Hednesford Town’s Conference promotion dreams came crashing down on a sunny day in Cheshire as, despite taking a heroic 1-0 lead with just ten minutes to go, The Pitmen were hit with two goals in a minute from their hosts Altrincham to leave Hednesford boss Rob Smith, the players and the supporters devastated after the final whistle.
It’s the hope that kills you and, on a dramatic day at Moss Lane, a superb move by substitute Robbie Thompson-Brown and Darren Campion set up Tom Thorley to nod in at the back post to send the Hednesford travelling throngs wild and give them the dream of a home Play-Off final against Guiseley next Saturday.
Unfortunately Altrincham showed real desire in their quest for an equaliser and two quality crosses with some tired defending proved the undoing for The Pitmen but boss Rob Smith could only talk of the immense pride he had in his team for their performance.
‘We didn’t leave anything in the dressing room, we gave everything we had and I’m just gutted for the lads. The end was so deflating with what’s happened to us this year; we’ve been kicked so many times with Durrell leaving, Taylor’s diagnosis of cancer and Osborne’s injury at the end. We just needed to hang on a couple of minutes more but I’ve never been as proud of a dressing room in my whole career.’
Captain Darren Campion, such a bastion of commitment and leadership throughout this season, echoed his manager’s sentiments in equally deflated fashion.
‘The spirit in the team was great today; we frustrated Altrincham for an hour, started playing our football, scored our goal but couldn’t hang on.
‘The gaffer gave a nice talk to us in the dressing room after the game about how proud he was of us. No-one would have thought we would have been at this level at the start of the season, there was no pressure on us but it was a real sucker punch towards the end.’
With the game level on aggregate at 2-2 after Wednesday’s first leg The Pitmen clearly went with a game plan to frustrate a usually fluid Altrincham passing style and thanks largely to the fine defensive performance of Ben Bailey and Paul McCone alongside the other nine players on the pitch it worked very well.
The Robins started positively and Dan Crane made two superb saves in the opening half, first to deny Scott Leather on six minutes, then Simon Richman after half an hour and a Shaun Densmore header was also hacked off the line.
The Pitmen still threatened intermittently with Marvin Johnson lively down the left wing but it was Dave Macpherson who had their best chance when Stuart Coburn tipped his header onto the bar just before half time.
The second half saw The Pitmen continue to thwart Altrincham in attack and the game became very disjointed until, with ten minutes to go, it came alive with Thorley’s goal.
Hednesford substitute Marvin Robinson headed narrowly over soon after but five minutes later James Walshaw crossed for Damian Reeves to equalise and within 90 seconds James Lawrie swept a loose ball into the net to win the match.
Alex Melbourne still had time to force a stunning save from Coburn with a 30-yard screamer but Altrincham’s lead was preserved and The Pitmen’s season has finished in crushing disappointment.
However, all Hednesford supporters who have seen so much drama this season will agree that their squad of players, showing such genuine commitment and desire to fight for every cause, getting cruelly beaten at the last, have done their club immensely proud.
Crane, Disney, Campion ©, Bailey, McCone, Macpherson (Thompson-Brown 55), Taylor (Robinson 75), Johnson, Glover (Sullivan 88), Melbourne, Thorley (80)
Subs Not Used
Coburn, Densmore ©, Griffin (Marshall 83), Moult, Havern, Leather, Lawrie, Richman, Walshaw, Reeves (Perry 87), Clee
Subs Not Used
Doughty, Wilkinson, Saunders
Bookings – Taylor
Attendance – 1974
Star Man – Paul McCone
Entertainment Rating – 4 Stars
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Photos by Colin Rogers