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Nationwide Conference North

Vauxhall Motors

Hednesford Town

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Les Hines



There was to be no last-day drama for the Pitmen, who meekly gave up their place in Conference North after an uninspiring goalless draw at Rivacre Park this afternoon, coupled with surprise wins for Redditch United and Leigh RMI to confirm Hednesford's relegation after just one season back at step two

Defeat to in-form Droylsden last weekend had left the Pitmen requiring snookers in today's final round of games - a win here was a must, coupled with defeats for both Redditch United and Leigh RMI, who were both at home to Barrow and Northwich Victoria respectively. player/manager Steve Anthrobus elected to take himself out of the side as one of two changes to the side that had started last week's game, with Nathan Lamey replacing his manager up front and Scott Hadland started in place of Graham Hyde, despite being red-carded late on in the Droylsden game

Motors had undergone a remarkable transformation since the last time the two sides met in December, climbing off the foot of the table and now occupying the relative safety of eighteenth place, a full six points clear of the drop. Manager Carl Macauley had overseen this turnaround in fortunes after taking over from Owen Brown midway through the season, with his side having only lost one of their last four games to confirm their participation in Conference North next term. Macaulay elected to make two changes to the side from the one that had started last weekend's 2-1 defeat at Hinckley United as Karl O'Donnell returned in place of James Thomas and Brian Moogan returned at right-back ahead of Mike Duffy

On a bright but breezy afternoon on Merseyside, the all-red clad Pitmen made an authoritative start to proceedings as they looked to keep up their side of the bargain with three points. In the fourth minute, Hadland won the ball from Mike Garrity in midfield and played the ball into the path of Leon McSweeney, whose clever turn beat Phil Brazier before the Irishman drove his shot wide of goal from eighteen yards out

McSweeney was the Pitmen's best bet for that crucial goal in the opening stages of the game, with the former Hucknall Town man pulling another good effort just wide of the post in the tenth minute after Colin Hunter had squared the ball to him

Grant Beckett won a free-kick just inside the Motors half of the pitch two minutes later after being brought down by skipper Steve McNulty, allowing Les Hines to deliver the ball into the box with his wand of a left foot. Hines' ball in was flicked on by Hadland and into the path of Lamey, whose left-footed strike was saved by Sean Lake in the home side's goal

Lake was called upon to make another stop to frustrate the away side in the sixteenth minute as he tipped a Hines free-kick over the crossbar for a Hednesford corner after the left-back's curling effort had cleared the Motors wall from thirty yards out

Three minutes later, Ross Adams picked up Steve Brannan's throw and turned past Tom Field before crossing for Lamey, whose diving header ended up in amongst the Hednesford fans standing behind Lake's goal

The hosts' first sight at goal came on twenty-one minutes as Rob Lawton was played into the Hednesford penalty area by O'Donnell's pass before the striker cut the ball back into the path of strike partner Lee Furlong, whose low driven shot was turned away from goal by Gary Hateley

Hunter's run and cross four minutes later saw the winger stand up a cross into the home side's six-yard box that was partially cleared by Brazier, dropping into the path of Brannan standing just inside the penalty area. The youngster had time to bring the ball down but elected to shoot first time and lifted his half-volley high over the crossbar. Wasteful from the teenager

The next move of the game thus far saw the Pitmen break down the left on the half-hour mark as Hunter made a mazy run from deep before playing Hines into space in front of him. Hines' teasing early cross was too far in front of Lake for him to come and collect the ball, but was also agonisingly too far in front of McSweeney for him to turn the loose ball home from eight yards out

Four minutes later, a timely block from McNulty denied Lamey once more as the Hednesford forward's pacy run into the Motors penalty area was halted by the centre-back before he could pull the trigger

With seven minutes of the first period remaining, red shirts flocked forwards to join the attack as Hines delivered another fine ball into the box, with Richard Teesdale beating Lake to the ball but headed narrowly over the crossbar from close-range

Sixty seconds later, a quick break from the Pitmen saw Brannan and Hadland link up to send Lamey away, but Lake was equal to the striker's low strike from fifteen yards out


With two minutes of a keenly competitive first half remaining, O'Donnell played a superb slide-rule pass through to Furlong, only for a late offside flag to deny the striker a shot at goal

It had been yet another frustrating forty-five minutes for the visitors, who had dominated play but had failed to take any of the several chances that had come their way to take the lead. There was still a glimmer of hope for the Pitmen's survival hopes as news filtered through at the break of both Leigh RMI and Redditch drawing 1-1 in their respective games

The Pitmen continued to dominate possession in the early stages of the season half as they pushed forward at every opportunity looking for that elusive goal. McSweeney and Lamey linked up well just three minutes after the restart as they played the ball quickly between them and around Brazier before McSweeney lifted his shot from just inside the penalty area just over Lake's crossbar

Lake denied Hines once more on fifty-one minutes as the left-back struck a clean shot from twenty-five yards out that the Motors goalkeeper turned over the crossbar for a corner to the Pitmen

From the resultant short corner, Hines played Beckett into space with the utility man drilling in a shot from the corner of the box that was deflected past the post for another corner kick

Tom Marshall should have done more to test Lake from Hunter's corner kick three minutes later as he headed tamely into the arms of the former Everton youngster from just four yards out when he had the whole goal to aim at

Lake denied Marshall's defensive partner Teesdale on fifty-six minutes as another deftly-taken Hunter corner kick was floated into the near post, allowing the Hednesford skipper to run onto the ball and head goalwards, only to be denied by a brilliant fingertip save by Lake to turn the ball over the crossbar


Vauxhall Motors had done well to weather the storm in the early stages of the second half and came back into the game on fifty-nine minutes as O'Donnell made a mazy run through the Hednesford midfield before supplying a pass to Garrity, whose angled shot went wide of Hateley's right-hand post from eighteen yards out

Two minutes later, Field's quick free-kick sent Furlong scampering away as the Pitmen stopped for an offside flag that was not forthcoming, only for the striker to pull his rushed effort beyond Hateley's left-hand post when he had the opportunity to take another touch

With very little to lose at this point, the Pitmen made a bold double change on sixty-five minutes as Sean Platt replaced Brannan on the right side of midfield and Craig Marshall came on for Lamey, who had not had his shooting boots on all afternoon in a wasteful display

McNulty headed well wide for the hosts two minutes later, rising to meet O'Donnell's free-kick but got far too much on his header and sent it ten yards wide of the target as Teesdale did enough to put him off

Craig Marshall's first involvement in the game saw him penalised for pulling Garrity back at a corner kick on sixty-nine minutes as he attempted to turn a bouncing Hines cross home from close-range

The hosts were reduced to ten men a minute later as Field was shown a straight red card by referee Mr Byrne for taking exception to a challenge from Hadland in midfield and aggressively kicked out at the midfielder right in front of the match official

With the man advantage, the Pitmen were now camped in the Vauxhall Motors half of the pitch, although any late hope of a miracle was starting to dissipate on the terraces as news was coming through of Leigh taking the lead against Northwich and former Pitman Carl Palmer scoring to put Redditch ahead against Barrow

The visitors continued to plug away however and McSweeney cushioned a header down into the path of Hadland from an Adams cross with sixteen minutes to go, but the former Bromsgrove Rovers man lashed his shot high over the crossbar

Anthony Maguire was handed a chance to make himself a Hednesford hero once more a minute later as he was brought on to play wide on the left as he replaced Hunter

Three minutes later, Hines played a superb ball through to McSweeney, who beat the static Motors defence before taking the ball around Lake and sliding his shot goalwards, only to be denied by a covering challenge from Brazier to hack the ball away from goal

Adams - now playing as an auxiliary right winger - whipped in a good cross on eighty-two minutes that was met by Teesdale's powerful headed effort, only for Lake to once again deny the visitors with another parry away for a corner kick

A good run from Maguire two minutes later saw him beat Moogan for pace and send over a low cross into the path of McSweeney, whose shot lacked power and was parried away from goal by Motors' man of the match Lake

Two minutes later, another long throw from Beckett was chested down by McSweeney and laid off to Platt, who wildly drove his shot over the crossbar when it would have been a better decision to play Adams into space beyond him on the right flank

Three successive corners for the Pitmen continued to ramp up the pressure on the ten-man Motors side, with Hines delivering consistently good balls into the box for the men in red to attack. Lake punched one ball away on eighty-nine minutes but only into the path of Hadland, whose lob back over the stopper dropped onto the roof of the net

Added time failed to deliver the goal that the Pitmen required, with the players slumping to the floor at the final whistle as the club's relegation back to step three was confirmed. Once again, there had been no shortage of effort or character, but as we had seen throughout the season, there had been a distinct lack of quality and step-appropriate knowhow throughout the team, which had been a big factor in them failing to consolidate after promotion last term

The summer months will no doubt follow the familiar pattern of recent seasons, as the Pitmen ponder their next move on and off the pitch after a sobering lesson in the business of football at this level. Anthrobus may feel that he has done enough in the second half of the season to earn another crack at management with the Pitmen in the Southern Premier League next term, although chairman Steve Price may differ in that view if he continues his clinical hire and fire policy of recent seasons. Either way, it's likely to be another close-season of change as many players will depart and new players will arrive, with supporters hopeful that the one positive of this campaign - the emergence of young talent such as Tom Marshall, Ross Dyer and Steve Brannan - can be kept at the club and built upon in 2006-2007

Vauxhall Motors: Lake, Moogan, McDermott, Brazier, McNulty ©, Field ▆ (70), Garrity (Scott 88), Lawton, Martindale, Furlong, O'Donnell (Rooney 71)       Subs Unused: Duffy, Spellman, Thomas

Hednesford Town: Hateley, Adams, Hines, Beckett, Teesdale ©, T. Marshall, Brannan (Platt 65), Hadland, McSweeney, Lamey (C. Marshall 65), Hunter (Maguire 75)     Subs Unused: Barrow, Anthrobus

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