Vanarama Conference North

Hednesford Town

Bailey (1)

Stalybridge Celtic

Chippendale (84), Simm (90)

(1) 1

(0) 2



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Dan Crane


Brackley Town (A) 25.4.15

The Pitmen's home campaign ends with a tired-looking Hednesford side limping to a late defeat against relegation-threatened Stalybridge Celtic, giving the visitors a crucial three points in their bid to stay up on the final day of the season

Hednesford manager Rob Smith was once again left with barely eleven fit and available players for today's final game at Keys Park, having seen Kidderminster Harriers loanee Jordan Tunnicliffe return to his parent club this week and James Hurst only fit enough to be named amongst the substitutes after picking up a knock in training. With this in mind, Smith made two changes to his side from the one that had been pegged back late on at Lowestoft Town last weekend as both Ben Bailey and Tom Thorley were passed fit to take the places of Tunnicliffe and Hurst respectively. Despite suffering a concussion in the last weekend's 2-2 draw at Crown Meadow, Stoke City's on-loan winger Adam Thomas was also passed fit to start today's game

Celtic started play down in nineteenth position in the Conference North table, level on points with Brackley Town who occupied the final relegation place. Celts manager Liam Watson made three changes to his side for today's crucial league game from the one that had started the 1-1 draw at home against Boston United last weekend as Stefan Galinski, Chris Simm and Ben McKenna replaced Harley Wigley, Tom Bentham and Scott Kerr respectively

On a beautifully bright and sunny day at Keys Park, the hosts made a flying start to proceedings as they took the lead after just forty-two seconds; a long throw from Jamey Osborne caught the Stalybridge defence ball-watching, allowing Ben Bailey to nip in and head past Ross Etheridge in the Celtic goal at the near post from twelve yards out for his fourth goal of the season

The visitors very neatly conjured up an immediate reply in the fourth minute as Chris Simm was brought down just outside the Hednesford penalty area by Chris Westwood, allowing Aidan Chippendale to curl the resultant free-kick over the Hednesford wall and towards the far corner of the net, only to be denied by Dan Crane's flying save

Stalybridge seemed reliant on set-pieces to carve out many of their early chances, with Chippendale's corner kick in the ninth minute headed over the crossbar by Matty Hughes, who arrived late at the far post to nod the ball over

A quickly-taken free-kick from the away side in the thirteenth minute saw McKenna play the ball into the path of Michael Potts, whose low shot lacked power and direction and was easily fielded by Crane

The in-form Crane was tested by Simm once more two minutes later as the striker was allowed time and space to get on the end of a long ball forwards from Oliver Crowley, striking a firm effort towards goal from twenty-five yards out that the Hednesford stopper superbly tipped over the crossbar with an acrobatic save

Nick Rushton responded for the hosts with a quickfire brace of missed chances; he fired well wide of goal on nineteen minutes after Glenn Walker's cross was deflected into his path by Stefan Galinski's partial clearance

Midway through the first half, Rushton scuffed another effort wide of goal as his right-footed half volley from fifteen yards out bounced twice before ending up wide of Etheridge's left-hand post after good work from Osborne to set the on-loan striker up

Three successive corners from the Pitmen followed as they looked to double their advantage, only for good defending from Stalybridge to deny the likes of Bailey and Westwood chances inside the six-yard box

Indeed, the visitors went close to levelling matters on twenty-four minutes as Chippendale's run down the left was not tracked by the Hednesford defence, allowing the midfielder to drive into the box and strike an angled shot at goal that Crane turned away from goal once more, despite Simm looking to pounce on the rebound

Bailey met Thorley's chipped free-kick three minutes later inside the Stalybridge six-yard box but looped his header high over the corner and into the Hednesford end stand

Crane's one-man crusade to deny Stalybridge continued on the half-hour mark as the former Burton Albion stopper produced another breathtaking stop as Simm's goalbound shot from just inside the Hednesford penalty area prompted Crane into another brilliant save as he dived full-length to his right to turn the low shot away for a corner to the Blues

You felt that a goal was coming for the visitors, with Hughes going agonisingly close to an equaliser on thirty-five minutes as Chippendale's inswinging corner was met by the centre-nack, whose header came back off the right-hand post before the Pitmen cleared their lines

Good approach play from Alex Mudimu on thirty-eight minutes saw the winger make a strong run down the right, stealing half a yard on Thorley before crossing to the far post, where McKenna chested the ball down but allowed Westwood to get in front of him and jockey him over the byeline before he could get a shot away

With three minutes of an end-to-end first half remaining, former Boston United defender Galinski headed weakly into the arms of Crane from another one of Chippendale's well-delivered corners on the left-hand side of the pitch

The Pitmen had certainly ridden their luck in the first half, having scored early on in the game but struggling to add to their tally with a combination of wasteful finishing and overly-ambitious shots from long-range. Celtic had looked a threat from set-pieces but had found Crane in absolutely inspirational form to deny them an equaliser


The Pitmen played on the front foot at the start of the second half as Walker and Osborne started to see more of the ball in the attacking third of the pitch; Osborne's neat pass into the path of Rushton on forty-eight minutes was picked up by the striker, who appeared to have been in an offside position before striking his shot straight at Etheridge from twelve yards out

Westwood almost put the ball into his own net on fifty-three minutes as he chased a long ball from Potts back into his own penalty area alongside Simm, stretching to reach the ball ahead of the striker and diverting the ball past Crane and inches over the crossbar. From the resultant corner kick, Michael Powell beat Andy Todd to the ball but headed wide at the near post

Crane was back to his best on fifty-seven minutes as he made another magnificent save to deny Chippendale after a foul on Simm by Bailey had earned the visitors a free-kick just outside the penalty area, which Chippendale curled over the Hednesford wall and forced Crane into a brilliant one-handed save to turn the ball away from the corner of the net

More heroics from the stopper kept his side in front on sixty-two minutes as the lively Simm gave Westwood the slip to latch onto McKenna's pass, but shot straight at Crane from a promising position ten yards from goal

Chippendale's break into the Hednesford penalty area was halted by that man Crane once more midway through the second half as the midfielder slightly overran the ball and allowed the Pitmem's number one to make a smothering save

A rare attack from the Pitmen on sixty-seven minutes saw Lloyd Kerry take a quick free-kick and send Adam Thomas away down the right flank. The wiry Stoke City loanee jinked his way past Galinski and squared the ball to Richard Batchelor, whose shot sailed harmlessly over the crossbar from the edge of the Celtic penalty area

Back at the other end, Batchelor was the second player in white to nearly turn the ball into his own net on seventy-one minutes as he deflected Powell's low shot towards goal, only for Crane to once again make a save from his own player

The Pitmen made their only substitution of the afternoon on seventy-three minutes as Steve Diggin came on to give the Pitmen's shot-shy attack a boost as he replaced Todd, who had looked ill-at-ease in the right wing-back role he had been forced into playing

Stalybridge substitute Jamie Allen was the latest man in blue to be denied by Crane on seventy-six minutes as the midfielder cut inside from the right-hand byeline, drifting past Walker and testing Crane from an outrageous angle with his shot beaten away by the stopper at his near post

The Pitmen almost made Stalybridge pay for not taking one of their host of second-half chances as Batchelor almost doubled their lead on eighty minutes. The combative midfielder made a powerful run straight through the heart of the Stalybridge defence as Osborne played him through, only for his shot to be parried away by Etheridge. the ball ran to Diggin, whose follow-up shot was deflected away by the legs of the Stalybridge stopper for a Hednesford corner kick

The Pitmen were starting to show the same tiredness that they had exhibited in the latter stages of the Lowestoft game, with no more fit substitutes to bring on and freshen up the ranks. Another spell of pressure from the visitors finally told on eighty-four minutes as Allen's low cross from the right was cleared as far as Chippendale, who unleashed a powerful half-volley from twenty-five yards out that finally beat Crane and found the far corner of the net. A great strike

With four minutes remaining, substitute Paul Ennis went on a mazy run into the Hednesford penalty area before being dispossessed by a timely challenge from Westwood 

Crane shook off the disappointment of losing his clean sheet by saving his best save of the game until the first minute of added time; another long spell of Stalybridge pressure saw Chippendale send over another cross that found Hughes, whose header looked to be heading for the corner of the net until Crane produced a miraculous save to turn the ball away down to his left

From the resultant corner, the Pitmen cleared their lines as far as Peter Wylie, who was standing just outside the penalty area - he brought the ball down but was brought down needlessly by Westwood. Simm took the free-kick and curled the ball around the dishevelled-looking Hednesford wall and beyond the despairing reach of Crane to send the small band of Celtic supporters wild behind the goal

Three points for the visitors relegates Leamington in the process and gives them a good chance of staying up as they now only require two points from their last two games to be absolutely safe. For the Pitmen, a once-encouraging campaign has very quickly spiralled out of control and has left them with very little to play for in the last month of the campaign, Smith's bruised and battered troops have to raise themselves one last time next weekend as they travel to Stalybridge's relegation rivals Brackley Town on the final weekend of the season

Hednesford Town: Crane, Todd (Diggin 73), Walker, Bailey ©, Westwood, Thorley, Osborne, Kerry, Rushton, Thomas, Batchelor      Subs Unused: Robinson, Hurst

Stalybridge Celtic: Etheridge, Wylie, Crowley, Galinski, Hughes, Potts  (Allen 60), Chippendale, McKenna (Ennis 76), Simm, Powell , Mudimu      Subs Unused: Kerr, Wigley, King