17.2.2018

Evo-Stik Northern Premier League

Stalybridge Celtic

Wolfenden (79), (81)

Hednesford Town

Fitzgibbon (37), Thorley (90)

(0) 2

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(1) 2

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James Fitzgibbon

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Warrington Town (H) 24.2.18

The Pitmen remain in contention for one of this season's play-off places but dropped another two points this afternoon at Stalybridge Celtic that leaves them with much to do if they are to gatecrash the top five in May

 

Last weekend's narrow defeat to in-form Barwell had halted Hednesford's recent excellent form, with the Pitmen hit with the news in the week that influential winger Mason Walsh had returned to Altrincham after an approach from his former club. Jim Mutton had completed a permanent move to Redditch United after a loan spell at the Evo-Stik Southern Premier League club to leave Rob Smith with only sixteen outfield players to pick from. James Fitzgibbon was available for selection once again after having twelve stitches in his head following a collision with an advertising hoarding at Farsley two weeks ago

 

Stalybridge had spent the majority of the season fighting with the likes of Sutton Coldfield Town and Halesowen Town at the foot of the table after struggling to adapt to life at step three following relegation last term. Despite this, Steve Burr's side had started to show signs of improvement in recent games, beating Stafford Rangers last midweek before finally winning on the road for the first time since April 2017 to beat high-flying Warrington Town in their last game

 

A heavily-sanded Bower Fold pitch greeted the two sides at kick off, on a sunny and pleasant spring day in Lancashire. Joe Fitzpatrick was first to show his hand with an early half-chance for the visitors but skewed his shot well wide from a James Lawrie corner kick

 

Stalybridge responded three minutes later, as Connor Hughes sent over a cross for Matty Wolfenden, with the former FC United of Manchester forward heading wide of James Wren's goal

 

Charlie Gatter twice denied Stalybridge a clear shot on target in quick succession as the hosts enjoyed the better of the chances in the next ten minutes, making two excellent blocking tackles to stop goalbound shots on the edge of the penalty area

 

Wren was called upon to make the first in a series of excellent first half stops on eighteen minutes, making a finer one-handed save to turn a long-range effort from Hughes over the crossbar for a Stalybridge corner

 

Lawrie's delivery from set-pieces seemed to be the Pitmen's best outlet for a goal in the first half, with the midfielder sending over a pinpoint free kick on twenty-three minutes onto the head of Gatter, whose firm header drifted just wide of the left-hand post

 

Jake Charles forced Wren into another one of his fine saves a minute later, driving in a shot from twenty-five yards out that Wren turned away from goal for a Stalybridge corner kick

 

Neat interplay involving Jordan Graham and Lawrie saw Lawrie break into the penalty area on twenty-five minutes, with Lawrie driving his shot high over the crossbar with a wild effort

 

Wren denied Charles once more on thirty-three minutes with another one of his fine stops, before the Pitmen stole into the lead through a superb piece of play down the right on thirty-seven minutes; a neat lay-off by Joey Butlin set Fitzgibbon on his way, with the winger finishing with aplomb as he drove a powerful shot beyond the reach of Stalybridge keeper Jack Walton from a tight angle

 

The away side were dealt a blow however just before half time, as right back Callam Mendez-Jones - who had had a good first half - was forced off due to injury. Reece King came on in his place, meaning a positional reshuffle that saw skipper Tom Thorley move to right back to allow King to play in midfield

 

There was a further change forced upon the Pitmen at half time, as Lawrie failed to emerge for the second half due to injury. He was replaced by Louis Harris, which again meant a number of players having to play in slightly unfamiliar positions

 

The inevitable Stalybridge response did not really materialise in the early stages of the second half, with only a brave block from Sam Oji denying Charles a clean strike on goal on forty-eight minutes a moment of any note

 

Substitute King could have given the Pitmen the buffer of a second goal on sixty-four minute, as he headed a free-kick inches wide of goal after rising highest at the far post

 

Gatter made another fine block to deny Charles two minutes later, sliding in to turn the midfielder's shot wide of goal for a corner kick

 

A brilliant reflex save from Walton kept Stalybridge in the game on sixty-six minutes, as the Celtic number one reacted well to save Fitzgibbon's deflected shot as it threatened to dip underneath the crossbar

 

A quick break from the man of the match Fitzgibbon saw him slalom his way through the Stalybridge defence on seventy-six minutes, but a poor piece of decision making from the winger saw him dither on his pass selection to either Butlin or Graham and allowed Stalybridge to clear their lines

 

This was to cost the Pitmen, as they were hot with a quickfire double from Celtic as the game entered the final ten minutes. On seventy-nine minutes, Matt Curley's poor decision making saw him concede a needless corner kick, from which Hughes curled in a kick that Wolfenden turned home from close range via a flick-on from Liam Dickinson

 

Things got worse for the Pitmen two minutes later, as Stalybridge turned the game on it's head. Hughes played Charles in down the right wing, with Wren making a rare error of judgment in coming out of his area and getting stuck in no-mans-land. Charles took advantage of this by slipping the ball to Wolfenden who had the simple task of knocking the ball into the net

 

Smith made his final change of the afternoon following the second Stalybridge goal, bringing on Danny Glover in place of Butlin, who had been struggling for the past ten minutes on the heavy, sandy pitch

 

Stalybridge could have wrapped up all three points with two minutes remaining, as a cross from Hughes was glanced narrowly wide of goal by the impressive Charles

 

With time slipping away, the Pitmen threw Gatter up front in an attempt to win the high balls being punted into the Stalybridge penalty area. As it was, they found an equaliser in added time through neat interplay down the left, with King driving in a cross-cum-shot across the face of the Stalybridge goal. Thorley - much as he had done in last Saturday's game against Barwell - had made a move towards the back post, with his gamble paying off as the ball fell at his feet, with the skipper turning the ball home from close range to rescue a point for the Pitmen

 

In the context of recent form, a point can been seen as a well-earned an useful one for the Pitmen, although their play-off ambitions have taken a real hit due to recent poor home form and results such as this, where three points were in the offing until individual errors meant a compromise. The departures of Mutton and Walsh have left the squad once again looking sparse, and with today's injury concerns it may now force Smith into more wheeling and dealing in the market with a free week up to next weekend's six-pointer against Warrington at Keys Park

 

Stalybridge Celtic: Walton, Morton ©, Honeyball, Brown (Crowley 70), Ashworth, Killock, Charles, Roberts (Wilkinson 77), Dickinson (Hollgate 90), Wolfenden, Hughes   Unused subs: Taylor, Winterbottom

 

Hednesford Town: Wren, Mendez-Jones (King 41), Curley , Fitzpatrick, Oji, Gatter, Fitzgibbon, Thorley ©, Butlin (Glover 82), Lawrie (Harris 45), Graham   Unused subs: Bailey, Law

 

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