the Pitmen's late pressing, it was the away side that had the best chance of the half to win it in added time as Whealing's low cross into the box was met by the diving header of Fitzpatrick, who headed a matter of inches wide of the post. Close

The hosts went straight up the other end through Young's long kick and Jenkins played Whittaker through on goal, only for the substitute to lift his shot on the run over the crossbar when a pass to Hadland would probably have been a better option

 

The Pitmen will feel aggrieved at not taking all three points from the game after dominating proceedings for long spells. However, that all-too-familiar sceptre of wasting chances in front of goal was once again in evidence as they squandered some great opportunities to put the game to bed against an impressively hard-working Radcliffe side. A tough-looking trip to play-off chasers Witton Albion is the Pitmen's next game as they make the journey up to Cheshire on Tuesday night, hopefully with their shooting boots packed for their trip to Wincham Park

Hednesford Town: Young, Hadland, March, White ©, Marshall, Screaton, Pedro, Dyer, Bacon (Whittaker 78), Jenkins, Adams      Subs Unused: Styche, Ellis

Radcliffe Borough: Dittmer, Duffy (Eames 48), Whealing, Kelly, Kearney, McGuire, Wilson , Forrest, O'Neill (Miller 76), Fitzpatrick, Hendley      Sub Unused: Warner

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