Evo-Stik Northern Premier League

Spennymoor Town

Henry (6), Tait (41) (penalty), Fisher (65), (77)

Hednesford Town

Mukendi (53), (90)

(2) 4

(0) 2



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Vinny Mukendi


Rushall Olympic (H) 21.1.17

Hednesford's first game of 2017 failed to bring any New Year cheer for the hardy souls that made their way to County Durham this afternoon, as a woeful display from the Pitmen saw them comfortably beaten by play-off chasers Spennymoor Town


A weather-affected lay-off for the Pitmen had seen them go twelve days without a game over the festive period with their home game against Stourbridge last week a victim of the recent cold snap. Manager Paul Casey had used the time off to bring in Nuneaton Town's midfielder Iwan Cartwright to strengthen his squad in midweek to add to his numbers. Much of the buzz around Keys Park in the last seven days had surrounded Cohen Bramall, with the left-back on the verge of completing a dream move to Premier League giants Arsenal after a £40,000 deal had been agreed in principle between the two sides


The Pitmen arrived at Spennymoor with yet more changes to their ever-evolving squad; on-loan George Forsyth was handed a long-awaited debut, with Jamie Matthews, Lloyd Ransome and David McDermott also returning to the starting XI as Casey made four changes to the side that had been beaten on Boxing Day at Stafford Rangers. There was no sign of the highly experienced trio of Ashley Sammons, Dan Crane or Tom Thorley, joining Reece Leek and Lewis Wright on the sidelines as the Pitmen fielded a side that, on paper at least, looked short of experience and knowhow at step three level


Spennymoor's first season at step three had been one of quiet progress, with Jason Ainsley overseeing a move into the play-off places courtesy of a win over Frickley Athletic on Boxing Day. They did, however, arrive off the back of a surprise 3-2 defeat at rock-bottom Corby Town on Monday. Ainsley made two changes to the side that had been on the receiving end of this shock reverse with Nathan Fisher coming in for Jamie Chandler and Adam Mitchell replacing David Dowson


Ransome was on hand to deny Spennymoor in the very first minute of the game, closing down the angle to smother Mitchell's shot at goal after a quick break from the hosts down the middle of the pitch


It was Tony Clarke that was presented with the first chance of the afternoon for the Pitmen in the fourth minute as a cross from Jamie Sheldon found the big striker, who somehow failed to turn the ball into the empty net from five yards out


This was to prove costly for the Pitmen, as Spennymoor took the lead two minutes later; the visitors' defence failed to completely clear their lines, giving Kallum Griffiths all the time and space required to send over a cross from the right. Shane Henry rose highest to out-muscle Dan Brenan and powerfully head beyond Ransome for the opening goal of the afternoon

The Pitmen looked nervy and incohesive through the centre of the pitch, misplacing passes aplenty and clearly missing the calming influence of Thorley in the centre of the park. Brenan's aimless pass in the ninth minute dropped at the feet of Ian Watson, who punted the ball back over the heads of the Hednesford defenders and into the path of Fisher, only for an offside flag to pull the striker back after he had moved too soon


The Pitmen responded through a chance for Matthews on fourteen minutes, with the forward somehow diverting a Gavin Caines header wide of goal from just a couple of yards out. A poor miss from the former Witton Albion man


Spennymoor were playing with plenty of confidence and drive through the midfield, occasionally leaving the likes of Stuart McNaught and youngster Forsyth chasing shadows in the opening quarter of the game as the hosts kicked down the very steep slope at the Brewery Field with authority and showing heir credentials as a play-off pushing side

Former Gateshead man James Curtis headed well wide of goal for the hosts on twenty minutes as the flame-haired defender rose highest divert a corner kick from Mark Anderson into the seated stand behind the goal


There was a break in play on twenty-five minutes as both physios were summoned onto the field after a nasty looking clash of heads involving Clarke and Curtis left both players flat out on the turf and suffering from individual head wounds


More pressure on the Hednesford defence on twenty-nine minutes saw the lively Fisher turn and shoot, forcing Brenan into deflecting the ball behind for a Spennymoor corner. From the resultant flag-kick, Fisher forced the busy Ransome into a save low down to his right from close range as the hosts pressed once more


More last-ditch defending from Brenan denied Glen Taylor a shot on goal on thirty-six minutes, with Joe Tait heading wide of goal from the resulting corner kick as it was swung into the far post by Anderson


Brenan's hapless half at centre-back was summed up by his heinous error of judgement on forty-one minutes as the youngster conceded a penalty after a clumsy, lazy trip on Fisher as the striker had skipped past his challenge. Spennymoor skipper Tait stepped up and fired high to Ransome's left to double the home side's advantage at the half-time break and leaving Casey's side with a mountain to climb


With the pressure continuing to crank up on him and his disjointed team, Casey made a bold half-time double change by taking off the hard-working but limited Clarke and the anonymous Sheldon, bringing on giant Vinny Mukendi and Spencer Weir-Daley in their place up front


The half time changes had also seen the previously disappointing David McDermott move positions, as the winger switched from left-wing to right-wing. Linking up with Kyle Haynes, the pair started to get some joy down the Spennymoor left and finally opened up the home defence on fifty-three minutes. A great cross from McDermott found the head of the 6ft 7" Mukendi, who powerfully headed past Dan Lowson in the Spennymoor goal to reduce arrears

Suddenly, Casey's side showed some belief in their abilities and started to exert more pressure on the Spennymoor defence. A free-kick from McDermott on fifty-eight minutes was flicked on by Caines at the near post but drifted well wide of Lowson's far post with no-one in red gambling at the far post

Matthews did well to skip past a couple of challenges down the left flank on sixty-one minutes and looked to pick out Weir-Daley, only for Curtis to slide in and divert the ball away from the striker at the near post, only ten yards from goal


However, all the hard work in getting back into contention unravelled in a moment of madness by Ransome on sixty-five minutes, as his poorly-struck goal kick found the boot of Fisher, who held off a dreadfully weak challenge from Brenan and outpaced the centre-back before taking the around Ransome and slotted into the empty net. An utterly shambolic goal to concede all round and one that summed up the current situation the Pitmen were in


To be fair to Mukendi and Weir-Daley, they had certainly given the Spennymoor defence more issues to deal with than anything their team-mates could muster in the first half, with Weir-Daley striking a first-time shot narrowly wide of goal on sixty-seven minutes after being played in by Mukendi


The big man's trickery on the deck almost saw him jink his way through the Spennymoor defence a minute later, with his clipped cross towards Weir-Daley cleared away by Curtis for a corner kick that McDermott wasted by clipping the ball straight out of play


Neat build-up play from the hosts on seventy-six minutes saw Griffiths force Ransome into a good save low down to his left as the right-back broke down the wing and turned Courtney Wildin inside out before getting a low shot away

The pressure continued to build on the Hednesford defence as Curtis's flicked header from a Griffiths free-kick was nervously turned past his own post by Brenan on seventy-nine minutes for a Spennymoor corner


The hosts wrapped up the three points with a fourth goal on eighty-two minutes, highlighting once again the lack of communication, quality and experience in the Hednesford defence. Brenan - who endured a torrid afternoon at the hands of more experienced opponents - headed the ball straight into the feet of substitute Andrew Johnson, who somehow managed to wriggle his way past Caines, Brenan and Wildin before being tackled by Haynes. The  right-back's clearance rebounded kindly into the path of opposite number Griffiths, whose recycled cross was turned into the empty net by a grateful Fisher at the far post


Almost immediately, the Pitmen made their final change of the afternoon as the hugely disappointing McDermott was replaced by debutant Cartwright on the right side of midfield


The similarly anonymous Forsyth tried his luck with a long-range effort after being set up by Haynes on eighty-eight minutes but lifted his shot just over the crossbar with his one and only meaningful contribution to the game after being given the runaround by the Spennymoor midfield


Mukendi was to have the final say in the game as we entered four minutes of added time, as a superb lofted cross from the impressive and industrious Weir-Daley found the outstanding Mukendi, who headed home once more to double his tally for the afternoon and earn an edge of respectability to the scoreline for the Pitmen


A woeful showing from the Pitmen on further reflection, as they lose more ground on the play-off places with the likelihood of losing further ground as other teams play their games in hand in the next few weeks. Worryingly, despite having a whole new team this term, there are a lot of comparisons to the side that struggled in Conference North this time last year; an inexperienced, error-prone defence, an uncompetitive midfield and forwards fighting for scraps wit no support from behind them has created a whole new downward spiral that could leave them with little to fight for come February/March. Casey has a tough job to do to turn things around, with the murmurs of discontent on the terraces growing louder. The tough games don't ease up either for the under-fire Casey as they face top-of-the-table Buxton at Silverlands next week looking for a response to today's depressing defeat


Spennymoor Town: Lowson, Griffiths, Watson, Ramshaw, Tait ©, Curtis, Mitchell, Henry, Taylor (Armstrong 85), Fisher, Anderson (Johnson 77)      Subs Unused: Mason, Dawson, Rafferty


Hednesford Town: Ransome, Haynes, Wildin, McNaught, Brenan, Caines ©, McDermott (Cartwright 83), Forsyth, Clarke (Mukendi 45), Sheldon (Weir-Daley 45), Matthews      Subs Unused: Rowley, Glover