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Pitching In Northern Premier League West

Hednesford Town

Barnes-Homer (70), Verma (86), Moke (88)

Witton Albion

(0) 3

(0) 0



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Jack Kelly



Nantwich Town (A) 1.4.24

The Pitmen move to within two points of nearest rivals Trafford after a barnstorming second-half display sees them claim an absolutely crucial three points against Witton Albion at Keys Park

Having taken heart from last weekend's battling draw against champions-elect Leek Town, head coach Paul Moore made one final dip into the transfer market ahead of Thursday's registration window, bringing in two vastly experienced performers in the shape of striker Matthew Barnes-Homer and defender Junior Brown. Both players had to be content with a place on the bench as Moore made just the one enforced change to the side that had started against Leek with James McQuilkin replacing the injured Blaine Rowe at right-back

Witton - sitting in sixth place and chasing the final play-off position with City of Liverpool - were in somewhat patchy form ahead of their trip to Staffordshire, having beaten Chasetown last weekend but having lost two of their last four matches overall. Manager Jon Macken stuck faith in his XI from the one that had started the Chasetown game as he looked for the three points that could catapult his side into the top five with only five games remaining

Another superb crowd greeted the players on a bright and sunny late March afternoon, with over 800 inside Keys Park. Witton saw plenty of the ball in the early exchanges, looking to veteran striker Tom Pope at every opportunity to disrupt the centre-back partnership of Sam Griffiths and Josh Endall with his aggressive hold-up play. In the third minute, the first of a string of free-kicks handed to the visitors saw Joe Duckworth brought down by Adriano Moke, earning the away side a free-kick thirty yards from goal. Ex-Hednesford man James Lawrie took the kick but floated his cross over the heads of the incoming men in orange and Endall cleared at the far post

Three minutes later, Moke received another warning from referee Mr Bingley for his second foul of the afternoon already, this time on Brandon Newell. Once again Lawrie's ball in from the left lacked any real direction towards either Pope or former Premier League defender Matt Lowton and Endall headed clear again

Jake Jervis - tracking back down the right for the Pitmen - conceded a soft free-kick in the ninth minute as he bundled Elliot Rokka over to prevent the forward from whipping in a cross. Lawrie's resultant free-kick was curled in at pace, with Jervis himself managing to clear the danger ahead of Lowton inside the six-yard box

The Pitmen hadn't got started so far, struggling to string a succession of passes together and allowing Witton to dominate the early fifty-fifty balls. Jai Verma picked the ball up out on the left for the hosts in the twelfth minute and drove at Michael Koral, initially beating the full-back before the former Crewe Alexandra man managed to recover and turn the ball behind for a corner kick

The latest in what seemed to be an endless succession of Witton free-kicks on fifteen minutes saw Lawrie try his luck from range with a curling ball over the Hednesford wall from twenty-five yards out, although his effort lacked any real power or direction and was an easy save for Ryan Brown to his left-hand side

More set-pieces followed for Witton as they continued to press for an opener; Griffiths had to be on his toes on eighteen minutes to head clear from a corner kick on the left as Cameron Fogerty challenged him at the near post, followed a minute later by another inswinging delivery from Lawrie that was aimed at Pope, who bundled Ryan Brown to the ground and handed the Pitmen a free-kick

Witton went within a matter of inches of taking the lead on twenty-one minutes as Newell started and finished a driving move from the visitors, picking up a goal kick from Ryan Brown and taking the ball back into the Hednesford half before Pope sprayed the ball out to Lee Jackson on the left. the full-back's ball into the box was met by Newell on the penalty spot with a first-time effort that whistled inches wide of Brown's left-hand post

Midway through the first half, Thorley picked up the game's first yellow card for a foul on former team-mate Lawrie, picking up a harsh-looking caution from referee Mr Bingley when similar challenges had gone unpunished in the first quarter of the game. Rokka assumed responsibility for this free-kick and chipped his effort narrowly over the crossbar

Still, the Pitmen were struggling to make any gains into the Witton half, with Jervis looking to get on the end of a Thorley pass that broke the lines on twenty-five minutes only to be pulled back for a tight offside against the former Plymouth Argyle man from the assistant on the Wimblebury side of the ground

McQuilkin had thus far stuck to his task well at right-back without offering much in the way of an attacking outlet for the Pitmen, but one run from the veteran midfielder on the half-hour mark saw him overlap Jervis and pick up a pass from Moke, getting in behind the Witton defence before Lowton came across and managed to deflect McQuilkin's low cross back off the Hednesford man and out for a goal kick

Eden Bailey had really struggled to make his mark on the game up against the giant figure of Lowton but was given a sight at goal on thirty-six minutes after the excellent Jack Kelly played the ball into the feet of the young striker just outside the penalty area. The former Mossley man turned well but tamely struck a low shot at goal that was easily saved by Witton goalkeeper Danny Roberts

There was a half-hearted shout for a penalty kick from the visitors on forty-one minutes as Rokka hit the deck under pressure from Kelly, only for an offside flag to have already gone up for the previous phase of play

A minute later, Lawrie's deep corner kick from the left was plucked out of the air by Brown, making a confident claim ahead of three orange shirts and Endall

Witton will have felt a little aggrieved at not being ahead at the break, having had most of the play and a couple of decent chances to go in at the break at least a goal to the good. With City of Liverpool only drawing at Mossley, three points would currently leapfrog Maken's side into the final play-off place if they could find a way through a spirited, but limited Hednesford side

The hosts came out with a more direct approach to the game at the start of the second half, winning three successive corners within two minutes of the restart. Kelly whipped in a fine ball from the third one which was somehow allowed to drop inside the Witton six-yard box, but no one in a white shirt was able to react quickly enough to turn the ball home

Witton were to blink first when it came to changes and made the game's first two substitutions on fifty-three minutes as Brazel came on in place of Fogerty in midfield and Connor Hughes replaced Duckworth

Witton were still heavily reliant on Pope to hold the ball up in the final third and bring the midfield into play, with the former Port Vale man shrugging off Griffiths on fifty-six minutes and laying the ball off to Hughes, whose run and shot from the edge of the penalty area was blocked by Endall's timely stop

Shortly before the hour mark, the Pitmen made their first change of the afternoon as the luckless Bailey was taken off and replaced by Barnes-Homer. Interesting fact - this was not, in fact, Barnes-Homer's Hednesford debut, having made a blink-and-you'll-miss-it cameo a whopping nineteen years ago in a game against Hitchin Town in his one-and-only previous appearance for the club

Brown made a smart stop to deny the visitors on sixty-one minutes as Endall's attempted headed clearance dropped into the path of Pope, whose ambitious lob from the edge of the penalty area was claimed by the back-tracking goalkeeper on his line

Verma's trickery earned the Pitmen in a dangerous position thirty yards from goal midway through the second half as he dribbled his way past two challenges before being brought down by Koral, earning the full-back a ticking-off from Mr Bingley. Farmer took responsibility for the kick but saw his intended cross towards Jervis headed clear by former Aston Villa man Lowton

Jervis followed team-mate Thorley into Mr Bingley's notebook on sixty-six minutes as he tracked back into defence to help McQuilkin and brought down Newell twenty-five yards from goal

A minute later, Witton again went agonisingly close to taking the lead as Lawrie got on the end of a through ball down the left and chipped it back into the box, where Kelly did enough to deny Pope with a headed clearance; the ball dropped to Newell, whose curling shot at goal from sixteen yards out was cleared off the line by Endall

However, a tight encounter took a dramatic swing in the Pitmen's direction on seventy minutes as Barnes-Homer had an immediate impact with the game's opening goal, albeit via a massive helping hand from Roberts; Farmer, McQuilkin and Jervis were all involved in the build-up down the right, culminating in McQuilkin swinging in a cross from the touchline that was glanced towards goal by the beefy Barnes-Homer. Despite there being very little pace on the effort, Roberts let the ball dribble over the goal line as he misjudged the bounce and allowed it to squirm out of his grasp. A soft, soft goal but a crucial one for the Pitmen to celebrate

Just a couple of minutes later, Witton elected to make their final change of the game as they looked to grab an immediate equaliser as Lawrie came off and was replaced by Oliver Hitchcox

Griffiths - alongside Endall and Kelly - had been superb for the Pitmen, throwing his body on the line again and again to keep his side in front and protect their precious lead. Twice in quick succession on seventy-six minutes, the Hednesford skipper rose highest to head away a Rokka corner, both coming from the left as he aimed for the towering Pope and Lowton at the far post

With twelve minutes remaining and the Pitmen looking to hang on, the vastly experienced Junior Brown - a man with well over 200 Football League appearances for the likes of Coventry City, Shrewsbury Town and Oxford United - came on in place of Farmer in midfield, which allowed Moke to play in a more advanced role for the remainder of the game

More set-pieces from Witton kept the pressure on the Hednesford defence, with Ryan Brown making a good save on eighty-one minutes to smother Lowton's downward header after Rokka had played a short corner to Newell to send over from the right

Two minutes later, Newell struck another firm shot at goal after Pope had knocked the ball down to him just inside the Pitmen's penalty area, only for the midfielder to strike a rising shot narrowly over the crossbar with a first-time effort

Any anxiety within Keys Park was essentially killed off by top scorer Verma on eighty-six minutes as he gave the Pitmen vital breathing space with his sixth goal of the season. Picking the ball up from a Barnes-Homer knock-down, Verma took the ball past two players before unleashing a powerful low shot behind the reach of Roberts from twenty-five yards out and finding the bottom corner of the net, sparking frenzied celebrations within the Heath Hayes terrace

Things got even better for the hosts as they put a gloss finish on a satisfying afternoon with a killer third goal two minutes later; an attempted backpass to Roberts from Lowton was seized upon by Moke, who jinked his way past the despairing dive of Roberts before coolly slotting into the empty net from six yards out

Nathan Delfouneso was given a short run-out from the bench for the six additional minutes as he came on in place of the hard-running Thorley in the centre of midfield

In the context of the whole season, these three points could prove a huge step towards safety for the hosts as they move to thirty-one points, just two behind Trafford with five games remaining. With Kidsgrove Athletic's form also tanking as they drop swiftly down the league table as well as the well-documented PPG table, anything around thirty-six points may well be enough for safety this season for the Pitmen, who will go to Nantwich in forty-eight hours time believing that another win there will give them a huge chance of staying at step four in 2024-2025

Hednesford Town: R. Brown, McQuilkin, Kelly, Thorley (Delfounseo 89),  Griffiths ©, Endall, Verma, Moke, Bailey (Barnes-Homer 59), Farmer (J. Brown 78), Jervis      Subs Unused: Berks, Edwards

Witton Albion: Roberts, Koral, Jackson, Harrison, Lowton, Fogerty (Brazel 53), Lawrie (Hitchcox 72), Newell, Pope, Duckworth (Hughes 53), Rokka      Subs Unused: Williams, Kennerley


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