The new season kicked off at the PRG Stadium, Keys Park as Needham Market made the long journey from Suffolk to face Hednesford Town. The Marketmen were flying high before the previous season was abandoned and with the Pitmen making significant developments to their playing squad, both sides harboured high hopes for the game and indeed the season ahead.
In the first minute Reece Styche appeared to be felled by the visitor’s goalkeeper Marcus Garnham, but to the dismay of the home supporters in the crowd a penalty was not awarded. Following a dramatic start, the game settled into an even, slightly cagey, contest with the next clear opening carved out in the 18th minute as Styche bustled into the area seeing his shot deflected behind. Kyle Rowley’s header from the subsequent corner forced a point blank save from Garnham. The breakthrough came in the 43rd minute following an extended spell of Pitmen pressure, Reece Flanagan‘s exquisite shot from the right of the area finding the bottom corner of the net.
A less than convincing start to the second half from the Pitmen saw the visitors pull a goal back in the 48th minute through a penalty conceded by Callam Mendez-Jones and converted by Luke Ingram. Six minutes later George Cater’s pacey run was ended when he was tripped in the Needham Market area, Reece Styche dispatched the spot kick to regain the home side’s lead.
The game continued at a frenetic pace with both sides going close to adding to the score line. Ingram shot wide before the Pitmen got away with some indecisive defending when the visitors blazed the ball over the bar from a goal scoring position. Pitmen skipper Courtney Richards put a shot narrowly wide and Andre Landell went close to putting the result of the game beyond doubt following some forceful attacking play from Andre Brown. A good chance fell to Needham substitute Noah Collard whose tame effort was easily gathered by Andy Wycherley.
Despite the game continuing beyond 95 minutes of play and the visitors being awarded a flurry of late freekicks, an entertaining end to end game finished in a well deserved Hednesford victory, with both sides looking like serious contenders in this year’s competition.
After the game Pitmen gaffer Keenen Meakin-Richards said; “It was a very professional performance against a very good team, both teams looked a bit nervous in the opening twenty minutes. It is a difficult league and you need to dig in for each other and that’s what we did today. Monday against Stourbridge will be another tough challenge against a good side but we are a good team as well and will go into the game with a positive attitude.”
Wycherley, Mendez-Jones (Griffiths 59), Lycett, Ison, Rowley (Bailey 71), Richards, Landell, Parker, Styche (Brown 75), Flanagan, Cater
Subs not used: Hanna, Williams
Garnham, Dye (Collard 59), Sturgess, Lawrence, Pollard, Morphew, Fennell, Hammond, Hunt (Issa 69) Ingram, (Maycock 80) Fowkes
Sub not used: Santa De La Paz