Ashton United 1-2 Hednesford Town

Hednesford returned to winning ways this afternoon, as Nick Wellecomme found his scoring touch with a match-winning brace to grab all three points for the away side

Following two disjointed games in defence, manager Rob Smith decided changes were to be made ahead of today’s game and adjusted the shape of his team. In came Kyle Haynes, Danny Quinn and Elliott Durrell, with the latter making his first start of the season after a loan spell at Evesham United. Ben Bailey’s name had been omitted from the squad, with the club confirming before kick off that the young centre back had joined Sutton Coldfield Town on loan

A sparse crowd greeted the players as they ran out onto the pitch, with the numbers hit by a contingent of Hednesford supporters who were stuck on the M6 and failed to make the game in time. The other noticeable element of the game before kick off was the length of the grass, which appeared to be far too long and lush for a competitive football match. The longer than usual grass was a result of a downpour in the Manchester area in the previous 24 hours that had meant the lawnmower at the ground could not cut the grass

Nevertheless, Hednesford looked to set their stall out early, as Quinn and striker partner Nick Wellecomme made the Ashton defence work hard from the first minute onwards. It was actually Ashton who had the first shot on goal, with Peter Wright testing Dan Crane’s reflexes with a long range shot on three minutes that the Hednesford keeper turned away for a corner kick to the hosts

Wellecomme’s physical presence and non-stop commitment bore fruit immediately for the Pitmen on nine minutes, as Jamey Osbourne’s trickery down the Hednesford right saw him beat his marker before swinging in a cross towards the near post. Wellecomme gambled and met the ball perfectly with his head, glancing the ball past Terry Smith in the Ashton goal to open his account for the season

The long grass was making it difficult for both teams to get the ball down and play, with the likes of Osbourne, Durrell and Chris Clements not getting much time with the ball at their feet. One such example of the conditions being an issue came on twelve minutes, when Quinn managed to nip in and intercept a loose pass across the Ashton defence. Quinn took the ball round the dive of Smith, but lost control of the ball in the long patch of grass in the six yard box and Ged Murphy cleared

Hednesford’s positive approach was rewarded for a second time on nineteen minutes, as the Pitmen’s pressure produced another goal for Wellecomme. Clements drove through a static Ashton defence that froze momentarily before unselfishly squaring the ball to the unmarked Wellecomme. The ball again got caught up in the long grass, but Wellecomme composed himself and had long enough to set himself and tap the ball into the empty net

Ashton had offered little in the way of a threat up to this point in the game, as the Pitmen had dictated the tempo and territory up to now. The hosts finally clicked into life after the Pitmen’s second goal, and pushed forward as they looked to get back into the game. Matty McNeill’s free kick caused confusion in the ranks on twenty eight minutes, with the ball bobbling around the six yard box until Cheyenne Dunkley hacked the ball clear

Thirty minutes in, and Ashton’s period of pressure saw them get back into the game. A ball across to Wright saw him beat Dunkley for pace before firing across the face of goal and finding the far corner of Crane’s net

Suddenly, the game was swinging in favour of the home side, as Ashton forced two successive corner kicks. The second corner drifted over the top of everyone inside the six yard box and fell to Ashton skipper Ged Murphy, who somehow sidefooted wide of goal from a couple of yards out

Ashton’s pressure continued into the early stages of the second half, as they forced Hednesford back into their own third. Chris Amadi was giving Kyle Haynes a torrid time down the Ashton left, using his pace and trickery to force the Pitmen into their own penalty area. An Ashton corner on fifty two minutes dropped to Wright six yards out, but his spectacular effort dropped well wide of goal

Clements – quiet up to this point – cleverly beat his man thirty yards out before unleashing a trademark long range shot that had Smith scrambling across goal, but ended up a good three feet wide of the post

Durrell’s lack of game time had caught up with him on the hour mark, with the playmaker withdrawn by Smith and replaced by the more defensive Chris Shaw. Campion was pushed higher up the field as a result, changing the Pitmen’s formation to more of a 3-5-2 shape

Spots of rain started to fall around the ground at this point, and there seemed a likelihood of a heavy shower as the clouds rolled in, but almost as soon as the rain arrived, it disappeared. Robinson was introduced twenty one minutes from time in place of the tiring Quinn, who had worked hard in adding to his five goal tally this season

Osbourne’s brilliant quick feet saw him dance around two desperate challenges on seventy one minutes, before he appeared to be tripped just inside the penalty area. To the disbelief of the Hednesford players and supporters, Osbourne was booked for diving by the referee, when many were calling for a penalty kick

Osbourne was in the wars again on seventy nine minutes, receiving treatment after a heavy challenge left him on the turf holding his leg; Osbourne had gone off last Saturday with injury after setting up the goal against Stocksbridge Park Steels. He eventually succumbed to the injury and was replaced by Phil Clarke

The final ten minutes saw Ashton only offer sporadic threats going forward, as the Hednesford defence looked far more solid than in the last handful of games. Indeed, Jay Denny could have finished Ashton off with a fierce long range shot that Smith did well to parry away for a corner kick on eighty three minutes

So, the Pitmen stay two points off top spot, in a day when everyone else managed to grab a win in the top six. Matlock visit Keys Park on Tuesday, with the Pitmen looking to extend an unbeaten home league record now stretching back to last November

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