Nationwide Conference North

Stafford Rangers

Smith (42)

Hednesford Town

McSweeney (90)

(1) 1

(0) 1



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Jai Stanley



Lancaster City (A) 18.3.06

 Hednesford leave it late to claim a dramatic draw at local rivals Stafford Rangers tonight, giving them a vital point that keeps them just about in touch with the sides just above them in the Conference North table and handed Rangers a huge blow in their quest for the title

Saturday had seen Steve Anthrobus's side finally record their first win in seven games as they beat Worksop Town at Keys Park, although it had come at a cost to the squad as both Ian Wright and Lee Williams had suffered injuries in the game that ruled them out of tonight's derby clash. Anthrobus had countered this by bringing in Walsall's young centre-back Scott Dann on a month's loan from their League One neighbours, with Dann coming straight into the side in place of Wright as the only change to the XI that started at the weekend

Table-toppers Rangers returned to Marston Road in the midst of a run of patchy form that had seen Phil Robinson's side win only one of their last four games, including a 2-1 defeat at struggling Alfreton Town on Saturday. Robinson made one change from the side that had started at the Impact Arena as Peter Thomson missed out and was replaced by the fit-again Kevin Street

In front of a typically large and partisan crowd for the Chase derby, the game started at a ponderous pace as both sides took the first five minutes cautiously. The first opening of the game came in the sixth minute as veteran striker Neil Grayson got on the end of a chipped cross from Robin Gibson and headed towards goal but saw his glancing effort graze the outside of Gary Hateley's right-hand post as it dropped wide of goal

Four minutes later, Gibson won a free-kick for the hosts out on the left after Ross Adams had clipped the winger in full flight. Levi Reid swung the ball in to the giant figure of Wayne Daniel, only for the Stafford captain to head high over the crossbar as former team-mate Lee Barrow did well to make it as difficult as he could for the Rangers skipper

Sean Platt gave the ball away cheaply to Craig Lovatt in the centre circle in the fourteenth minute, with the former Kidsgrove man sending Street away down the right with a fine through ball. The diminutive playmaker worked the ball into his left foot just outside the penalty area and attempted a curling shot beyond the reach of Hateley but missed the far post by a foot or so


The Pitmen had offered very little going forwards so far as they struggled to cope with the hosts' quality going forwards. A corner kick from Colin Hunter in the sixteenth minute was a brief respite for the visitors as the winger whipped the ball into the near post, where Tom Marshall headed over the crossbar from eight yards out


On twenty minutes, Grayson held off the challenge of Dann to play Street into space just outside the penalty area; the former Crewe man took a touch before driving his low shot well wide of Hateley's goal and into the band of Hednesford supporters gathered behind the goal


Reid exchanged passes with Gibson on twenty-three minutes before sending Nathan Smith into space behind the hesitant Hednesford defence, only for an offside flag from the assistant on the far side of the ground to pull the striker up before he could fire past Hateley

A long kick forwards from Stafford goalkeeper Dean Williams five minutes later was flicked on by Grayson and into the path of Gibson, whose first-time strike sailed harmlessly over Hateley's crossbar from twenty yards out

The young Dann had been handed a baptism of fire by the Pitmen as he struggled with the pace of the game and the physicality of Grayson, who at forty years old was over twice the age of his teenage marker. The old stager controlled a Street pass well just outside the Hednesford penalty area on the half-hour mark and attempted a right-footed shot that was blocked by Barrow before the ball ran to Hateley


 Street forced Hateley into a save on thirty-four minutes as he struck a free-kick over the Hednesford wall from twenty-five yards out and prompted Hateley to push the ball over the crossbar for a corner kick

Gibson's resultant corner kick was met by Daniel's glancing header, but somehow the ball dropped in the Hednesford six-yard box and bounced wide of goal with no one in a black and white shirt on hand to turn the ball home from close range

A rare attack from the Pitmen three minutes later saw Jai Stanley win the ball from Lovatt in midfield and charge forwards before being bundled over by Craig McAughtrie; the ball ran kindly to Hunter so referee Mr Morbin played advantage to the men in green, with Hunter firing in a shot from twenty yards out that was fielded by Williams

With five minutes of the half remaining, successive Rangers corner kicks ramped up the pressure on the Hednesford defence and got the majority of the Marston Road crowd behind their side. The second ball in from Street was headed towards by Daniel once more, but alert defending from Tom Marshall saw him head the ball away from danger for the visitors

The hosts finally made their first-half dominance pay with the game's opening goal two minutes later; another long kick from Williams caught out former Rangers man Barrow, who made a woeful hash of his attempted clearance as he cuffed the ball straight into the path of Smith, who wrong-footed Hateley with a well-struck shot across the goalkeeper and into the far corner of the net from sixteen yards out

With a minute of the first half remaining, Rangers went close to doubling their lead as Grayson held off Dann to get on the end of Lovatt's pass but dragged his low shot well wide of goal with only Hateley to beat

Hednesford had very much been second best in the first half against a highly experienced and well-drilled Stafford side that will feel that 1-0 was not a fair reflection of a dominant first-half display against a Pitmen team desperately looking to inspiration going forwards

Anthrobus's side emerged with more purpose at the start of the second half and frustrated their hosts with a succession of timely blocks and clearances. Grayson's flick-on from a Lovatt pass on forty-nine minutes was intended for Smith, only for Barrow to arrive in time to unceremoniously hammer the ball into the Shed End for a corner kick

Two minutes later, the anonymous Nathan Lamey got the better of Daniel for the first time in the evening as he picked the ball up deep and made a charging run into the Stafford half, running past Daniel before striking a firm shot wide of goal from eighteen yards out

Lamey's strike partner Leon McSweeney - another peripheral figure in the first half - played a neat ball around the corner and into Hunter's path after seizing on a loose pass from Nathan Talbott in the fifty-fifth minute, with Hunter taking two touches before striking a rising shot over the crossbar from a slight angle

Tom Marshall was next to try his luck for the Pitmen on fifty-seven minutes, drilling in a well-struck effort just over the crossbar as the play opened up in front of him just outside the Stafford penalty area

Reid also tried his luck from range just after the hour mark, lifting his shot from nearly thirty yards out into the Rangers fans behind Hatekey's goal after Gibson had played him into space

A superb run from the tricky Gibson on sixty-five minutes saw the winger leave both Platt and Adams in his wake before his cross to Smith was turned into the side-netting by the Rangers goalscorer from six yards out

A late run into the Hednesford penalty area by veteran full-back Paul Groves saw him get on the end of a fine flowing move from the hosts on sixty-nine minutes, but his shot failed to test Hateley as it dipped over the crossbar

Good play from the on-loan Stanley three minutes later saw the burly midfield man exchange passes with Scott Hadland and nutmeg Lovatt before he played McSweeney through on goal. The ball seemed to bobble slightly in front of the Irishman, who snatched at his shot and lifted it over the crossbar from twelve yards out

With fifteen minutes remaining, the Pitmen made their first change of the evening as Grant Beckett came on in place of Hadland, who had struggled with the pace of the game and had looked a little out of his depth against the division's top team

Beckett was involved straightaway for the Pitmen as he took a free-kick from the left-hand side and floated the ball to the far post, where Barrow reached the ball but headed over the crossbar 

Street's teasing free-kick from the corner of the Hednesford penalty area on seventy-nine minutes was headed back across goal by Daniel and into the path of Smith, whose attempted shot was blocked and hacked clear by Adams as Hateley struggled to get past Reid to get to the ball

With eight minutes remaining, Stafford substitute Peter Thomson - on a few minutes earlier for Grayson - headed over the crossbar with the goal at his mercy as Street's corner kick found the substitute unmarked at the far post

On eighty-four minutes, the Pitmen made their second change of the evening as youngster Ross Dyer came on in place of Hunter, switching the Pitmen's formation to a 4-3-3 in the process with Beckett and Adams pushed further forwards on each side to add more threat out wide

More last-ditch defending, this time from Dann, denied Rangers what would have been a game-clinching second goal with just three minutes remaining as the on-loan youngster dropped back onto his own goal line to hack Thomson's flicked effort away from goal after the striker had been played in on goal by Gibson

Having spent long spells of the game stuck in their own half, the Pitmen rolled the dice one final time as the game headed into added time as they won a free-kick twenty-five yards from goal after Lamey was hauled down by Daniel. Barrow struck the resultant shot at goal but saw Williams tip the ball over the crossbar for a corner kick

McSweeney took the resultant flag-kick and wasted a good opportunity to pile the pressure on the Stafford defence as he drifted his kick into the side-netting. Some Hednesford supporters felt that this was to be the Pitmen's final chance of the game and started to depart the ground, only to be dragged back by a late, late chance that fell to McSweeney; Dyer's run and cross down the right saw him stand the ball up to the far post, where Lamey did well to reach the cross and head the ball down into the path of McSweeney, who did brilliantly to bring the ball down and rifled the ball into the net via a touch off the crossbar to send the away fans into raptures

There was no time left for either side to grab a winner, with the Pitmen the happier of the two sides in claiming a point that had looked out of their reach for much of the evening. Rangers will be ruing the number of missed chances they had, particularly in the first half, to claim three points that would have pushed them closer to the title with only ten games remaining. Hednesford will look to take the positives of the last two games into Saturday's must-win game at Lancaster City

Stafford Rangers: Williams, Groves, Talbott, McAughtrie, Daniel ©, Lovatt, Reid, Street, Grayson (Thomson 80), Smith (Walker 83), Gibson      Subs Unused: Downes, Murray, Clarke

Hednesford Town: Hateley, Adams, T. Marshall, Hadland (Beckett 75), Dann, Barrow ©, Platt, Stanley, Lamey, McSweeney, Hunter (Dyer 84)     Subs Unused: Briggs, Maguire, Molloy