Vanarama Conference North

Stalybridge Celtic

Hednesford Town

Diggin (45), (79) (penalty), (90) (penalty), Walker (59), Robinson (84)

(0) 0

(1) 5



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Steve Diggin


Barrow (H) 8.11.14

Hednesford Town climbed into the top five for the first time this season tonight after a demolition job on struggling Stalybridge Celtic at Bower Fold. The Pitmen have now won their last three away games in Vanarama Conference North, scoring ten goals and conceding none in the process

For the first time in this injury-hit season, manager Rob Smith had the luxury of being able to pick from a fully-fit and available first-team squad for the trip to Tameside, and selected what was for many supporters the strongest eleven at his disposal; James Hurst returned from injury to claim the right-back position from Alex Melbourne, whilst Jamey Osborne was also available again after suspension and took Jamie Crowther's place in midfield

Stalybridge had endured a tough start to the new campaign, remaining full time during the summer months despite a poor 2013-2014 season that had seen them remain full time despite a considerable dip in form and attendances.  Celtic lined up with former Hednesford loanee Matt Regan in the centre of their defence, with the gangly presence of the experienced Liam Dickinson up front alongside former Kidderminster Harriers hit-man Anthony Malbon

New boy Richard Batchelor was the first player to pick up a caution early in the game, as he slid in and fouled Ben McKenna in the middle of the field. Having already accrued four yellow cards this season at Leamington, Batchelor will now be suspended for next Saturday's home game against Barrow

Stalybridge were looking dangerous going forwards in the opening fifteen minutes, and went close to taking the lead twice inside a minute; Regan's close-range shot was deflected away from goal by former defensive partner Darren Campion, followed by a shot from Malbon that Crane did well to turn away from goal

The hardworking Diggin felt he should have been awarded a penalty on seventeen minutes as he was denied a run on goal by the arms of Regan. The referee waved away the burly striker's claims, however, and continued with the game

Hurst failed to test Stalybridge keeper Lewis King midway through the first half with a wild swing at the ball from fully twenty-five yards out, skewing his powerful effort well wide of goal after Campion's corner had been cleared as far as the right-back

Ben Bailey - still looking for his first goal of the new season despite an excellent start to the campaign - headed well wide for the Pitmen on twenty-five minutes, rising highest at the far post to meet Campion's inswinging ball but glancing the ball into the stand behind the goal

A combination of Crane and Campion denied Stalybridge the opening goal of the afternoon on thirty-three minutes, as Dickinson's close-range effort was somehow scrambled off the goal line by Campion before Crane managed to pounce on the loose ball and deny Dickinson a tap-in on the rebound

With a keenly fought first half seemingly petering out towards half time, the Pitmen stole into the lead courtesy of Diggin's first Hednesford goal with virtually the last kick of the half. A long throw from Bailey went all the way through to Diggin at the far post, with the striker instinctively turning on a sixpence and firing the ball back across the face of goal and into the far corner of the net

Malbon was guilty of a shocking miss at the start of the second half, somehow failing to equalise for Celtic as he diverted Kevin Holsgrove's goalbound shot over the crossbar when it looked easier to turn the ball home from close range

The revitalised Diggin was leading the Stalybridge defence a merry dance with his movement and know-how, going close to doubling his tally for the afternoon on fifty-one minutes as he fired into the hands of King with a powerful shot from fifteen yards out

Crane was on his toes once again a minutes later for the Pitmen, making a smart save low down to deny Stalybridge right-back Kevin Bleau after a long ball across the pitch found the Celtic number two in space

There was more than an element of luck in the Pitmen's second goal of the afternoon on fifty-nine minutes, as Hurst's header back into the Celtic box was played onto Glenn Walker by Batchelor. Walker was quite clearly standing in an offside position, but to the amazement of the Stalybridge players was allowed time to turn and fire past King, with the goal standing despite vociferous appeals from the men in blue. Dickinson took his protests a little too far and was booked for dissent before the game restarted

The cushion of a second goal allowed Smith the luxury of bringing on Francino Francis in place of Walker to give the winger a well-earned rest and the big centre back some crucial game time after a long lay-off

Despite the scoreline, Crane had been far the busier of the two keepers during the game and was forced into another excellent stop on sixty-eight minutes as he turned Todd Jordan's low shot around the post for a Stalybridge corner

Big Marvin Robinson also made a late cameo appearance for the Pitmen on seventy-six minutes, replacing the out-of-luck Danny Glover up front

Two minutes later, the visitors were awarded a penalty kick for a late challenge on Diggin by Nathan Heath, who was also sent off for being the last man as Diggin burst through the centre of the Celtic defence. Diggin dusted himself dawn to take the resultant kick, confidently placing the ball past King to make it 3-0

Hurst was given a rest by Smith on seventy-nine minutes, as the former West Brom man was replaced by Melbourne at right back. This failed to quell the wave of attacks from the Pitmen, as they continued to stream forwards in search of further goals

With six minutes remaining, Tom Thorley's deep cross was headed back towards goal by Francis, finding the ever-alert Diggin on the six-yard box. Diggin's powerful volley crashed off the underside of the bar, with Robinson on hand to turn the ball home in spectacular style with an overhead kick on the line

The Pitmen continued to come at Stalybridge as the game entered the last five minutes, with Melbourne denied a first goal of the season by Bleau and Diggin again firing wide with a first-time effort

In the final minute, Hednesford were awarded their second penalty of the afternoon as James Cadman tripped Batchelor just inside the box, allowing Diggin the opportunity to complete a superb, and well-earned hat-trick by firing past King once again from the spot

There was still time for Robinson to get clear of the Stalybridge defence in added time, running onto Osborne's through ball but driving his shot straight at King from close range

A pretty perfect afternoon's work for the Pitmen then, moving them up into the play-off positions and starting to show ominous signs of the sort of form they suggested they were capable of at the end of last season and in parts of pre-season. The key for Smith and his staff will be to keep this team fit and firing, as this was pretty compelling evidence that this eleven could be a match for any side in Conference North on current form and fitness. This theory will be severely tested next weekend, as league leaders Barrow come to town in another tough league encounter

Stalybridge Celtic: King, Bleau, Heath  (78), Jordan, Regan, Staunton-Turner (Cadman 76), McKenna, Holsgrove, Malbon, Ennis, Dickinson        Subs Unused: Wigley, Crowley, Lomax, Hill


Hednesford Town: Crane, Hurst (Melbourne 79), Campion ©, Bailey, Westwood, Thorley, Osborne, Walker (Francis 60), Glover (Robinson 76), Diggin, Batchelor      Sub Unused: Crowther