UniBond Northern Premier League

Witton Albion

Jones (30), Warlow (43), Connors (65)

Hednesford Town

(2) 3

(0) 0



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Phil Hadland


North Ferriby United (A) 3.3.07

A makeshift Hednesford side could not halt the run of free-scoring Witton Albion at the Brittania Carpets Stadium tonight as they crashed to a fourth defeat in six games to leave their title hopes fading going into the final two months of the season

The Pitmen arrived in Cheshire woefully short of defensive options for tonight's game as Ross Adams and Iain Screaton joined Gary Sucharewycz and Lee Soar on the sidelines. Manager Phil Starbuck was therefore forced into playing several players out of position, with the returning Darren Alexander playing at centre-back rather than up front and Dave Whittaker dropping into midfield. Left-back Ritchie Butler - returning after a three-match ban for a red card - was also forced into playing out of position in midfield

Witton were one of the league's form teams at present and were unbeaten in the UniBond Premier so far in 2007 going into tonight's clash. A 3-1 win over mid-table Guiseley at the weekend had lifted Jim Vince's side into third place, just four points behind the Pitmen and with two games in hand. Vince made one change to his side for tonight's game as Darren Hockenhull replaced Mark Peers at right-back 

On a chilly February evening, the patched-up away side - once again wearing their yellow change shirts from 2005 to avoid a kit clash - made a great start of the game and dominated the opening exchanges. In the fifth minute, Ryan Young's long kick forwards was missed by the experienced Tony Barras, allowing Justin Jenkins the chance to seize upon the ball and lay it off into the path of strike partner Danny Bacon, who in turn saw his shot tipped away from goal by Witton goalkeeper John Kennedy

Chris White and Phil Hadland linked up down the right flank for the Pitmen in the eighth minute to give Hadland room just outside the Witton penalty area. He turned past Liam Brownhill but elected to shoot from an angle rather than pass to Jenkins, drilling a low shot narrowly wide of goal

Kennedy made another good save to deny former Witton man Whittaker four minutes later, tipping his long-range effort around the post for a Hednesford corner kick

Jenkins was next to go close for the Pitmen on fourteen minutes as he exchanged passes with Bacon on the right before Bacon returned the ball to him with a low cross into the penalty area that Jenkins turned onto the crossbar from seven yards out with a rising shot after he had got goal side by Brian Pritchard

Pritchard suffered a nasty-looking head injury in a clash with Alexander on nineteen minutes and was required to leave the pitch with blood gushing from a head wound that would require five stitches. He returned a few minutes later with his head heavily bandaged, only to be replaced three minutes later by Griff Jones, who was also given a lengthy bout of treatment after coming off worst in a clash with Young after firing just wide of goal from Adam Warlow's pass

Kennedy came to Witton's rescue once more on twenty-seven minutes, making a fine save to deny Bacon after the striker had met a Jamie March free-kick with a full-blooded header at goal


Jenkins was also denied by Kennedy a minute later as Alexander won the ball from deep and played the striker through on goal, only for the Witton stopper to produce another fine save to push the ball away for a Hednesford corner kick

Alas, this was as good as it got for the Pitmen, as Witton took the lead with their first real shot in anger on the half-hour mark; March lost the ball cheaply to Tom Spearritt after getting caught in two minds on the edge of his own penalty area, allowing Spearritt to lay the ball off to Jones, who slotted confidently past Young from close-range for his fifteenth goal of the season

It was to be Jones's final contribution to the game as he was forced off two minutes later after feeling the side-effects from his earlier injury and was replaced by Mike Moseley

The Pitmen closed ranks and went into their shell after Witton's opener, with passes starting to go astray when they were sticking ten minutes previously. Warlow's clever turn on the edge of the Hednesford penalty area on thirty-six minutes saw him get away from Tom Marshall and into space, only for his low driven shot to drift wide of the target

On forty minutes, Brownhill exchanges passes with Rob Lloyd before standing up a cross to the far post that was volleyed over the crossbar by the incoming Lloyd


It came as no surprise that Witton doubled their advantage two minutes before half-time after another period of pressure. Poor defending allowed Rob Lloyd to drift inside from the right and beat three half-hearted challenges before rolling the ball to Warlow to fire home from close-range. It was a landmark goal for on-loan Crewe Alexandra youngster Warlow, notching his twentieth goal of the season in the process

It had very much been a half of two halves for the Pitmen, who had been by far the better side in the opening twenty-five minutes but had looked error-prone and nervous for the remainder of the half

The second period got off to a poor start for the visitors as March was booked just seconds after the restart for chopping down the flying Lloyd as he made his way down the right flank

Things got even worse on fifty-two minutes, as Butler was shown another straight red card for a ridiculously over the top two-footed challenge on Witton skipper Steve Connors that left the Witton man flat out on the ground and requiring a lengthy spell of attention both on and off the pitch. Butler could have no complaints about the red card shown to him by referee Mr Merchant and with a lengthy ban now to serve, it is highly unlikely that the player will ever play for the club again

The hosts looked to press home their numerical advantage with another spell of pressure in and around the Hednesford penalty area as Warlow's looping header from Lloyd's cross on fifty-six minutes was turned over the crossbar by Young for a corner kick

Two minutes later, neat football from Alex Brown saw him neatly sidestep Whittaker's challenge and cross for Moseley, who was denied by the boot of Alexander inside the six-yard box

However, it was perhaps inevitable that Witton would stretch their lead and they did so on sixty-five minutes. Substitute Moseley got on the end of a long ball forwards from Hockenhull and neatly turned past March before slipping the ball to Connors, who fired home despite Marshall's best attempts to keep the ball out

Whittaker's stint out of position was ended two minutes later as he was replaced by out-of-sorts winger Mario Pedro as Starbuck attempted to stem the tide of Witton pressure on his patched-up defence

Peers had come on in place of Lloyd and continued to torture March down the right flank. He got to the byeline after giving the left-back the slip on seventy minutes and pulled the ball back into the path of Warlow, only for some fortuitous defending from Alexander to deflect the ball away using his shin

Three minutes later, Connors made a late run into the penalty area to meet a deep free-kick from Brownhill but headed his effort narrowly over the crossbar

The patched-up Pritchard also headed just over the crossbar for Witton with fifteen minutes remaining as Alex Brown recycled a corner kick that was headed to back to him by Marshall out on the left wing to pick out the burly centre-back

To the Pitmen's credit, they did not let the scoreline of numerical disadvantage get them down and they continued to plug away manfully. Bacon tested Kennedy's reflexes at the near post on seventy-nine minutes with an angled drive from seven yards out that the stopper pushed behind for a corner kick to the visitors


On eighty-three minutes, Bacon was inches away from applying the finish to a fine move involving Ross Dyer and Hadland, sliding in at the far post but was a matter of inches away from turning Hadland's low cross into the empty net

Pedro's only meaningful action in the game came with four minutes remaining, as he was teed up by Bacon but saw his powerful goalbound shot deflected away from goal at the last second by Barras

It had been another sobering evening on the road for the Pitmen, whose title challenge is fading with every game as AFC Telford United now have a seven-point lead on them. Starbuck's side may now elect to focus on sealing their place in the play-offs, although an in-form chasing pack containing the likes of Witton, Burscough and Marine will still fancy their chances of usurping the Pitmen and taking the fight to Telford themselves in the final dozen games of the season remaining. Saturday sees the Pitmen return home as they entertain mid-table Guiseley for the first time ever at Keys Park

Witton Albion: Kennedy, Hockenhull, Brownhill, Pritchard, Barras, Spearritt, Alex Brown, Connors ©, Warlow, Jones (Moseley 32), Lloyd (Peers 63)      Sub Unused: Clegg

Hednesford Town: Young, Dyer, March , White ©, Marshall, Alexander, Whittaker (Pedro 67), Butler (52), Bacon, Jenkins, Hadland      Subs Unused: Styche, Francis