Francino Francis, imperious in Hednesford Town’s superb rear guard action during their 2-0 win versus AFC Fylde on Tuesday night, stood dejected on the edge of the penalty area as Matlock Town substitute Lewis McMahon coolly rolled in a 91st minute spot-kick to level the scores at 2-2 and, in the space of ten minutes, perfectly demonstrate the highs and lows of a dramatic title race.
The referee adjudged that Francis had been too aggressive in challenging for an aerial cross with Gareth Davies just seconds after the stadium announcer had given Keys Park three minutes stoppage time to wait before cheering a vital 2-1 victory but, as is football’s way, the three points were cruelly snatched away and Keys Park fell silent.
The atmosphere had been so different just eight minutes previously when Hednesford took the lead for a second time in the game with one of the best free-flowing goals anyone will see at this level all season.
The move was started off by debutant Kris Taylor, signed on loan from AFC Telford United on Friday afternoon and introduced alongside Nathan Woolfe when the scores were at 0-0. The midfielder, used to playing two levels higher in the pyramid, looked a real find as, with the ball at his feet, he looked up and flighted a perfect cross field pass to the advancing Alex Melbourne.
The right back picked up the pace, played a swift one-two with Elliott Durrell and arrowed the ball across Jon Kennedy into the corner to prompt wild celebrations on the terraces.
The celebrations were born more out of relief than anything else as the home side’s attacking quartet of Neil Harvey, Aaron Rey, Kyle Patterson and Durrell failed to spark in the opening hour until the introduction of Taylor and Woolfe.
Dan Crane was forced into a superb one-on-one save as Bradley Grayson raced through on goal to almost give the visitors a surprise lead before Woolfe’s first contribution was to cut in from the right flank and deliver a curling cross towards Aaron Rey.
As the striker grappled with Matlock captain James Lukic, the defender clearly impeded his run. The referee awarded a penalty kick and subsequently gave Lukic his marching orders.
As Matlock argued the decision and did their best to unsettle Durrell, the forward calmly sent Kennedy the wrong way for his 26th goal of the season.
To Matlock’s credit, the ten men showed great fighting spirit to equalise within four minutes as McMahon broke the offside trap and brilliantly lobbed the onrushing Crane.
The home side searched admirably for a winner and it looked like Melbourne had provided it until last minute heart-ache for a Pitmen side who must now recover and tell themselves that, six points behind with three games in hand on leaders North Ferriby, the league title is still very much in their hands.
Crane, Melbourne (82), Campion ©, Bailey, Francis, MacPherson, (Taylor 55), Osborne, Durrell (64 pen), Harvey, Rey (Lennon 75), Patterson (Woolfe 55)
Subs Not Used
Kennedy, Harcourt, Featherstone, Foster, Yates, Lukic ©, Grayson (McMahon 67 (68, 90+1)), Ashmore, Gaughan, Davies, Leesley (White 90+2)
Subs Not Used
Algar, Travis, Dennis
Bookings – Osborne, Featherstone, Davies, Leesley
Sent Off – Lukic
Entertainment Rating – 3 stars
Star Man – Kris Taylor
Attendance – 391