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Pitching In Southern Premier League Central

Hednesford Town

Ison (88)

Stratford Town

Lafferty (14), Lita (29)

(0) 1

(2) 2



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Lewis Ison



Tamworth (A) 8.3.22

The Pitmen's faint play-off hopes appear to have been extinguished for good this afternoon as Stratford Town hand the hosts their third defeat in a row and a quickfire league double over the men in white

There had been more transfer activity for the Pitmen in the week following their 1-0 defeat at AFC Rushden & Diamonds, as manager Keenen Meakin-Richards brought in centre-back Luke Ward from Kettering Town and former Mansfield Town midfielder Cain Smith. Departing the club was centre-back Josh Endall, who had returned to Stafford Rangers, and left-back Tom Armitage, who had joined Sutton Coldfield Town on loan. Ward was one of two changes to the side that had started at Rushden, with Kyle Bennett also returning to the side as Lewis Hayden and Andre Landell missed out. There was a first-ever call-up to the first team for teenager Kearno Brown-Jones, who was named amongst the substitutes

Stratford - 1-0 winners over the Pitmen in the reverse fixture just ten days ago - had crashed to a 4-1 defeat at Needham Market last weekend, with manager Tom Flowers electing to make one change to his team for today's trip to Staffordshire as Jack Storer returned to the side in place of Owen James

Despite the wet and windy weather of the previous week, today's game kicked off in bright late winter sunshine, with home debutant Harvey Portman making an immediate impact in the second minute as he was shown a very early yellow card for fouling Will Dawes just outside the Hednesford penalty area. Ex-Hednesford man Ashley Sammons took the resultant free-kick but drove his effort straight into the home side's wall

Three minutes later, Reece Flanagan picked up a pass from Kyle Bennett before unleashing a shot from fully twenty-five yards out that sailed well wide of goalkeeper Liam O'Brien's goal

In the ninth minute, George Cater and Sammons had a coming together just inside the Stratford half, with Sammons catching the Hednesford man with a flailing boot and was lucky to escape a yellow card from referee Mr Wesson

The Pitmen looked nervy and wasteful with possession in the opening ten minutes, struggling to find a white shirt with their passes on a horribly bumpy Keys Park pitch. Their inability to keep the ball was in evidence in the eleventh minute as Harvey Portman allowed the ball to run to the Bards, who quickly worked the ball forwards to Dawes. He in turn played veteran striker Leroy Lita in down the left-hand channel, only for the former Reading striker to pull his shot over the crossbar from fifteen yards out

Another Flanagan effort skipped wide of goal a minute later after patient build-up play from the Pitmen down the right culminated in Todd Parker playing his midfield colleague into space just outside the Stratford penalty area

The visitors took the lead in the fourteenth minute after working the ball into the penalty area and into the path of Lita, whose initial angled shot was blocked by Ward and played back to him; his intended cross was also blocked and fell nicely for Dawes, who floated a deep cross to the far post where Dan Lafferty was on hand to volley past Joe O'Shaughnessy from twelve yards out. There will be some question marks on O'Shaughnessy's handling as it seemed as though he allowed the shot to squirm through his hands a little too easily

The Pitmen went back on the offensive after conceding the opening goal of the afternoon and forced three corners out of the Stratford defence, although Carter Lycett's delivery from the right left a little to be desired as all of his balls in failed to test O'Brien and the Bards back line

Midway through the first half, Flanagan again found a pocket of space just outside the penalty area and struck a low shot at goal that saw O'Brien make a save down to his left to parry the ball away for another Hednesford corner kick

On twenty-four minutes, Flanagan's corner kick from the left-hand side caused more issues for the Stratford defence as Ward and Riley O'Sullivan looked to turn the ball home as it bounced around in the six-yard box before the men in orange cleared their lines

Another corner delivery from Flanagan on twenty-six minutes saw him pick O'Sullivan out with a teasing cross that was flicked on by the striker and into the path of Lycett, whose looping header at the far post ended up on the roof of O'Brien's net

Lita was proving to be a tricky customer for the young and inexperienced Hednesford defenders, heading down a cross from Dawes into the path of Storer a minute later but seeing his strike partner's shot deflected behind for a corner by Lewis Ison

Stratford doubled their lead just before the half-hour mark as more dreadfully indecisive defending from the young Hednesford back line gifted Lita a second Bards goal of the afternoon; O'Brien's long kick forwards was flicked on by Dawes and into the path of Lita, who held of a half-hearted challenge from Ward and nipped in ahead of both Portman and the advancing O'Shaughnessy to lob the ball into the empty net from the edge of the penalty area. A dreadfully embarrassing goal to concede

A moment of indecision from O'Brien on thirty-two minutes saw him come for a Flanagan corner kick and flap at the ball momentarily under pressure from O'Sullivan, relying on Jack Turner to clear the ball away from goal as Bennett lurked with intent

Three minutes later, O'Brien kept his side in front with a superb instinctive save, pushing Bennett's low shot from ten yards out around the post for a corner after Lycett's deep cross had been laid off to the forward by Wes Atkinson

With six minutes of the first half remaining, good play from Bennett saw him make a run towards the penalty area and lay the ball off to O'Sullivan, who lifted his shot high over then crossbar from eighteen yards out

The final action of the first half came on forty-three minutes as Lycett's free-kick from the right found Bennett at the near post, but the former Portsmouth man could only turn the ball wide of goal with the net at his mercy

The Pitmen had been dreadful for large parts of the first half, looking hesitant at the back and creating problems for themselves with a lack of willingness to battle for the fifty-fifty balls in midfield. Stratford had shown more composure and experience on the ball to take advantage of this with two goals that could, and probably should, have been avoided by the hosts

O'Sullivan was denied a clear shooting opportunity by a late offside flag on the main stand side just a couple of minutes after the restart as he made a run in behind the Stratford defence to reach a Parker through ball

On forty-eight minutes, good approach play from the visitors saw Dawes and Storer link up to lay the ball off to skipper Will Grocott, whose shot from the edge of the penalty area whistled inches wide of O'Shaughnessy's right-hand post

O'Sullivan got his head on a Flanagan corner kick two minutes later, making a run to the far post but heading the left-back's cross over the crossbar from eight yards out

On fifty-four minutes, Bennett seized upon the ball ahead of Lafferty and struck a low shot at goal from twenty yards out, clipping the heel of Melis Bushaj and ending up in the arms of O'Brien

The Pitmen's first substitution of the afternoon came two minutes later as debutant Ward was taken off in favour of Chay Tilt, signalling a change in formation for the hosts as they went to a 4-4-1-1 set-up

Stratford did well to quell any further Hednesford momentum as they took the sting out of the game in the next ten minutes; another Lycett corner kick on fifty-nine minutes was headed down by Portman but hacked clear by Sammons before O'Sullivan could react to the ball

Tilt won a free-kick for the Pitmen on sixty-four minutes as his run down the right was checked by Bushaj, only for Flanagan to waste the free-kick in a promising position as he chipped the ball too long for anyone in white to reach at the far post

Lycett was also guilty of getting too much on a cross on sixty-six minutes as he made a great run down the left but pulled his cross from the byeline back across goal and way too high for anyone to get their head on inside the six-yard box

On sixty-seven minutes, the peripheral figure of Bennett was taken off by the Pitmen as Meakin-Richards elected to bring on youth team graduate Brown-Jones in his place

O'Brien made a breathtaking double save on seventy-five minutes to keep his side two goals to the good as he saved twice from Brown-Jones.; Cater took the ball from the halfway line and into the Stratford penalty area before pulling the ball back to the teenager, whose-first time shot was brilliantly saved by O'Brien at his near post before the stopper denied him once more as he attempted to sidefoot the rebound home from four yards out

Three successive corners followed for the Pitmen as they desperately looked for a way back into the game, but as per their set-pieces in the game so far, the delivery was lacking and Stratford once again held their ground well under pressure

A surging run from Cater on seventy-nine minutes saw him drift inside from the left flank and into the Stratford penalty area but pulled his right-footed effort wide of goal from a promising position fifteen yards from goal

Before play restarted, the hosts made their final change of the afternoon as Atkinson was taken off in favour of Lewis Hayden - the fourth Hednesford player in the afternoon to make his home debut

Tilt joined Portman in the referee's notebook on eighty-two minutes as he was booked for throwing himself to the floor just inside the Stratford penalty area under a challenge from Bushaj

Flanagan's long-range shooting had been way off all afternoon, and another snatched effort on eighty-five minutes added to the list as he picked up a headed clearance from Turner but drove his first-time effort well, well wide of the post from twenty yards out

The Pitmen did, however, gave themselves a glimmer of hope on eighty-eight minutes as skipper Ison reduced the deficit, rising highest to firmly head home an inswinging Flanagan corner past O'Brien from six-yards out

The four minutes of added time saw the Pitmen camped inside the Stratford half as they looked for a late and unlikely equaliser; O'Brien kept his side in front once more in the second minute of time added on as he made another superb double save, pushing Brown-Jones's effort away before following this up by denying Portman from close-range on the rebound

It had been a largely poor display from the Pitmen, who had looked disjointed for long parts of the game and had lacked once more in the final third of the pitch, allowing Stratford to complete their league double to move above their hosts and into the top half of the table. The Pitmen drop to thirteenth in the table in the process and face a tough A5 derby at a resurgent Tamworth side on Tuesday night, desperately looking to avoid a fourth defeat in succession in the process 

Hednesford Town: O'Shaughnessy, Atkinson (Hayden 79), Lycett, Ward (Tilt 56 ), Ison ©, Portman , Flanagan, Parker, O'Sullivan, Bennett (Brown-Jones 67), Cater     Subs Unused: Ebbutt, R. Williams

Stratford Town: O'Brien, Wilson, Bushaj, Sammons (Fry 85), Turner, J. Williams, Storer (James 67), Lafferty, Lita (Okoro 79), Grocott ©, Dawes      Subs Unused: Beresford, O'Regan


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