Francino Francis was the hero for Hednesford Town as the Pitmen central defender swept in a superb winner in torrential August Bank Holiday rain as Rob Smith’s depleted side secured a vital three points against local rivals Solihull Moors.
Saturday’s draw with Gloucester City saw both Glenn Walker and Tom Thorley pick up long term injuries, a broken foot and broken arm respectively, and the Pitmen squad was stretched to the limit as a result.
Darren Campion and Kris Taylor both shook off fitness doubts to play for the home side with Tom Peers and Dominic Dell being handed starting berths in attack against a strong and highly physical Solihull outfit.
It was the away team who started positively, peppering the Hednesford defence with long balls into the area, but Francis alongside first Paul McCone, who succumbed to an injury after 20 minutes, and then his replacement Ben Bailey, dealt with the aerial threat admirably.
Peers came closest with a left foot volley for the home side, saved well by Tony Breeden at the near post but the home side seized the initiative as, with just over half of the first period gone, a suicidal square ball across the Solihull defence was intercepted by Peers who advanced on goal and cheekily waited for Breeden to commit himself before calmly lifting the ball into the net.
Hednesford goal keeper Dan Crane had to be alert off his line to smother Junior English as he rushed onto a loose ball but the Pitmen continued to deal with Solihull’s aerial assault until the interval in miserably wet conditions.
Solihull equalised out of the blue shortly after the break as the umpteenth hopeful ball into the box wasn’t cleared fully by the Hednesford defence and Liam Daly, up from the back, superbly half volleyed the ball past Crane on 52 minutes.
Dell made way for Marvin Robinson shortly afterwards as the Pitmen looked for more bite in attack and Danny Glover, fresh from his astonishing free kick against Harrogate last week, saw his shot from distance deflect off a monumental defensive wall and loop inches over the crossbar on 64 minutes.
Ryan Beswick had a great chance to put the Moors in front four minutes later as he played the ball off Ryan Bogle and hit an unstoppable left-footed shot off the underside of the crossbar before Kris Taylor’s free kick hit the angle of post and bar for Hednesford.
With six minutes to go the Pitmen won the match when Francis strode out of defence, played a one two with Robinson and swept the ball past Breeden to send the Heath Hayes End wild.
Michael Taylor should have equalised in stoppage time when Dan Crane made another one of his trademark late wonder saves to keep the score at 2-1 and, once Taylor had ballooned his last chance well over the bar, Keys Park could rejoice at a second straight home win, which in the circumstances of a dire injury crisis, must go down as a superb effort by all the squad members involved.
Crane, Ashmore, Campion ©, McCone (Bailey 21), Francis (84), Taylor, Osborne, Melbourne, Glover, Dell (Robinson 59), Peers (25) (Macpherson 90)
Subs Not Used
Breeden, Nottingham, Langdon (Gough 46), Denny, Daly, Elvins ©, Story (Taylor 79), English (Beswick (69)), Bogle, Taundry, Brown
Subs Not Used
Bookings – Nottingham, Brown
Entertainment Rating – 3 stars
Star Man – Francino Francis
Attendance – 553