Skrill North

Stalybridge Celtic

Hednesford Town

Francis (13), Durrell (49) (penalty), (64), (76)

(0) 0

(1) 4



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Dan Crane


Leamington (H) 20.8.13

Hednesford Town made a triumphant return to step two football after seven years away this afternoon, with decisive finishing by last season's top scorer Elliott Durrell a major difference between the Pitmen and hosts Stalybridge Celtic

The newly-promoted Pitmen arrived in Cheshire off the back of a consistent pre-season programme, with seven wins from nine games. Having built momentum with three successive wins in the last fortnight, Rob Smith's side came into the new season confident they could make the step up

Jim Harvey's Stalybridge had seen their previous season's budget publically cut over the summer, having finished last season's Blue Square Bet North in mid-table. This seemed to reflect the interest in the Celts at kick-off, as a disappointing crowd was swelled by a noisy away following, as the Pitmen looked to establish themselves back at this level

Following last week's comprehensive win at Newtown, Smith and Larry Chambers made only one change to the side that started in mid-Wales, as John Disney started at right-back in place of Alex Melbourne. Forward Nick Rogan - signed by the club a couple of weeks ago - had been loaned to Evo-Stik Division One side Cammell Laird to gain match fitness in midweek

Both sides made a sprightly start to the game, with Celtic looking dangerous going forward. Twice in quick succession, Francino Francis was required to intercept clever through balls as the hosts took every opportunity to attack down their left side

Hednesford responded with a neat move down the middle involving Jamey Osborne and Kris Taylor, playing Neil Harvey in behind the Stalybridge defence. The big striker scuffed his shot across the face of goal, with Matt Unwin in the Celtic goal watching Elliott Durrell's subsequent cross drift over his crossbar

The Pitmen took the lead on thirteen minutes, with Francis getting the historic and all-important opening goal. Taylor's corner from the right was met by a powerful downward header from the big centre back, who found the corner of the net with his effort despite the best efforts of Unwin to keep the ball out

Harvey went close to doubling the Pitmen's lead five minutes later, as his shot was hacked off the line by Prince Heywood

There was a clear difference in the approach of Stalybridge to many of the sides Hednesford had encountered during their years in the Northern Premier League; a more measured approach, with the ball staying on the deck as they looked to use pace and quality over raw power and balls over the top. This required the Pitmen's defence to concentrate more, with Disney in particular working overtime down the right to deal with the threat of Stalybridge

Dan Crane was forced into the first of a string of superb saves on twenty-nine minutes, as Andy McWilliams set up Sean McConville down the left-wing. McConville's dipping, swerving effort looked goalbound, until Crane emerged to make a quite breathtaking full length stop to turn the ball over the bar

After Taylor had stung Unwin's fingers with a free-kick, Celtic were presented with a great chance to equalise before the break, as McConville fired narrowly over the crossbar after a break down the right flank saw the home side cleverly outwit the Hednesford defence with precise passing and a neat dummy

Kicking up the considerable Bower Fold slope in the second half, Hednesford expected an early onslaught from the hosts as they looked to get back on level terms. Instead, it was the Pitmen who extended their lead just our minutes after the restart. Osborne - who had been relatively quiet in the first half, made one of his trademark mazy runs into the Stalybridge half, with Kelvin Bleau bringing the midfielder down in the box with a slightly mis-timed challenge

Durrell stepped up and fired confidently past Unwin to double the Pitmen's lead and continue his excellent goalscoring record from the penalty spot in recent times

Crane was called upon again to keep the Pitmen two goals clear on fifty-four minutes, making a quite breathtaking double save; McConville's clever turn and shot from the edge of the area was brilliantly turned away from goal by Crane at full stretch, with the experienced stopper recovering well to make an equally superb one-handed save to deny Obi Anorou as he seized upon the rebound and fired towards goal

The hard-working Harvey had given the Stalybridge defence a nightmare with his pace, power and general excellent link-up play, and the goal he craved should have arrived on the hour mark. Breaking into the Stalybridge defence, Harvey held off the attentions of Bleau but fired narrowly wide of goal with a right-footed shot, when a better option would have been to shoot with his left as the ball came across his body

Durrell had a goal ruled out for offside two minutes later, as Robbie Thompson-Brown's through ball to Durrell saw the playmaker flagged narrowly offside as he slotted the ball past Unwin

Durrell made amends two minutes later, as he grabbed his second goal and put Hednesford in a strong position. Taylor's corner dropped invitingly in the Celtic box, with Durrell and Francis both having a swing at the loose ball. Stalybridge failed to effectively deal with the bobbling ball, allowing Durrell to seize upon it once again and fire through a crowd of players and find the net with a powerful shot from eight yards out

This was the cue for Smith and his backroom staff to make a change, with Osborne given a rest as he was replaced by the physical presence of Dave MacPherson

Searching for a way back into the game, Stalybridge hit the woodwork once more on sixty-nine minutes, as they played on despite an injury to Harvey in the Celtic half. Neat build-up play saw Tom Buckley fashion enough space for himself to fire a long-range shot that came back off the underside of the crossbar

Anoruo found Crane in imperious form once again on seventy minutes, as the Hednesford keeper made another inspired stop to deny the midfielder low down after McConville had slipped him through on goal

The industrious Thompson-Brown was replaced on seventy-three minutes, as the more defensively-minded Melbourne came on in his place

Another pacy run from Anorou saw him escape the attentions of the Hednesford defenders with fifteen minutes left, but his chip over the head of Crane saw the ball once again come back off the top of the crossbar

Aaron Rey was introduced into the game a minute later, as he replaced Harvey up front as the big man was given a warm reception from the Hednesford supporters

The scoring was complete a minute later, as Durrell made sure he took the match ball home with a third strike of the afternoon. Wayne Riley slipped the ball into his path, with Durrell firing past Unwin from the edge of the area via a deflection off Kristian Platt

There was still time for MacPherson to get himself booked for an aggressive late challenge in midfield, with Stalybridge incredibly hitting the bar for a fourth time with five minutes left; substitute Adam Parkhouse's cross drifting over the head of Crane and striking the top of the bar once again 

Crane capped a man of the match performance in the final minute, as he made another excellent stop to deny Anorou low down to his left with a one-handed save

Stalybridge will feel slightly aggrieved at the nature of the result, but it was the Pitmen who were clinical in taking their chances, thus moving to the top of the table on goal difference on day one after an excellent re-integration into Conference North football. They will now be looking to follow this up with good results in their home double header this week, as Leamington and Oxford City both visit Keys Park

Stalybridge Celtic: Urwin, Bleau, McWilliams, Platt, Lees, Haywood (Wilkinson 68), Buckley, Hatch, Anoruo, McConville, Platt (Parkhouse 64)      Subs Unused: Cameron, Welsby

Hednesford Town: Crane, Disney, Campion, Bailey, Francis (13), Taylor, Osborne  (MacPherson 64 ), Durrell, Harvey (Rey 75), Riley, Thompson-Brown (Melbourne 73)      Subs Unused: Woolfe, Barnes

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