UniBond Northern Premier League

Hednesford Town

Witton Albion

Peers (90)

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Tom Marshall


Prescot Cables (A) 9.4.07

Hednesford's play-off ambitions are dealt what may well be a fatal blow at Keys Park this afternoon as high-flying Witton snatched a late, late win to leave the Pitmen outside of the play-off places for the first time since the opening week of the season.


Under pressure Hednesford manager Phil Starbuck was desperately trying to arrest the slide in form that had seen his team fall from the top of the table in January to fifth place in the table at the start of this afternoon's play. There were two changes to the side that had been held to a draw against Gateshead last Saturday with Ross Adams coming back into the side to replace the suspended Gary Sucharewycz and Mario Pedro was handed a rare start as Darren Alexander was surprisingly dropped to the bench

Despite sitting in third place in the table, Witton's recent form had been inconsistent, having won three of their last five games but also losing twice. A 2-0 defeat to Fleetwood Town last weekend had left Jim Vince's side two points behind both AFC Telford United and Burscough at the top of the table but still with a shot at the title with the games starting to run out. Vince made one enforced change to his side of today's game as skipper Steve Connors was suspended and was replaced by Ross Clegg, who had recently returned to Wincham Park from Leek Town

On an overcast afternoon in South Staffordshire, the Pitmen almost grabbed a fluke opener in the first minute of the game as Iain Screaton's long throw-in bounced inside the Witton six-yard box and looked to be heading towards the corner of the net via a couple of deflections before visiting goalkeeper John Kennedy made a save

Chris White - sporting a fetching bandage around his head after requiring five stitches in a head wound suffered against Gateshead - was first to have a meaningful shot on goal in the eighth minute as collected another Screaton throw and hit a powerful shot just wide from twenty yards out with a right-footed effort

Despite their early promise, the hosts nearly found themselves a goal down four minutes later as Witton striker Mike Moseley picked up a loose pass from Jon Douglas, forcing Lee Soar to make a last-ditch tackle as the visiting forward bore down on goal

Good play from Screaton down the left on fifteen minutes saw him make a great overlap beyond Soar and cross for Ross Dyer, whose downward header from ten yards out was weak and ended up bouncing into the arms of Kennedy

Danny Bacon's right-footed shot on eighteen minutes was deflected into the path of Douglas by stand-in skipper Brian Pritchard, only for the former Coventry City youngster to drill his shot well wide of goal

Ross Adams whipped in a free-kick from the right touchline midway through the first half and found Marshall at the near post, whose glancing header drifted across the face of goal and wide of the target

Kennedy plucked a corner kick from Hadland from underneath his crossbar three minutes later as Soar tried to turn the ball home from close range by challenging the Witton stopper

Witton came back into the game and had their best spell of the game so far with two good chances to opening the scoring; on twenty-eight minutes, Mark Peers left White in his wake with a powerful run into the Hednesford penalty area before driving a low shot inches wide of Ryan Young's near post

Adam Warlow should have given the visitors the lead on the half-hour as a cross from Peers found Warlow lurking in the penalty area in behind Soar, only for Albion's top scorer to see his shot come back off the post. The rebound was picked up by the incoming Clegg, whose follow-up shot was parried away by Young from close range

Moseley did well to take the ball from a dawdling Soar on thirty-four minutes and play Peers into space down the right. Peers beat Screaton and White for pace to get to the byeline and stand up a cross to the far post, where Warlow was forced into a wild effort by the impressive Marshall

There was a brief respite for the hosts through the pace of Dyer four minutes later as he made a mazy run from the halfway line into the Witton penalty area, only for his shot to lack power and end up in the arms of Kennedy

Moseley should have given the title-chasers the lead a minute before the break but missed his kick horribly as a Peers pass fell to him just eight yards from goal, much to the amusement of the Keys Park crowd

It had been a largely frustrating half for both sides, with the defences on top in a game that had followed the routine of many recent Hednesford games - chances being wasted at both ends despite decent build-up play due to a lack of conviction in the forward players

The Pitmen looked a better prospect at the start of the second period, with Pedro finally getting himself into the game after an anonymous first half; on forty-nine minutes, Screaton's slide-rule pass into the winger's feet was taken into the penalty area by the Portuguese player, but his shot lacked direction and the ball fell wide of goal

Bacon was similarly wasteful two minutes later as his first-time shot from just inside the Witton penalty area lacked pace and direction as it zipped well wide of goal

Former Walsall man Tony Barras was on hand to deny the lively Dyer on fifty-six minutes as he eased the youngster off the ball to deny the striker a clear shot at goal from Marshall's long ball forwards

A minute later, White was taken off as a precaution after taking another blow to the head to add to his injury from last weekend and was replaced by Whittaker in midfield

On the hour mark, Douglas won a free-kick thirty yards from goal as he was brought down by Pritchard; Hadland took the resultant free-kick and sent over a fine inswinging cross into the Witton penalty area, where Bacon was first to the ball but lifted his shot from close-range over the crossbar from a promising position

Witton came back into the game after the Pitmen's fifteen-minute salvo and Young tipped a rising shot from Peers over the crossbar on sixty-four minutes for a Witton corner

The Pitmen made their second substitution of the game four minutes later as Alexander returning to the side as he replaced the desperately disappointing Pedro

Clegg showed good skill to escape the attentions of Adams on sixty-nine minutes and play the ball into the path of the tricky Peers. He took two touches before laying the ball off to Warlow, only for the Crewe loanee to lash his shot wide of goal

Witton midfielder Tom Spearritt took a quick free-kick for the away side on seventy-three minutes and played the ball to Warlow. The striker played the ball off the shins of Marshall and into the path of Moseley, whose right-footed shot flashed wide of the post

Substitute Alexander was his busy self and gave Witton's defenders something to think about with his direct running. He showed his good understanding with Dyer once more on seventy-six minutes as he played a neat one-two with the youngster but got his laces underneath the ball and lifted his shot over the crossbar from the corner of the Witton penalty area

Moseley was proving a slippery customer for the hosts with his clever running and play off Peers; his run down the left flank was picked out by the midfielder on seventy-nine minutes, cutting inside of Adams but firing wide of goal from a tight angle rather than try and pick Warlow out

Man of the match Marshall almost got the Pitmen's noses in front on eighty minutes but his header was well saved by Kennedy after he had nipped in to meet an Adams free-kick


Whittaker also tested the Witton goalkeeper's reflexes a minute later as he stooped to head a Hadland cross goalwards, which the stopper got down low to get hold of

With five minutes remaining, Soar's up and under was flicked on by Alexander and into the path of Dyer, who worked the ball onto his right foot and saw Pritchard deflect his effort away from danger

Two minutes later, Witton substitute Rob Lloyd tapped a free-kick to Clegg, whose powerfully struck shot curled towards goal but straight into the arms of Young

The game appeared to be drifting towards a hard-fought draw between the two sides until the final minute of normal time when Witton grabbed a late, late winner; Clegg took another free-kick quickly and found Warlow making a run in behind the Hednesford defence, that had stopped momentarily. Warlow laid the ball off to Peers, who was in a more central position, who took the ball around the sprawling Young and tapped the ball into the empty net

It was a late kick in the teeth for the hosts, who had no time to respond in added time as Witton held firm to record a crucial three points that put them top of the table with only six games remaining. For the Pitmen, the sad reality is that their play-off hopes are essentially over with this defeat, something that was unfathomable as recently as early March when they sat just two points behind AFC Telford at the top of the table. Starbuck's weary troops have no time to lick their wounds as they make the trip up to Merseyside on Monday night to face Prescot Cables

Hednesford Town: Young, Marshall, Screaton, White © (Whittaker 57), Adams, Soar, Pedro (Alexander 68), Screaton, Dyer, Bacon, Douglas    Sub Unused: Jenkins

Witton Albion: Kennedy, Hockenhull, Brownhill, Pritchard ©, Barras, Spearritt, Brown (Lloyd 80), Clegg, Moseley (Jones 78), Warlow, Peers      Sub Unused: Whalley