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Evo-Stik Northern Premier League

Hednesford Town

Butlin (29), Gatter (45)

Stafford Rangers

Mendez-Jones (73) (OG)

(2) 2

(0) 1



Current Form

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Mason Walsh


Nantwich Town (A) 6.1.18

Hednesford Town made a flying start to 2018 this afternoon as they completed a league double over local rivals Stafford Rangers and extended their recent excellent run of form in the process, making it seven wins from eight games in all competitions


With confidence sky-high in the Hednesford ranks following back-to-back away wins at Rushall and Lancaster this past week, it was perhaps unsurprising that manager Rob Smith name an unchanged team for the third game in succession. Danny Glover returned to the squad after suspension, taking the place of the departed Edji Mbunga, who had joined Redditch United since the weekend


Stafford arrived at Keys Park sitting in seventeenth in the table, with manager Neil Kitching starting to come under some pressure to find a blend that worked for his inconsistent side. He named five ex-Hednesford players in his squad, with Sam Griffiths, Josh Craddock, Robbie Thompson-Brown and Richard Batchelor all starting, whilst Karl Hawley was named amongst the substitutes


On a changeable afternoon in South Staffordshire with rain in the air, the hosts were the better of the two sides in the opening exchanges as they forced a clutch of early corner kicks. Skipper Tom Thorley was a prominent figure in the first fifteen minutes, probing and passing with the confidence of a man in excellent current form


The game turned in favour of Stafford from the fourteenth minute onwards, as they exerted pressure on the Hednesford defence with four successive corner kicks of their own. Mat Bailey's flying header in the fifteenth minute was the closest they came to opening the scoring, with the skipper's towering header away from goal by Joey Butlin


Sam Oji - goal hero at the weekend - had been turning in a number of heroic performances for the side in the absence of Ben Bailey and Jim Mutton, with the big man once again producing a masterclass in centre back play, keeping the dangerous Massiah McDonald quiet and marshalling his young back line through a period of pressure


Despite being on the back foot for the middle part of the half, the exciting Mason Walsh was to yet again have his say on the big occasion, as he had done against Rushall on Boxing Day. In the twenty-ninth minute, superb wing play from the on-loan youngster saw him jink his way past left-back Kai Davis and send over an inch-perfect cross for Butlin, who headed the ball back across Adam Whitehouse's goal and into the net for his third goal of the season, sparking wild celebrations inside Keys Park


The Pitmen almost gifted Rangers a quick route back into the game three minutes later, as a slip from Matt Curley allowed the dangerous Osebi Abadaki in on goal, only for James Wren to bravely dive at the winger's feet and smother the shot


Butlin went close to adding to his goal tally on thirty-seven minutes, driving in a shot from long range that Whitehouse did well to palm away from goal for a Hednesford corner kick


The game had become a cluttered, disjointed affair since the goal, with neither side really establishing their authority on it - in many ways, a typical derby clash. Rangers were workmanlike in their approach, but without a cutting edge up front, the Pitmen's back line was having an easy time repelling their threat. The Pitmen were neat and tidy, if a little wasteful in possession, with Walsh continuing to display his array of tricks to the Hednesford crowd


With half-time looming, the Pitmen grabbed themselves a crucial second goal which would eventually go on to be the winning goal; a James Lawrie's corner was not cleared by Stafford, allowing Gatter to get something on the loose ball and loop it up towards goal. This seemed to catch Whitehouse out, as he allowed the swirling ball to drop into the net via a deflection off the crossbar for Gatter's third goal in four games and change both manager's half-time team talks


Wren was again on top form for the Pitmen on fifty-two minutes, denying Abadaki once again with a smart smothering save to his left after the winger had broken clear of the Hednesford defence


Thorley was the first man into the book on fifty-three minutes, earning himself a yellow card for a foul inside the centre circle on former team-mate Batchelor


With a lack of cutting edge really showing for Rangers, they made an early substitution with the introduction of former Telford striker Dan Westwood in place of the disappointing Jack Sherratt


A quick break from Rangers in the fifty-ninth minute saw them carve the Hednesford defence open, only for McDonald to be adjudged offside after he had tested Wren's reflexes


A cheeky effort from Walsh caused Whitehouse a moment of panic on the hour mark as his curling, dipping cross-cum-shot deceived the Stafford number one, but dropped just wide of the far post


More good wing play from Abadaki saw him skip past Callam Mendez-Jones on sixty-seven minutes, sending over a teasing cross that flashed across the face of the Hednesford goal and out for a throw-in on the far side


The Pitmen made their first change of the afternoon on sixty-eight minutes, with the excellent Walsh replaced by Reece King as Smith elected to go defensive in his approach. This was followed a few moments later with the introduction of Glover, who was involved in a straight swap with Butlin up front


With the hosts dropping backwards, Stafford took immediate advantage of this positional change with a goal on seventy-three minutes; a great run from Abadaki down the right saw him pull the ball back into the danger zone, with Mendez-Jones, unfortunately, turning the loose ball into his own net under pressure from Westwood


The expected Stafford fightback never really materialised, as the Pitmen had further chances to add to their lead in the latter stages of the game. A great run from full-back Curley saw him create an opening for himself on seventy-nine minutes, but his shot was a little high and cleared the crossbar


Rangers suffered a spate of yellow cards in the final ten minutes, as they struggled to keep a lid on their emotions with cautions for Craddock, Bailey and Batchelor all in quick succession


Griffiths followed his team-mates into the book on eighty-eight minutes as he brought down James Fitzgibbon in a dangerous position twenty yards from goal. From the resultant free-kick, Lawrie set up Glover, whose low drive came back off the foot of the post and out of play


The Pitmen's last change saw Laurence Taylor coming on for Fitzpatrick to add an extra insurance policy for the centre-backs as the game entered added time


Lawrie and Glover combined once more in added time, with the substitute driving his shot over the crossbar from twenty yards out after being set up by his former Port Vale team-mate


A very satisfying week then for the Pitmen ends with nine points from nine, two derby wins and an upward movement in the table to ninth place - only three points off the play-offs. The New Year brings a host of new challenges for Smith and Larry Chambers, such as decisions to be taken on loan signings such as Walsh and Gatter, as well as more difficult league games. However, it's all looking pretty good at present for Hednesford, who travel to Nantwich Town on Saturday looking to continue this rich vein of form


Hednesford Town: Wren, Mendez-Jones, Curley, Fitzpatrick (Taylor 88), Oji, Gatter, Walsh (King 68), Thorley © , Butlin (Glover 72), Lawrie, Fitzgibbon  Subs unused: Graham, Mutton


Stafford Rangers: Whitehouse, Griffiths , Davis, Craddock , Bailey © , Brown, Abadaki (Hawley 90), Sherratt (Westwood 57), McDonald, Thompson-Brown (Thomas 80), Batchelor   Subs Unused: I. Reid, L. Reid


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