15.9.2007

F.A. Cup 1st Qualifying Round

Hednesford Town

Stratford Town

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Rene Gilmartin

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Stratford Town (A) 19.9.07

Hednesford will count themselves lucky to still be in the F.A. Cup this evening as they escape with a replay against Midland Alliance side Stratford Town, who had enough good chances to create a cup shock at Keys Park this afternoon and pile more pressure on beleaguered manager Phil Starbuck

Desperately looking for a positive response to his side's alarming slide in recent form, Starbuck made two changes to his side from the one that had been well beaten by Eastwood Town on Monday night. Defender Gary Sucharewycz was handed his first start of the season in place of Gordon Simms, whilst Chris Adam was also handed a first appearance in the starting XI as he replaced Simon Forsdick, who had departed the club for AFC Telford United. Popular Portuguese winger Mario Pedro had returned to the club in midweek after a spell back in his homeland and appeared as one of the substitutes for today's game

Step five Stratford had qualified for this first qualifying round tie courtesy of a 2-0 win over Sotham United in the preliminary round last month and had remained unbeaten so far this season in all competitions. Manager Michael Moore made four changes to his side from the one that had earned a point at Boldmere St. Michaels on Wednesday night as Mark Shiels, Kirk Miller, Gareth Alborough and Will Grigg came into the side in place of Craig Johnson, Steve Ruck, Ian Wood and Paddy Connolly

The home side started brightly as they looked for an early goal with Ross Dyer looking menacing in his wide position. He linked up well with Chris Adam in the fourth minute on the edge of the Stratford penalty area, but Adam's shot was well wide of the post

Neat play involving Tom Marshall and Dominic Heath saw them play Peter Knox into space on the minutes, with the striker laying the ball off to defender Ross Adams; the defender's shot was well saved by former Solihull Borough goalkeeper Shiels, who pushed the ball behind for a corner kick

From the resultant Adam corner, Sucharewycz rose to meet the ball in but only succeeded in heading the ball high over the crossbar as he stretched to reach the cross

Sloppy defending from the Pitmen on fifteen minutes saw Keenen Meakin-Richards and Marshall concede a needless corner kick after leaving a backpass to each other. Jack Byrne's resultant kick forced Rene Gilmartin into making a save on his goal line to push the ball away from the menacing presence of 6ft 7" striker Rory May

Byrne was involved for the visitors once more midway through the half, dispossessing Heath in midfield and attempting an audacious lob over Gilmartin from thirty yards out that drifted a couple of feet over the crossbar

Sixty seconds later, more dreadful defending from Meakin-Richards saw him play simple pass straight into the path of May, whose subsequent shot was well saved by Gilmartin. He was quickly to his feet and let the youngster know in no uncertain terms what he thought of the loose pass

At the other end, Knox nearly capitalised on a clash between Shiels and Adam on twenty-seven minutes as the pair collided in the Stratford area as they contested a loose ball, with the rebound bouncing into the path of Knox. However, the striker rushed his effort and fired well wide of goal rather than perhaps taking an extra touch

Adam was denied a scoring chance by a late offside flag on the Wimblebury side on thirty-three minutes, latching onto a pass from Adams but being denied by the assistant on the far side

Four minutes later, Gilmartin was alert to the danger to race out of his goal and smother a ball at the feet of Jerome Grandison after Adams had done well to ease the winger off the ball as he entered the Hednesford penalty area

Former Lincoln City and Solihull man May was causing the Pitmen's defence all sorts of issues with his powerful build and tireless running and went close to scoring the opener on forty minutes as he sliced a shot wide of the right-hand post from twelve yards out after being set up by Grandison

Teenager Grigg - making his full debut for Stratford - went closer to scoring for Stratford right on half-time as he broke clear of the static Pitmen defence to get onto the end of a Faulds pass, only to fire wide of goal with only Gilmartin to beat

Starbuck's half-time talk will have been aggressive as once again his side looked disjointed and lacking in confidence. Stratford emerged the better side at the start of the second half as Byrne again tested Gilmartin with a long-range drive just three minutes after the restart

Dyer's pace got him in behind the Stratford defence on fifty-three minutes, only for Shiels to spot the danger early and claim the ball ahead of the young striker. Frustrated at not getting to the ball, Dyer followed through and floored the goalkeeper, leading to a warning from referee Mr Mather

 

Dyer fired a firm rising shot just over the bar on fifty-three minutes from twenty-five yards out before the re-introduction of Pedro a few seconds later as he came on in place of Adam

Dyer and Shiels clashed once more on fifty-eight minutes, with Shiels leaving his mark on the striker as the pair challenged for a deep Adams cross at the far post

A long kick from Gilmartin was controlled well by Knox on the hour mark, slipping strike partner Dyer in on goal in the process but was denied once again by the hands of Shiels

 

From the resultant corner kick, both Marshall and MacPherson challenged for Heath's flag-kick but got in each other's way inside the six-yard box and Stratford cleared their lines

Marshall's indecision nearly let Byrne in on goal five minutes later as his attempts to shepherd the ball back to Gilmartin saw the forward pick his pocket, only for Gilmartin to block the shot at goal 

Recent signing Sam Wood was handed his Hednesford debut by Starbuck on sixty-nine minutes as the former Leek Town man came on in midfield in place of Knox

 A shot from Grandison was saved by the impressive Gilmartin on seventy-three minutes as the winger cut in from the wing and fired in a shot from an angle that the stopper turned away

Ruck - on for Grigg with fourteen minutes left - linked up well with May on the edge of the penalty area with twelve minutes remaining, but lifted his effort high over Gilmartin's crossbar from eighteen yards out

 

Byrne tested Gilmartin's reflexes again two minutes later with another snapshot before Grandison's speculative shot from long-range dipped just wide of the post sixty seconds later

 

The visitors sensed a chance to win the tie on the day without having to resort to a replay and missed the best chance of the whole game in the final minute; May was the guilty party as a deep cross from Grandison was met by the giant striker, who was unmarked at the far post. Rather than head into the empty net from close-range, the striker somehow headed wide of the post with the goal gaping

The Pitmen had been hanging on in the final stages and can count themselves extremely lucky to have a second go at their Midland Alliance opponents. The two sides will meet again on Wednesday night when the Pitmen make the short trip down to Damson Way, where Stratford are currently playing their home games whilst their new stadium is being constructed

Hednesford Town: Gilmartin, Marshall, Adams, Sucharewycz , Meakin-Richards, Hawthorne, MacPherson ©, Heath, Adam (Pedro 53), Knox (Wood 69), Dyer    Sub Unused: Simms, Sanders

Stratford Town: Shiels, Miller ©, Alborough, Faulds, Munday, Crawford, Grandison, Robinson, May, Byrne, Grigg (Ruck 74)      Subs Unused: Forbes, Hobson, Leigh

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