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Pre-Season Friendly

Stafford Rangers

Payne (16), Onyeka (33)

Hednesford Town

(2) 2

(0) 0



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Desean Martin



Trafford (H) 12.8.23

The Pitmen's final friendly of an up-and-down pre-season schedule ends in defeat at local rivals Stafford Rangers this afternoon as two first-half goals are more than enough for the Northern Premier League to beat their step four neighbours with ease

Having seen Tuesday night's friendly at Gresley Rovers called off due to injury concerns within the squad, the Pitmen today named what was likely to be close to their first XI come next weekend when they start their season at home to Trafford, with player/manager Danny Glover coming back into the side alongside assistant manager Dan Crane after the pair had missed the 3-2 defeat to Congleton Town last Friday

The Rangers side had a familiar and settled look to it after several seasons of chopping and changing at Marston Road, as manager Matt Hill looked to build on their mid-table finish in 2022-2023. Amongst the Rangers ranks were plenty of players with Hednesford links as Alex-Ray Harvey, Jake Moult, Niah Payne and Nathan Blissett were all named in the home side's starting XI

The Marston Road pitch was slick and heavy after an overnight downpour, with the home side using this to good effect in the early stages of the game as they took the initiative early on. A third-minute free-kick from Harvey was played into the Hednesford penalty area from the right, aimed at the giant figure of Blissett but was competently dealt with by skipper and ex-Stafford man Sam Griffiths

For the Pitmen, ex-Rangers loanee Glover was involved early on as he brought a Desean Martin pass under his control a minute but saw his weakly-struck effort cleared by the Rangers defenders

Tyreece Onyeka was the first Rangers player to test the reflexes of Crane in the tenth minute as he raced clear of a dawdling Griffiths, latching onto Harvey's pass before forcing Crane into a diving save to turn the ball away down to his right for a Stafford corner kick

However, another run from the flying Onyeka was to open the scoring for the hosts in the sixteenth minute as the winger drove forwards down the right, taking the ball past Jack Kelly before pulling the ball back into the penalty area. The Pitmen struggled to clear their lines as the ball somehow ran to Payne at the far post, with the ex-Spennymoor Town striker turning the ball into the net from close range with a scuffed finish

Glover's game ended almost as soon as it had started, with the Hednesford player/manager forced off in the nineteenth minute after picking up a knock and was replaced by Wembanvuanda Star Mayemba

The Pitmen were struggling to get themselves into the game, with several men in white playing loose passes or making unforced errors as the hosts covered the ground well and put their visitors under pressure when in possession. A good run from Harry Bower midway through the half summed up this predicament as Martin's fine lofted ball played the winger into space, only for the former Telford man to tamely run the ball out of play on the right-hand touchline under pressure from Joe Dunne

Former Leamington striker Kaiman Anderson - a scorer in last season's game between the two sides at Marston Road - went close to doubling Stafford's lead on twenty-two minutes  as he struck a well-hit shot effort from twenty yards out that skipped inches wide of Crane's right-hand post

Two minutes later, Dunne took advantage of Callam Mendez-Jones being caught out of position down the Stafford left, running into acres of space before pulling the ball across the penalty area to Blissett, who was denied by some last-ditch defending from another one of the ex-Stafford contingent in the form of Michael Williams

Within sixty seconds, Mayembe had the Pitmen's first real sight at goal as the club's top scorer in pre-season scampered away from the attentions of Ethan Stewart to latch onto a Tom Thorley pass and drill in a low shot that was well saved by Cameron Belford in the Rangers goal

Blissett used his height to good effect a minute later as James O'Neill's long throw was met by the head of the target man, whose downward header was straight into the arms of Crane

Rangers finally made their extra quality count on thirty-three minutes as they grabbed a second goal of the afternoon; some neat approach play saw Harvey, Blissett and Anderson involved before the ball was played into the feet of Onyeka, who made a run in behind the Hednesford defence and turned the ball past the onrushing Crane

Rivel Mardenborough created a chance for himself on thirty-eight minutes as the striker dropped deep to pick up a Martin pass before driving forwards and firing in a low shot that bounced a matter of inches wide of Belford's right-hand post

Blissett continued to get the better of Griffiths - looking short of match practice after only a handful of pre-season games - and had a further chance to extend Stafford's lead on forty-one minutes as he picked the ball up on the edge of the Hednesford penalty area and turned past the defender before striking a rising shot over the crossbar

It had been a sobering first period for the Pitmen, who had been a solid second-best to their hosts and really struggled to make any inroads on a big, strong and organised Stafford defence. Rangers elected to make three substitutions at the break as Hill took a look at his options, whilst the Pitmen remained unchanged at the start of the second period

The away side started with far more purpose in the second period, as an early cross from Bower looked to Mayemba, whose attempts to turn the ball home from close range were thwarted by the Rangers defenders

A good run from Bower on fifty-one minutes saw the young winger create an opening for himself as he outpaced Dunne before striking a rising shot narrowly over Belford's crossbar from fifteen yards out at an angle

Good play down the left from the Pitmen on fifty-five minutes saw Kelly and Jack Sang link up, with Sang sending over a good cross that was just too far in front of the incoming Mardenborough

The usual raft of pre-season substitutes started to kick in early in the second half which meant the pace of the game slowed considerably. Rangers made a change on fifty-nine minutes as goalscorer Onyeka was taken off in favour of Ethan Morgan down the right flank

Shortly after the hour mark, Crane made a superb stop to deny former Hednesford loanee Payne his second goal of the afternoon as he tipped the forward's goalbound shot over the crossbar for a corner with a fine reaction stop from the veteran

A minute later, Belford made another good stop to deny the lively Mayemba as the young striker's low, driven shot from just inside the penalty area was tipped wide by the out-stretched palm of the Stafford goalkeeper

Stewart was the latest player to be replaced by Rangers on sixty-four minutes as the defender was replaced by triallist B; clearly, Hill was looking to add to his numbers with one more week of pre-season remaining

A minute later, the Pitmen made their second change of the game as left-winger Reinaldo Forbes - who had agreed terms with the club this week after an impressive trial period - came on in place of Bower in a move that saw Sang switch flanks

The lively character of Tom Tonks took to the field for the hosts midway through the second period as the controversial former Stourbridge midfielder came on in place of Moult

The teams continued to trade substitutions, with the Pitmen making four changes in quick succession as Mendez-Jones was replaced by Wright, followed soon after by Thorley coming off for Ryan Andrews, Max Dixon joining the forward line in place of Sang and Sam Paddock given a run-out at left-back in place of the tiring Kelly

The hosts hit the woodwork on seventy minutes as Blissett attempted to turn a low cross from Payne into the net but saw his effort come back off the post before the Pitmen could turn the ball behind for a corner kick

Rangers also made a quadruple change of personnel a minute later as O'Neill was replaced by Jay Ford, Blissett made way for triallist C, Anderson switched with Keeling and Payne came off in place of triallist D

Substitute Morgan had a rare sighting at goal for the hosts with fifteen minutes of the game remaining as he picked the ball up just outside the Hednesford box and fired in a shot that was at a comfortable height for Crane to make a save

As befits a Chase derby, it had been a keenly-contested affair that the hosts had thoroughly deserved to win after dominating long periods of the game. The Pitmen had, however, looked brighter in the second period and had forced Belford into a string of good saves throughout to keep his clean sheet. The serious business starts next Saturday afternoon, as the Pitmen, perhaps unbelievably, start life at step four with a home game against Trafford

Stafford Rangers: C. Belford, Burns (Triallist A 45), Dunne (Woods 45), Ray-Harvey © (Willis 45), Stewart (Triallist B 64), O'Neill (Ford 73), Onyeka (Morgan 59), Moult (Tonks 66), Blissett (Triallist C 73), Anderson (Keeling 73), Payne (Triallist D 73)      Subs Unused: None

Hednesford Town: Crane, Mendez-Jones (Wright 69), Kelly (Paddock 69), Thorley (Andrews 71), Griffiths ©, Williams, Bower (Forbes 65), Martin, Glover (Mayemba 19), Mardenborough (Butler 76), Sang (Dixon 71)       Sub Unused: Richards


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