Evo-Stik Northern Premier League

Stalybridge Celtic

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Hednesford Town

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Isaac Cooper


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Basford United (H) 19.1.19

The Pitmen are now nervously looking down towards the bottom three of the Evo-Stik Premier League table following a third defeat on the bounce at Stalybridge this afternoon, leaving Nicky Eaden's team only three points above the drop zone after another tame reverse


Eaden's troops arrived on Tameside off the back of defeats to two of the promotion-chasing sides in the league, having lost at home to Farsley on New Year's day and heavily away at Scarborough Athletic last weekend. Eaden made only one change to the side that had started at the Flamingo Land Stadium, with Jed Davies shaking off his recent injury frustrations to return to the side in place of Andre Johnson. New loan signing Jud Ellis, who had joined the club on a month's loan from neighbours AFC Telford United, was named amongst the substitutes. Midfielder Josh Craddock and left-back Nathan Fox remained unavailable due to ongoing injury concerns


Stalybridge had seen a number of comings and goings to their squad since the New Year, with a number of loans expiring as 2019 rolled around; Jake Turner, Jamal Crawford, James Caton, George Hughes and Michael Jones had all returned to their parent clubs, whilst Tom Brown and Danny Brady had also left Bower Fold since the turn of the year. Manager Simon Haworth had offset these departures with a string of new signings, including two very familiar faces to the attending Hednesford supporters; both Michael Howard and Dan Cockerline had agreed loan deals with Celtic until the end of the season, having left Keys Park in the past week to return to their parent clubs. Chris Smalley had joined the club on a permanent deal from Stockport County and captained the side for this afternoon's game, alongside new left-back Douglas Nyaupembe who had joined on loan from Bury. The final addition was the loan signing of goalkeeper Paddy Wharton on a long-term loan spell from Tranmere Rovers, having had the youngster on a previous loan earlier in the season


It was a typically overcast, miserable afternoon in Greater Manchester, with light drizzle giving way to heavier bursts of rain during the second-half. Stalybridge's first effort on goal came in the third minute, as Northern Irishman Andrew Scott lifted his optimistic shot from long-range over Mate Deczki's crossbar


Howard was quickly into the action against his former team-mates, jinking his way past Alex Melbourne in the seventh minute and sending over a cross to Scott, who teed himself up before attempting an overhead kick from twelve yards out that was easily fielded by Deczki


Matt Dodd's trickery down the right wing almost led to an opener for the Pitmen four minutes later, as the winger managed to get the better of Nyaupembe and send over a cross that took a deflection off the boot of the Stalybridge left-back and loop over the head of Wharton, striking the top of the crossbar before being cleared


A long, searching ball towards Lewis Archer caused the hosts problems in defence in the nineteenth minute, as the lone striker did well to win the ball off Michael Clarke and set up Dodd; Wharton did well to narrow down the angle and save low down at his near post to deny the winger a second goal in two games


Neat build-up play down the left wing from the Pitmen saw Isaac Cooper and Osebi Abadaki link up well to play in Archer on twenty-one minutes, only for Archer's cross to be tamely headed into the hands of Wharton by Reece King


Despite having plenty of joy down each flank in the opening half-hour of the game, Eaden took the decision to switch wingers Dodd and Abadaki over to test Stalybridge's full-backs, but this was to have the opposite effect as neither player could recreate their wing play on the opposite flank against resolute Stalybridge defending


A fantastic run from Scott nearly culminated in a goal for the hosts on thirty-five minutes, as he took Cockerline's pass forwards before lashing his shot just wide of goal from the edge of the penalty area


A good run from Howard saw the winger drift inside from the right-wing on thirty-seven minutes, trying his luck with a long-range effort that was deflected wide of goal by skipper Ben Bailey


A minute later, Cockerline did well to turn in the Hednesford penalty area and get a shot away, only to find Deczki behind his low drive from fifteen yards out


A good run from Abadaki on forty-two minutes saw the winger send over a lofted cross from the right that found the head of Archer, whose glancing header drifted just wide of the far post. A good chance just before the break


This was to be followed by an even better chance for the Pitmen to take the lead ahead of the half-time break, as Abadaki took full advantage of a poor defensive header from Clarke to race clear of the Stalybridge defence down the right. His low shot from a tight angle was well-saved by Wharton, who again did a good job of protecting his near post with a smothering save


From the resultant Davies corner, Stalybridge failed to clear their lines effectively and only succeeded in finding Davies once more, whose cross-cum-shot was punched away from goal by Wharton at his far post, under pressure from three Hednesford players


The Pitmen could be pleased with their first-half performance, which had offered some promising signs following last week's disastrous first-half display at Scarborough. Again, however, a lack of conviction or willingness to be clinical in front of goal when the chances come was to be their undoing once more in the second period


Stalybridge made a more promising start to the second half, with Charlie Gatter presenting them with a glorious chance to take the lead with the first meaningful chance of the half; a simple sideways pass from the defender towards Cooper was seized upon by Scott Bakkor, who set up Cockerline in the penalty area. The big striker showed good feet to take control of the ball but dithered on his shot before playing it back to Scott, whose effort was easily blocked by the Hednesford defence


 A minute later, Howard lifted an effort over the crossbar from twelve yards out following a Stalybridge corner that was not cleared effectively by the Hednesford defence 


A tame effort from Dodd on fifty-five minutes was as good as the Pitmen could muster in the opening minutes of the half, as Celtic continued to push for a goal with them on top for the first time in the game


And so it was to prove once more, as the Pitmen's flaky confidence was once again undone with another soft conceding of a goal on sixty-six minutes; perhaps unsurprisingly, Cockerline and Howard had a hand in the opener, as the big man flicked down a long ball into the path of his team-mate down the left. Howard's deep cross drifted over the heads of the Hednesford defenders, allowing Bakkor to nip in and slide the ball past Deczki from close-range


Eaden made a double change to his shot-shy side on seventy-one minutes, bringing on Jack Hallahan for Dodd and Johnson in place of the tiring Davies that saw the Pitmen move to a more attacking 4-4-2 formation


Cockerline got the better of former team-mate Gatter on seventy-four minutes, outmuscling the centre-back before clipping a cross into the Hednesford penalty area, only to find Bailey in the right place to clear the ball from goal


The Pitmen continued to struggle to create anything approaching a clear-cut chance, with Stalybridge's goal seemingly knocking their confidence and limiting their belief in their ability to get back into the game. A header from King from long-range was the closest they came to anything even resembling a chance on eighty-one minutes, tamely glancing a cross from Cooper straight into the arms of Wharton from fully eighteen yards out


Once again, it was the side in the lead that was allowed to bring the points home with consummate ease, as the Pitmen failed to register another shot in anger in the final ten minutes with another meek surrender to a game, similar in many ways to many of the league matches at Keys Park this season


The rain continued to fall at the end of the game to mirror the mood of the Hednesford supporters, who trooped off into the misty evening after witnessing a seventh defeat in eight games. It's a crucial week for the Pitmen ahead of a tough home game against out-of-form Basford United next weekend, facing former captain Stefan Galinski for the first time since his departure from the club in what is becoming a must-win for Eaden and his squad


Stalybridge Celtic: Wharton, Marx, Nyaupembe, Wilkinson (Dent 60), Smalley ©, Clarke, Bakkor, Rule, Cockerline, Scott (Wolfenden 79), Howard (Kengni 68)   Sub Unused: Winterbottom


Hednesford Town: Deczki, Melbourne, Cooper, Harvey, Gatter, Bailey ©, Dodd (Hallahan 71), King, Archer, Davies (Johnson 71), Abadaki    Subs Unused:  Veiga, Misambo, Ellis

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