Nationwide Conference

Hednesford Town

Owen (27), Bagshaw (90)

Rushden & Diamonds

Jackson (22), Darby (35), Burgess (71)

(1) 2

(2) 3



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Mark Cooper



Stevenage Borough (H) 26.8.01

Its back-to-back defeats for the Pitmen in the opening week of the new season astray are edged out of this evening's encounter by title favourites Rushden & Diamonds by the odd goal in five at Keys Park in front of a fine 1,500-plus crowd

Saturday's poor defeat at Dover Athletic had irked manager John Baldwin, particularly the patchy, uninterested performance from his new-look team that saw the Pitmen's manager react by making two changes in midfield; Val Owen made his full debut for the club in place of Scott Goodwin, whilst Ian Robinson was passed fit after missing Saturday's game due to injury and took his place in the side as Scott Bonsall's replacement

Brian Talbot's Diamonds side had rightly been tagged as title favourites since the start of pre-season having spent big money to add to his already talented squad in the summer; Shaun Carey had joined the club from Norwich City in the first impressive deal before Talbot splashed an incredible £180,000 on striker Justin Jackson from Morecambe, thus smashing the transfer record for a non-league club in the process. Diamonds' start to the season had seen them beat Chester City at Nene Park on Saturday to get their season off to a winning start. There was one change to the side that had won two days previously with Carey handed his debut in place of youngster Gary Mills. Former Hednesford defender Jimmy Rodwell was named in the Diamonds starting line-up at centre-back alongside the experienced Ray Warburton

On a beautiful summer's evening in South Staffordshire, the yellow-clad Diamonds set their stall out early on as they played neat, tidy and quick-footed football to drag the Pitmen around the pitch in the first ten minutes. In the sixth minute, a mis-kick by Hednesford keeper Mark Gayle went straight to the feet of Andy Burgess, but his first-time effort was easily claimed by a relieved Gayle who made amends for the mistake by clutching the striker's attempted lob

Two minutes later the Pitmen carved out their first chance of the game when a deep cross from skipper Neil Pointon found Micky Norbury at the back post, but his firm header was well saved by Diamonds keeper Billy Turley

A corner kick from Rushden in the ninth minute caused momentary in the Hednesford ranks as Jon Brady's cross dropped dangerously in the six-yard box. Russell Bradley just managed to do enough to hack the ball clear from off the toe of Jackson, who was lurking with intent for the visitors

The thirteenth minute almost proved to be unlucky for the Pitmen as a fine through ball by Brady put Andy Burgess through on goal, only for Burgess to slam his shot into the side netting. A let-off for the hosts once more who were playing a dangerous game with their defence pushed up too high for some people's liking

Mark Cooper found himself on the edge of the visitor's area on sixteen minutes and laid the ball to Norbury, whose shot through a crowded area was well saved by Turley down to his right-hand side

Three minutes later, Hednesford could quite easily have been awarded a penalty when a long ball by Robinson into the Rushden penalty area saw Turley appear to hold down Micky Norbury as the pair challenged for Robinson's pass. Despite strong protests from the Pitmen, the referee remained unmoved and the game continued

Midway through the half, the visitors took the lead with a great move down the left as Rodwell picked out Burgess who got behind youngster Jake Sedgemore and crossed to Jackson, who had the simple task of heading past Gayle from close range to add to his goal against Chester on Saturday

The lead was to last only five minutes for the away side as Hednesford went back on the offensive and drew level through Val Owen, who scrambled the ball over the line after a great right-wing cross by Sedgemore had caused panic just outside the visitors' six-yard box and allowed the onrushing midfielder to bundle the ball past Turley

Rushden retaliated with a break down the middle on thirty-two minutes from Brady that saw him skip past a couple of challenges before plying Jackson in on the right-hand side of the Hednesford penalty area. The striker did well to hold off Bradley's challenge and slip the ball into the path of Burgess, whose side-footed effort was just too high and drifted off into the open terrace behind Gayle's goal

Gayle was called into action again two minutes later as the former Crewe stopper palmed a shot from Duane Darby away from goal after the burly striker had got goal side of Mark Haran and fired goalwards from fifteen yards out

Rushden had their noses back in front a minute later in this topsy-turvy encounter as a cross from Tarkan Mustafa down the right found Darby unmarked in the Hednesford penalty area; the striker took a touch before firing past a helpless Mark Gayle from close range with a well-taken effort from the former Hull City front man

The hosts rallied through the impressive Cooper, who was taking the lead against his former side with a number of rangy passes to set the Pitmen on their way going forwards. He did well to find Sedgemore unmarked down the right-wing on thirty-nine minutes with a fine ball over the head of Carey, with Sedgemore taking the ball to the touchline and cutting it back to Neil Davis, who scuffed his effort wide of goal

Right on the stroke of half-time, a mis-hit cross from Lee Colkin almost caught Turley off his line as the left-back's attempted cross to Norbury drifted towards goal. Turley, however, did enough to track back and turn the ball over the crossbar with a fine one-handed save to push it onto the roof of his net for a Hednesford corner kick

It had been a frustrating half for the hosts, who had provided a decent response to Saturday's horror show but were still solidly second best against a Rushden side that looked dangerous every time they moved forwards

Hednesford came out for the second half looking much stronger and with just four minutes played a Davis shot was blocked by Rodwell just inside the Rushden penalty area, with Robinson picking up the loose ball and firing just wide from twenty yards out

The Pitmen were unlucky not to be level after fifty-two minutes when Norbury played a great ball to Davis, who got in behind his Warburton but pulled his shot just inches wide of Turley's far post as the keeper came out to narrow the angle

A quickly taken free-kick from Sedgemore found Colkin unmarked out on the left flank six minutes later; the left-back steadied himself before crossing to the near post where Norbury outmuscled Rodwell to head just wide of the near post

The combative Owen got stuck in to win the ball back for the home side from Brady on sixty-six minutes, slipping the ball to Cooper just inside the Rushden half. The former Leyton Orient man took the ball forwards and played a wonderful slide-rule pass through to Davis, whose shot was smothered at his near post by Turley

Despite Hednesford upping a gear and creating chances, Rushden increased their lead on seventy-one minutes when Jackson beat the Hednesford defence for pace down the right and whipped in a great cross that found Burgess, whose diving header flew past Gayle from ten yards out and nestled into the corner of the net

Hednesford almost replied straight from the restart as the ball was worked into the feet of Robinson out on the Hednesford right; the youngster sent over a brilliant cross that was met full-on by the head of Norbury, but somehow Turley just managed to save with his outstretched leg to deny the former Halifax man a certain goal

Former Barnsley youngster Paul Bagshaw was introduced to the game with sixteen minutes remaining as he came on down the right flank in place of the tiring Sedgemore

The visitors almost put the game to bed on seventy-seven minutes when a Burgess cross ran right across the Pitmen's goal line and was somehow missed by Jackson from close range - a poor miss from the big-money summer signing with the goal at his mercy

Hednesford continued to plug away to look for a goal to get themselves back into the game and almost pulled a goal back on seventy-nine minutes when Bradley's header from a Cooper corner was deflected away by the leg of Warburton and just over the bar

Teenager Leon Brown was brought on by Baldwin with ten minutes remaining to add extra pace to the impotent Hednesford attack as he replaced the visibly frustrated Norbury

Haran headed wide from another excellent Cooper free-kick on eighty-four minutes, followed two minutes later by a rising shot from Robinson that Turley held on his goal line as the Pitmen pressed for any kind of reducing of arrears

In the first minute of stoppage time, the Pitmen did get their second goal of the evening as a strong run from Owen ended with his shot cannoning off a Rodwell and falling kindly to substitute Bagshaw, who made no mistake in hitting his first-time shot past Turley to score his first goal for the Pitmen with a fine effort

However, the Pitmen had left themselves too much to do in too little time and were denied a chance of grabbing a late equaliser by the full-time whistle. Rushden will have been relieved at clinching all three points in a game they had been the better side in for long periods but had never put the game to bed. Successive defeats leave the Pitmen sitting bottom of the table after the first two games of the campaign, with the club's incredibly tough start to the campaign continuing on Saturday with the visit of another title challenger in the form of Stevenage Borough 

Hednesford Town: Gayle, Bradley, Pointon ©, Colkin, Robinson, Owen, Cooper, Sedgemore (Bagshaw 74), Davis, Norbury (Brown 80), Haran     Subs Unused: Goodwin, Bonsall, Carney

Rushden & Diamonds: Turley, Mustafa, Rodwell, Warburton ©, Underwood, Carey, Butterworth, Brady, Jackson, Darby, Burgess (Setchell 86)        Subs Unused: Sigere, Bradshaw, Mills, Naylor