Hednesford Town’s Vanarama Conference North play-off hopes took what could prove to be a critical blow at The Lamb as a Tamworth side, just a point ahead in fourth place before kick-off, scored three unanswered goals in a harrowing second half for The Pitmen who had gone into the break a goal to the good.
In a tinderbox atmosphere swelled by the hundreds of Hednesford supporters heeding Rob Smith’s pre-match call to arms in creating a real din in the Meadow Street End, The Pitmen could have opened the scoring within two minutes when, following a corner, recent loan signing Jordan Tunnicliffe hit the upright before the referee blew for an infringement.
Hednesford had started by far the more positive and forced James Belshaw into a fine save on 13 minutes when Jamey Osborne ran with his usual intent towards goal, Tom Thorley then set up Steve Diggin whose curling shot from the left corner of the area had to be palmed away by the Tamworth goalkeeper.
Leon Mettam, looking lively up front for the home side, was very unlucky not to score when he connected perfectly with a right wing cross only for the ball to cannon off the face of Dan Crane in goal before Mettam came close to finishing a flowing Tamworth move with a sharp turn and rasping drive just over the bar on 25 minutes.
As Tamworth continued to turn the screw with Hednesford’s strikers struggling to make any real impact up front and Kevin Thornton looking very comfortable in midfield, Crane was called into a brave save when Hibbert won a rare header against the imperious Ben Bailey and set Mettam away.
With the scores still level it was the Hednesford fans who were sent wild on 44 minutes when a Kerry corner was met by Hurst with a thunderous header to open the scoring.
The atmosphere at half-time was hugely positive for the away side with Pitmen play-off dreams very much alive until Tamworth’s equaliser on 64 minutes changed the tone of the match immeasurably.
A long throw on the left wing found its way too easily to Hibbert who turned a Hednesford defender superbly and lashed the ball into the roof of the net. The Pitmen looked rocked by the return to parity as Shane Clarke missed a great opportunity shortly afterwards, lashing over horribly when clean through.
That next goal came on 79 minutes when Hibbert hit a half-volley from the edge of the area which arced agonisingly past the attempts of Crane to tip it over the bar and, with the Pitmen desperately searching for an equaliser, Hibbert secured his hat-trick three minutes later.
The final whistle signalled wild celebrations in the Tamworth end, but those Hednesford fans who had stayed until the end looked crestfallen at a third defeat in a row which sees The Pitmen drop out of the top five having played more games than those teams around them.
Rob Smith has masterminded some truly special results in his career at Hednesford and may now realistically need five wins from the final five games to lead his committed team once again into the end of season shake-up.
Belshaw (c), Wilkins, Trainer, James, Smith, Adams, Taylor (Jackson 54), Clarke, Mettam (Styche 74), Hibbert (64, 79, 82), Thornton (Davies 89),
Subs Not Used: McGarr, Morrell,
Crane, Hurst (c) (44), Walker, Bailey, Tunnicliffe, Thorley, Osborne (Campion 83) Thomas, Diggin (Strain 74), Rushton, Kerry (Todd 72),
Subs Not Used: Robinson, Westwood,
Bookings – Thornton, Kerry
Star Man – Dave Hibbert
Entertainment Rating – 3 Stars
Attendance – 1274