Heath Hayes 0 Gornal Athletic 2

Tuesday 4th December 2012
Heath Hayes 0 Gornal Athletic 2
Baker Joiner Midland Alliance
At: Coppice Colliery Ground
Kick-off: 7-45 pm (delayed until 8-00 pm
Admission: £5; Programme: £1 (24 pages)
Weather: cold, dry
Attendance: 58
Duration (45): first-half: 49:06; second-half: 49:10

Where do I start with this incident-packed game? Floodlight problems, Heath Hayes goalkeeper sent off in the 10th minute, Gornal reduced to nine men, seven bookings, four different captains or a goal in each half clinched the points for the visitors? The result was certainly tough on Heath Hayes who looked a better side than one near the foot of the Baker Joiner Midland Alliance table.

Of the local games on tonight, this one appealed the most. Postponed last Tuesday, it pitted Heath Hayes looking to pick-up points to move up the table and Alliance newboys Gornal Athletic who were unbeaten in the league since the opening day of the season. And, the Coppice Colliery Ground is a nice place to visit as well.

Though 11 points clear of basement side Ellesmere Rangers, Heath Hayes (21st position with 14 points from 17 games) went into this game in second-from-bottom position in the table. They had lost their last four league games including a 5-3 defeat at Tividale on Saturday.

I saw visitors Gornal lift the West Midlands (Regional) League Premier Division shield back in May (http://pitch-side-stories.blogspot.co.uk/2012/05/saturday-5th-may-2012.html) which earned a place for this season in the Midland Alliance. They lost their opening game 5-1 at Rocester and since then have been unbeaten in their last 12 league games to occupy seventh position with 26 points from 13 games. Gornal trailed leaders Stratford Town by 17 points with five games in hand.

Briefly the pitch at the ground runs lengthway from the entrance with no access behind the far goal. All the facilities are down the left-hand side including three stands and a tea bar. A teamsheet was displayed outside the chaning rooms.

Drama before the game centered around two of the eight floodlight pylons not working (photo right) and as a result kick-off was delayed while the problem was rectified.

Eventually, 15 minutes later than scheduled, Gornal (in yellow and green) got the game underway attacking the entrance end of the Coppice Colliery Ground in the first half.

Both sides created chances during the opening exchanges and Gornal’s goalkeeper Matt Martin, deputising for James Pemberton, produced a couple of decent saves to keep out headers both from Lee Smith. The second save kept out a bullet header from Leadrun Dunlevy’s corner. In between Martin’s two saves, Gornal defender Curtis Tilt sent a free header over the bar from a right-wing corner delivered by Lee Wherton.

Then, the game erupted into life in the 10th minute, if it hadn’t already, with a hotly-disputed decision by referee Kevin Allsopp which left Heath Hayes fuming. Dave Meese put Rion Francis-Mills clear in the area only for the Gornal striker to be brought down by Adam Lane. The challenge resulted in a penalty and a red card for the unfortunate goalkeeper. After a few minutes delay, Ben Maddox went in goal and Wherton hammered home from the spot to give Gornal a 13th-minute lead.

Lane was sent off when I last visited Heath Hayes in October for the Staffs Senior Cup tie against Rocester and someone commented that tonight’s red card was his third of the season.

My initial view of the sending off of the goalkeeper didn’t contradict the referee as Lane appeared to deny a goalscoring opportunity. Maybe my eyes were focussed on Lane and Francis-Mills as ‘Grumpydwarf’ and ‘Coxey’ pointed out at half-time that, in their option, a covering defender had got back to potentially clear any shot from the striker. A yellow and not red card?

Undeterred, Heath Hayes continued to create the better chances and, in the 17th minute, Matt Martin produced a diving save to keep out a downward header from Brad Grice. As someone from Gornal commented, “Matt Martin, man of the match so far”.

My thoughts then turned to a small green raffle ticket ‘404, wondering if my luck was in tonight – no raffle wins since picking up a Cheryl Cole poster and head massager at Aberystwyth University back in March – and none tonight!

Mr Allsopp returned to centre stage with bookings for Gornal duo Pete Wood and Lee Wherton which were to prove crucial. Wherton, the Gornal captain, was sent off in the 32nd minute for retaliation following a foul by Adam Wood which earned the Heath Hayes midfielder a booking. The assessor sat behind me in the stand continued to make copious notes!

It was now 10 v 10.

Lifted, perhaps, by shouts of “Blues, keep working hard”, Heath Hayes finished the first half on the attack. They should have been awarded a penalty following a challenge inside the area on Smith. In stoppage time, Smith saw a shot blocked by a defender and Wallis had another attempt saved at the near post by Matt Martin.

Both sides demanded penalties early in the second half for fouls first on Chris Rabone and then David Waple. When Dave Meese went down inside the home area minutes later someone wondered: “either a penno or a dive?”. Neither!

The drama continued. Mr Allsopp then required brief treatment for what looked like a thigh problem. As a qualified but no longer registered referee, I did wonder for a moment if I’d be needed.

Gornal doubled their lead in the 60th minute with a goal on the break. The clearance of Smith’s long throw allowed Rabone to break upfield down the left all the way to the Heath Hayes area. He sent angled shot towards the far right post which hit backtracking John Littler before entering the net.

Joy for Gornal turned to further worries three minutes later when Wood, now wearing the captain’s armband, picked up a second booking for a foul on Dunlevy. Now 10 v 9, Curtis Tilt took over the ‘cursed’ armband.

Perhaps to the relief of the referee this was the last key incident on an eventful evening.

Could Heath Hayes make their one man advantage count? They certainly gave it a go. Smith sent a free header over the bar and Wood did the same in the space of a couple of minutes. Matt Martin continued to thwart the homesters by tipping over a cross-sum-shot from lively substitute Ryan Burgwin.

Pressure on the visitors continued and, from Burgwin’s long-throw, Andrew Davis saw a shot blocked by a defender and the impressive Matt Martin kept out a header from Grice.

Three other Midland Alliance fixtures survived the weather: Alvechurch 4 Ellesmere Rangers 2, Causeway United 1 Tipton Town 3 and Highgate United 1 Stratford Town 2. The wins lifted Gornal up to sixth position in the table while Heath Hayes remained second from bottom.

Heath Hayes (blue and white stripes / blue / white): 1. Adam Lane, 2. Brad Grice, 3. John Littler, 4. Andrew Davis, 5. Ben Maddox, 6. Adam Wood, 7. Leadrun Dunlevy, 8. Lee Smith, 9. Tom Green, 10. David Waple (capt), 11. Karl Wallis. Subs: 12. Harry Phillips (not used), 14. Adam Robinson (for Littler, 78), 15. Ryan Burgwin (for Wallis, 67), 16. Chris Deakin (for Green, 67), 17. Hayden Marklew (not used).

Gornal Athletic (Yellow/green/green): 1. Matt Martin, 2. Kristian Green, 3. Pete Wood, 4. Scott Moore, 5. Curtis Tilt, 6. Gurdeep Wilkhoo, 7. Dave Meese, 8. Lee Wherton (capt), 9. Calum Martin, 10. Rion Francis-Mills, 11. Chris Rabone. Subs: 12. Ravi Sangha (not used), 14. Matt Weyman (for Rabone, 88), 15. Kieron Bennett (for Francis-Mills, 88), 16. Ricky Nicholls (for Calum Martin, 90+3).

Referee: Kevin Allsopp (Stafford).
Assistants: James Cox and B. Tudgay.

0-1 Lee Wherton (13 pen)
0-2 John Littler (60 og)

Heath Hayes: Adam Lane (RC, 10), Adam Wood (YC, 32), Karl Wallis (YC, 36)
Gornal: Pete Wood (YC, 22), Lee Wherton (YC, 27), Lee Wherton (YC/RC, 32), Pete Wood (YC/RC, 64), Chris Rabone (YC, 67)