Dr. Martens Southern Premier League

Worcester City

Hednesford Town

Craven (44)

(0) 0

(1) 1



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Dean Craven



Folkestone Invicta (H) 2.3.02

Injury-hit Hednesford gave themselves a huge boost in their fight against the drop this evening with a battling display at high-flying Worcester City to take all three points at St. George's Lane

Saturday had been a grim reminder of the Pitmen's fragile confidence after a heavy 4-1 defeat at the hands of Welling United, thus ending Hednesford's three-game mini-revival and leaving them just a couple of points clear of the bottom three. Manager Kenny Hibbitt was facing something of an injury crisis going into tonight's game as he was without senior players Russell Dodd, Graham Lancashire, Matt Gardiner, Andy Brownrigg, Stuart Lake and Tom Poston. This saw recalls for Dean Craven, Kevin Francis, Stewart Airdrie and Ashley Williams as Hibbitt was forced into four changes to the side that had started at Park View Road on Saturday

John Barton's experienced Worcester side had continued to press the top four teams all season long without really looking a threat to the title ambitions of the likes of Tamworth, Crawley and Kettering Town. Saturday had seen them travel to Hinckley United and come away with a 0-0 draw at Middlefield Lane, continuing their mixed run of recent form in the Dr. Martens League. Barton made one change to the side that had started at the weekend as Stewart Hadley came back into the side in place of Dwaine McFarlane

Under the St. George's Lane floodlights and with a healthy home crowd in attendance, City went close to taking the lead with their first attack of the game in the second minute; Leon Jackson - a target of Hibbitt's recently until he chose to join Worcester from Hinckley - got on the end of a cross from Hadley and flicked the ball on towards goal, only to miss Mark Gayle's near post by a matter of inches


The red-clad Pitmen were more muted in their approach, with only a blocked shot from new signing Derek Rae to show for their endeavours in the opening few minutes of the game


Worcester went close again in the tenth minute as a run from Allan Davies saw him get to the byeline and whip in a dangerous cross that Darren Middleton turned just wide with a first-time effort from twelve yards out

The Pitmen's first real effort of the night came in the sixteenth minute of a competitive game as Craven did well to play Airdrie in on goal with an incisive through-ball, only for the winger to pull his shot wide of Danny McDonnell's goal. On second viewing, perhaps a pass to Neil Davis would have been a better option as the striker had evaded the attentions of Carl Heeley momentarily

A minute later, Craven was involved again as his inswinging corner kick was played into the path of Airdrie, whose recycled cross was turned into the hands of the grateful McDonnell by Francis from close range

The midfield areas was an attritional battle between the sides throughout the first half, with both teams struggling to gain the upper hand through the middle of the park. Ex-Hednesford favourite Paul Carty slashed a shot well wide of goal on twenty minutes after making a move into the Pitmen's final third from left-back

Four minutes later, superb wing play from Airdrie saw him drift past two challenges as he cut inside from the left before playing a chipped cross into the area where Francis headed over the crossbar

A long throw from Carty on the half-hour mark was flicked on at the near post by Heeley and into the path of Middleton once more, but a combination of skipper Mark Haran's presence and a bout of dithering from the Worcester man saw the Pitmen eventually clear their lines

Rae did well to win the ball back for the Pitmen on thirty-five minutes and supply Davis with a fine forward pass that put the Hednesford striker in behind Heeley. However, Carty had spotted the danger early on and made a timely block to deny his former team-mate a shot at goal

A minute later, Jackson was narrowly off target for the hosts as another long throw from Carty was flicked on by what appeared to be the arm of Hadley to the midfielder, whose long-range effort dipped over the crossbar

With half-time looming large, the Pitmen were handed a huge slice of good fortune as they took the lead with what proved to be the winning goal. Craven picked up a Wayne Simpson pass out wide on the right flank and took a touch before looking to cross for Francis. Craven's inswinging ball from the flank caught a freak gust of wind in a timely manner, taking the ball over the head of McDonnell and into the far corner of the net to hand Hednesford the half-time lead and change both manager's half-time talks in the process

Clearly lifted by the pre-half-time goal, the Pitmen were far more assertive in the second half against a disappointing Worcester side who remain a side struggling for form at present as they slip further away from the title race at a crucial stage in the season. On fifty-two minutes, a neat piece of interplay between the excellent Craven, Airdrie and Francis saw the ball worked to Rae, whose low drive at the far post was drilled just wide of the target

A fine run from Davis three minutes later saw him skip away from Carty down the right-wing as Craven played a delightful ball to him down the line. The striker took a touch and sent over a low cross into the six-yard box where Francis was a matter of inches away from turning the loose ball home as he missed his kick from three yards out

The home supporters were starting to get a little restless at another poor showing from their side, particularly against a plucky and spirited Hednesford side struggling towards the foot of the table and whom they had beaten easily at Keys Park last month. Heeley headed well, well wide of goal on fifty-eight minutes from a Davies cross, whilst Martin Bullock was pulled up by an offside flag two minutes later after Carty had played him in on goal

A rare opening for City came on sixty-five minutes as a quick break through the middle saw Adam Webster played clear of Lee Barrow, only for his long-range effort on the run flying over Gayle's crossbar

McFarlane had come on for Jackson and had a good chance to level matters on sixty-eight minutes as he exchanged passes with Middleton on the edge of the Hednesford penalty area before side-stepping Simpson's tackle and firing just wide of goal

Haran headed well over from Craven's corner kick on seventy-one minutes before the visitors had a glorious chance to settle the game with fifteen minutes remaining; Rae's perfectly-weighted through ball found Davis clear of the Worcester defence and in on goal, but rather than shoot at goal he elected to pass to Francis, who was denied a clear shot at goal by a last-ditch challenge from Middleton

From the resultant Craven corner kick, Barrow stole in at the near post to meet the ball and saw his header glanced off the top of the crossbar before ending up in amongst the Hednesford fans behind the goal

Good play from Hadley on eighty minutes saw him create a pocket of space for himself out on the right before searching out Webster with a fine reverse pass. The striker took one touch too many perhaps and ended up dragging his shot wide of goal as Simpson attempted to cover

Carty's deep cross to the far post three minutes later found Bullock unmarked, only for his header back across the face of the Hednesford goal to fall at the feet of Richard Lucas to clear rather than anyone in a blue and white shirt

With four minutes remaining, Airdrie did well to stand up a cross to the far post for Francis to attack with his head, only for the veteran striker to nod his effort into the side-netting

Gayle made the first of two timely saves in the closing minutes of the game with three minutes left as he did well to palm away a Webster drive from close-range following good play from McFarlane

In the final minute of the game, Gayle made an even better save as he dived full-length to his right to turn away a goalbound drive from Hadley as Worcester were camped inside the Hednesford third of the pitch

Damien Charie was brought on in place of Craven in added time in a bid to fritter away a few seconds as the Pitmen looked to hang on to their slender lead. Mark Burrow's late shot from a corner kick was blocked by Barrow in added time before Heeley headed over from the resultant Middleton corner kick with the home side's final chance of a frustrating evening

It had been a display of fine character form the Pitmen, who once again proved that when they are showing togetherness and cutting out the sloppy individual errors at the back are a decent side at this level under Hibbitt's stewardship. The key is to show more of this on a consistent basis to lift them away from the dreaded drop zone in the next few games, starting on Saturday with the first-ever visit to Keys Park of mid-table dwelling Folkestone Invicta

Worcester City: McDonnell, Davies, Carty, Heeley ©, Burrow, Holloway, Jackson (McFarlane 60), Middleton, Webster, Bullock (Jukes 78), Hadley      Sub Unused: Hyde

Hednesford Town: Gayle, Craven (Charie 90)Lucas, Haran ©, WilliamsBarrow, Simpson, Rae, Davis, Francis, Airdrie     Subs Unused: Ajet, Shakespeare