27.4.2019

Evo-Stik Northern Premier League

Witton Albion

Gardiner (9)

 

Hednesford Town

Fox (88)

 

(1) 1

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(0) 1

Attendance

MoTM

Current Form

362

Nathan Fox

W W W D D W L W D D

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The Pitmen's turbulent - and often depressing - 2018-2019 campaign came to an end with a point over fellow mid-table dwellers Witton Albion this afternoon at a wet and wild Wincham Park

 

Gary Hayward's side made the trip up the M6 off the back of a fine display at play-off chasing Gainsborough Trinity last week, looking to end their season strongly with only one defeat in their last eight games going into the final round of fixtures. Hayward was without the services of suspended duo Danny Racchi and Dan Sweeney and defender Danny Lupano for this dead rubber, meaning a return to the side of both Charlie Gatter and Jack Hallahan in two changes from the side that started at Northolme. Youth team graduates Carter Lycett and Owen Turner were both named amongst the substitutes by Hayward with little to play for other than pride

 

Witton's season had seen them flirt with the idea of the play-offs for much of it, but ultimately Carl Macauley's side had to settle for a safe top ten finish to build on last season's seventh-placed finish. Step three regulars Rob Hopley and Will Jones started up front for Albion, whilst former Hednesford winger Osebi Abadaki was amongst Macauley's substitutes as Witton looked to complete a league double over the Pitmen after beating Francino Francis's team 1-0 just three days before Christmas

 

The weather for this final game of the season was completely at odds with the stunning Bank Holiday weekend of last week, as Storm Hannah brought a strong chilly wind and heavy rain to Cheshire ahead of kick-off. The Wincham Park pitch was heavy and bobbly, with standing water appearing in patches as the game proceeded. The hosts got a better grip of the difficult conditions as they elected to kick with the strong wind at the backs in the first half. Right-back Anthony Gardner tested the reactions of Jake Weaver in the third minute of the game, as his long throw was headed back to him by Charlie Gatter; Gardner's deep, swerving cross dipped towards the far post and required Weaver to tip the ball away from goal for a corner kick

 

Gardner handed Witton the lead in freak circumstances from a similar position six minutes later, as Javan Vidal headed Gardner's throw back to him on the left wing. Gardner's hopeful cross to the far post caught a gust of wind at precisely the right time, taking the ball away from the clutches of Weaver and dipping into the far corner of the net

 

 Vidal was the first player to be handed a yellow card in the twelfth minute for an aggressive challenge on left-back Danny McKenna as the full-back attempted to charge past him down the wing

 

A quick break from the hosts on sixteen minutes saw McKenna's cross eventually fall to Hopley, whose subsequent cross from the opposite wing drifted over the crossbar and onto the roof of the net

 

Slowly, however, the Pitmen started to come back into the game as they got the grips with the weather and created openings of their own. Hallahan did well to win the ball in midfield and fed Nathan Fox down the left wing. The Pitmen's player of the year sent over a dangerous cross that was turned goalwards by centre-back Josh Wardle, prompting keeper Greg Hall to make a timely save

 

Brad Wells wasted a good opening for the Pitmen midway through the half, drifting inside from the right-wing but dragging his scuffed effort well wide of the Witton goal from twenty-five yards out

 

Fox and Ben O'Hanlon were starting to find some joy down the left wing for the Pitmen, with the pair linking up well on thirty-three minutes in a move that saw O'Hanlon's cross being deflected into the path of Brad Wells at the far post. The forward - under pressure from McKenna - could not force the ball home as he had against South Shields and put the ball into the side-netting from close-range

 

The excellent Fox was involved once again for the visitors two minutes before half-time, trying his luck with a shot from the edge of the Witton penalty area that forced Hall into a save at his near post

 

Witton created themselves a superb opening in the final minute of the half to double their lead, as Hopley's break through the Hednesford defence was halted by Weaver's dive; Jay Foley recycled the ball and played in a low cross to Jones, who horribly skewed wide of goal from close-range

 

It had been a first-half low on quality but high in effort from both sides, with the Pitmen perhaps slightly unlucky to be going in at the break a goal behind having come back into the game well following Gardner's freak early goal

 

 Hallahan frustrated his own team-mates early in the second half, as he did brilliantly to win the ball back in midfield but then tried his luck with a highly ambitious long-range shot that was easily fielded by Hall

 

A superb, raking ball from Bailey on fifty-six minutes found Brad Wells in behind the Witton defence down the right wing. Wells' shot selection was ill-advised, however, as he tried to fire home with the outside of his left boot rather than clip the ball into the box towards brother Kieran, only succeeding in dragging his shot wide of goal

The Pitmen's first substitution of the afternoon arrived on sixty-seven minutes, as the hard-working Brad Wells was taken off and replaced by Andre Wright as the Pitmen looked to add more attacking threat to their side. Wright moved into a more advanced role alongside Kieran Wells as the Pitmen looked to press for an equaliser

 

The weather continued to play havoc with the quality of the football on sixty-eight minutes, as McKenna's long ball forwards was once again caught in the wind as Weaver came out to meet it, with the on-loan keeper fumbling the bouncing ball back into the path of Hopley, who lifted his shot over the crossbar from twelve yards out

 

The away side's second change came seventy-five minutes as Hallahan was taken off in favour of Matt Curley, with Curley drifting out to the right wing for the final fifteen minutes to add some sorely-needed width down the right

 

A corner kick from the left-hand side from Alex-Ray Harvey on seventy-seven minutes held up in the wind, allowing Kieran Wells to rise highest to nod his header just over the Witton crossbar from six yards out

 

With five minutes of the game remaining, England Schoolboy International Lycett was finally handed his debut for the Pitmen as he came on for the remainder of the game at left-back in place of O'Hanlon

 

The Pitmen's resilience and refusal to give in finally paid dividends late on for them, as they ended the season on a high with an eighty-eighth minute equaliser; Curley picked the ball up from Vidal out on the right-hand corner of the Witton penalty area and sent over a cross of rare quality in the game, finding Kieran Wells lurking in the six-yard box. The striker and Fox both challenged for the ball with Fox eventually getting the final touch on the cross to glance the ball home past Hall, settling a fine individual campaign for the left-back with a well-deserved equaliser for the Pitmen

 

In truth, it had been a very poor game played in very poor conditions with no side capable or worthy of winning the game and taking all three points. The Pitmen can be pleased with their spirit and desire to get back into the game to earn themselves a point, but again highlighted the dramatic lack of quality in the ranks overall to compete at the top of the Evo-Stik Premier League with teams who have the budget to attract quality players

 

 And so starts another summer of change at Keys Park; something that has fed into the normality of the Hednesford supporters over many long seasons. A new manager will be appointed - Hayward will certainly be staking a claim for that after successfully negotiating the final two games of the season at the helm - and a new squad of players will once again be brought together for 2019-2020. The annual league shake-up may also have a similar effect to the football club as it did last summer, with a lateral move to, from, or back to the Southern League lurking in the background. Whatever the future holds, there's no doubt it going to be another busy summer up Keys Park once again

 

Witton Albion: Hall, Gardner McKenna, Wardle, Offord, Smart, Doyle, Owens, Hopley ©, Jones, Foley    Subs Unused: Lingouba, Abadaki, Neild, Devine

 

Hednesford Town: Weaver, Vidal , O'Hanlon (Lycett 85), Harvey, Gatter, Bailey ©, B. Wells (Wright 67), King, K. Wells, Hallahan (Curley 75), Fox        Subs Unused: Veiga, Turner

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