1.1.2005

Southern Premier League

Rugby United

Hednesford Town

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Lee Williams

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Stamford (H) 3.1.05

The two sides welcomed in 2005 with a drab and uninspiring goalless draw at Butlin Road amidst changeable conditions that played havoc during this New Year's Day clash

The Pitmen had been forced into a two-week break after their post-Christmas game against Solihull Borough was called off due to the recent cold snap. Player/manager Chris Brindley made two changes to his side for today's game from the one that had beaten Chippenham Town just before Christmas as Grant Beckett and Matt Turner both returned to the side in place of Marlon Walters and Steve Brannan respectively in midfield

Rugby's good start to the season had become a distant memory in recent weeks as the Valley had slid into mid-table after a run of hugely inconsistent form during November and December. Manager Tony Dobson made just the one change to the side that had drawn 0-0 at Banbury United last week as Neil Melvin replaced Jamie Williams

The New Year greeted the players and supporters with horrible, changeable weather conditions as Butlin Road was engulfed in bouts of heavy rain and a swirling wind throughout the game. Despite the inclement weather, Rugby welcomed their biggest crowd of the season so far, with the Pitmen well supported once more by over 100 fans making the short trip down from Staffordshire

Andy Bell - without a goal in his last three appearances for the club - went close for the visitors in the fourth minute of the game as his angled drive from the left-hand side of the Rugby penalty area caused Rugby goalkeeper Mike Payne to mark the save down low at his near post and claim the ball ahead of the incoming Turner

Lee Williams delivered an inch-perfect free-kick from thirty yards out onto the head of Lee Barrow four minutes later, but the veteran defender's looping header dipped over the crossbar and into the supporters gathered behind Payne's goal

Rugby's first attack of any intent came in the eleventh minute as the dangerous Robbie Beard burst forwards and played a delightful through ball into the path of Melvin, only for the alert Beckett to make a timely challenge to prevent the full-back from getting himself in behind the Hednesford defence

Good play down the right-hand side from the visitors on fifteen minutes saw Ross Adams play a quick one-two with Anthony Maguire to send Maguire clear down the flank. The winger crossed low into the near post, looking for Bell, only for Payne to make another timely save as he claimed the ball at the second attempt as it bounced up on the greasy turf in front of the Hednesford striker

Rugby centre-back Andy Commander went close for the hosts on twenty minutes as his header from a Danny Hall corner kick flew inches wide of Ryan Young's left-hand post after he had been allowed to make a run from the edge of the penalty area into the six-yard box unchallenged

Lee Williams tested Payne's positioning midway through the first period as his well-struck free-kick from twenty-five yards out was tipped over the crossbar by the former Notts County man for a Hednesford corner kick

Maguire's resultant corner was very nearly turned into his own net by Gary Moran at his near post as the full-back's attempted clearance away from Richard Teesdale saw him slice his clearance just wide of the post for another former to the away side

Another Hall corner kick at the other end was headed back across goal by Beard at the far post on twenty-six minutes, only for Justin Marsden's toe-poke towards goal to be cleared by Adams, standing just inside the six-yard box

A neat passing move from Rugby involving Beard, Craig Dutton and Rory Squire saw them play the pacy Marsden in on goal three minutes later, only for a late offside flag on the main stand side of the pitch to deny the exciting youngster a shot at goal

The hosts had a lucky escape on thirty-four minutes as the Pitmen went closest to opening the scoring through skipper Carl Palmer; Mark Branch's long throw level with the Rugby penalty area dropped to the midfielder, whose quick turn and powerful rising shot came back off the underside of the crossbar with Payne well beaten. Bell could not react quickest to the loose ball however and Commander cleared the danger

Squire got past Adams two minutes later courtesy of some clever wing play and sent over a cross that was caught in the swirling wind and very nearly caught Young out, with the Hednesford stopper having to frantically track back and push the ball over the crossbar before it dipped over his head and into the far corner of the net

Palmer was again left frustrated on thirty-eight minutes as he made a run into the Rugby penalty area to meet a Williams free-kick, only to see his firm header skip inches wide of Payne's far post from eight yards out

The Pitmen were finishing the half much the stronger side and Maguire miscued another good effort over the crossbar on forty-one minutes after Bell had laid the ball off into his path just inside the Rugby penalty area

Right on the stroke of half-time, Payne made a fine save to ensure that the game remained goalless at the break as he made a timely save with his left-hand side to palm away a curling effort from Turner after the winger had put in from the left-wing and drifted past Moran's half-hearted challenge

The Pitmen could be happy with their first-half display in difficult conditions but had once again looked a little short in the final third with some wasteful finishing and another anonymous performance from the previously-prolific Bell

Payne was in action once more just two minutes after the restart, making a good smothering save at his near post to deny Maguire after the winger had won the ball from a dawdling Melvin and made his way into the Rugby penalty area before shooting from an angle

Beard was a constant threat to the Hednesford defence with his movement throughout proceedings and had Rugby's first chance of the second half on fifty minutes as he held off Barrow's challenge to reach a pass from Marsden but pulled his shot across the face of Young's goal and wide of the target

Payne turned stopper to provider for the hosts on fifty-four minutes as his huge clearance from just outside his own penalty area caught the wind and dropped into the path of Marsden, who controlled the ball well on the edge of the Hednesford penalty area and worked the ball onto his right foot. Barrow did well, however, to deny the youngster a shot at goal as he made a firm, but fair, challenge on the striker

Beard tried his luck with an audacious effort on fifty-eight minutes as Young's miscued clearance was caught in the wind and dropped to the striker, whose attempted lob back over the stopper from fully thirty-five yards out drifted just wide of the empty goal

Rugby were enjoying their best spell of the game thus far at this point and Dutton's free-kick was a matter of inches wide of Young's right-hand post on sixty-one minutes after Barrow had hauled Marsden down just outside the Hednesford penalty area

The Pitmen made their first change of the afternoon on sixty-five minutes as young midfielder Brannan was handed another chance to impress as he came on for the ineffective Beckett

Williams' free-kick was deflected behind by Commander for a corner kick on sixty-eight minutes, which the veteran midfielder took himself and found the head of Teesdale at the near post. The former Walsall youngster flicked the ball on but on-one in white could apply the finish inside the six-yard box and Melvin cleared the danger

Former Hednesford winger Steve Evans was brought on by the hosts against his former side with twenty minutes remaining as the F.A. Trophy winner from last season came on in place of Squire down the left flank

Hall's fine free-kick from the right flank on seventy-three minutes was flicked on by Beard and into the path of the incoming Dutton, whose miscued effort skipped off the increasingly damp turf and wide of goal from ten yards out

The rain had started to subside at this juncture but the wind had appeared to increase as the half to almost gale-force strength, causing both sides real issues with any high balls forward. Young had to be alert to push Hall's corner kick away from goal with fifteen minutes remaining as the wind pushed the ball towards goal

Palmer tried his luck once more a minute later as Williams teed up his fellow midfield colleague with a threaded pass, only for the skipper to fire narrowly wide from the edge of the Rugby penalty area

Marsden was similarly wasteful for the hosts with eleven minutes remaining as he got away from the attentions of Barrow but pulled his shot from eighteen yards out wide of Young's left-hand post

With ten minutes remaining, the Pitmen made their final substitution of the afternoon as recent signing Paul McMahon was brought on to partner Bell up front for the final minutes as he replaced Turner

Bell's mini-drought continued a minute later as he was played through on goal by a fine Williams pass; despite calls for offside from the hosts, play continued and Bell ran in unchallenged, only to take a heavy final touch and allow Payne to make a save at his feet on the penalty spot

With five minutes remaining, Marsden's pace down their right flank got him away from Branch and into space. He took a touch before looking to pick Beard out from twelve yards out, but the striker got his angles all wrong and scuffed his effort well wide of goal

Maguire's corner kick two minutes later dropped into the Rugby six-yard box and at the feet of Teesdale, who could not turn the ball home as he tried to sort his feet out and allowed Payne to push the Balla way from danger before Dutton finally completed the clearance as Palmer challenged him

In the first of three minutes of added time, a quickly-taken free-kick from man of the match Williams found Branch out on the left, who in turn played Brannan in behind Moran. The youngster picked out Bell inside the Rugby penalty area with a fine chipped pass, but the ball would not sit kindly for the striker and Commander managed to get enough on the ball to divert it away from Bell's left foot

In many ways, this ninety minutes summed up the Pitmen's recent form; competitive, occasionally authoritative but struggling to put the ball in the net despite creating good openings. The absence of the clever and consistent Leon McSweeney is proving an issue for the Pitmen, with the Irishman still to serve another game of his three-match ban when they face rock-bottom Stamford at Keys Park in two days' time looking for a return to winning ways

Rugby United: Payne, Moran, Melvin, Hart, Commander ©, Redgate, Hall, Dutton, Beard, Marsden, Squire (S. Evans 70)       Subs Unused: Pearson, Douglas, Williams

Hednesford Town: Young, Adams, Branch, Barrow, Teesdale, Williams, Maguire, Palmer ©, Bell, Beckett (Brannan 65), Turner (McMahon 80)     Subs Unused: Brindley, Walters, P. Evans