Hednesford Town’s FA Cup dreams were shattered by a late Crawley Town winner with nine minutes remaining but The Pitmen’s vociferous support which packed out three sides of Keys Park can be truly proud of their team who more than held their own against a side three leagues above them in the pyramid.
A crowd of well over 2000 crammed into the ground and created a fevered cup atmosphere as the build up which encompassed extensive TV, newspaper and radio coverage set up an engrossing First Round tie.
After a minute’s silence in honour both of Remembrance Day and the father of Pitmen fans’ favourite Nathan Woolfe, The Pitmen were fastest out of the blocks, roared on by their lively supporters in the Heath Hayes End, and a succession of corners forced a Crawley defender to slice over his own bar, under pressure from Francino Francis.
Jamey Osborne made his first contribution to the game on 16 minutes when the midfielder jinked past two challenges but sliced his shot wide of the far post.
Crawley repelled the home side’s initial wave of attacks and could have taken the lead on 18 minutes when a cross from the left was turned onto the post by Josh Simpson and the Sky Bet League One outfit began to stamp their authority on the half thereafter.
The second half started in a similar vein to the end of the first with Hednesford straining every sinew to compete with their professional visitors but just before the hour mark The Pitmen had their best spell of the game.
The home side created the best chance of the game when Neil Harvey found himself in acres of space from a Durrell free kick but headed the ball straight at Paul Jones when a yard either side would have brought an opening goal.
Osborne then cut in cleverly from the left wing and curled a shot which looked destined to find the far corner only for Jones to save brilliantly at full stretch.
A boisterous atmosphere was silenced when on 59 minutes Darren Campion diverted a goal-bound Nick Adams cross into his own net to give Crawley a fortuitous lead but the Skrill North leaders raised themselves and Osborne was the hero, as he skinned former Birmingham City full back Mat Sadler and was bundled to the ground in the penalty area.
The ever-reliable Durrell scored the most pressurised penalty he has ever taken to send Keys Park wild on 75 minutes and give them hope of a replay at the very least.
Those hopes were almost dashed immediately as Crawley countered with real intent but Mike Jones swept his shot over the bar from 12 yards when it looked easier to score.
Unfortunately for Hednesford, Crawley did grab a winner as a corner from the left wing evaded everyone except Emile Sinclair who volleyed past Dan Crane.
The Pitmen poured forward with gusto but Crawley held firm and Hednesford now have promotion aspirations rather than FA Cup glory to chase for the rest of the season.
Crane, Disney, Campion (59 og) (Rey 78), Bailey, Francis, Taylor, Osborne, Durrell (75p), Harvey, Lennon (Riley 74), Thompson-Brown (Melbourne 58)
Subs Not Used
P Jones, Hurst (Sinclair (81) 80), Sadler, Connolly, Drury (McFadzean 90), Simpson (c), Walsh, Proctor (Alexander 80), Bulman, Adams, Jones
Subs Not Used
Essam, Torres, Rooney, Maddison
Star Man – Jamey Osborne
Entertainment Rating – 5 Stars
Attendance – 2321
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Photos by Colin Rogers