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Northwich Victoria score at the end of each half to humble play-offs rivals Hednesford Town
FOOTBALL is hard to fathom.
Northwich fans held their breath following their team’s capitulation at Kendal, no doubt fearing the worst, only for the same set of players to humble Hednesford on their own pitch.
The result, at this stage of the season, is everything. It was also the right one.
Vics scored at the end of each half to claim second spot in the standings, forgetting at the first opportunity Tuesday’s collapse in Cumbria.
This performance was everything that one was not.
Goalkeeper Ben Hinchliffe was again, at least in part, their match-winner after making two stunning stops in the contest’s closing stages.
But those were isolated episodes in an otherwise comfortable afternoon.
Substitute Ben Jevons seemed certain to score seven minutes from time, but his weak contact allowed Vics’ number one to divert his shot to safety.
His reaction to stop Gary Hay’s close range effort in the dying seconds was even better.
The visitors had protected efficiently a slender, but merited, interval lead given to them by Ian Kearney’s smart finish with the half’s last attack.
He controlled Hinchliffe’s free kick with the flourish of a front man, sending the ball past custodian Dan Crane with his next touch.
Before that the two teams had fluffed one glorious chance apiece.
Steve Abbott headed too high after Ryan Wade’s dribble had ended with an inviting cross that should have hit the net, not the sky.
At the other end, Chris Clements' swerving shot scraped the bar after he had checked inside John Disney when Elliot Durrell’s deep cross located him at the back post.
Northwich had been more composed, although rarely incisive, with Kearney heading too close to Crane and Nathan Woolfe waiting too long to shoot when they had sights of goal.
Nick Wellecomme flicked wide from Darren Campion’s corner, while Jamey Osborne’s free kick was narrowly off target.
Hednesford started the second half as slowly as they did the first.
Wayne Riley drilled off target after substitute Tony Evans teed him up, then Kearney kicked over after Abbott helped on Disney’s free kick.
Vics should have doubled their tally from the period’s best passage, Field sweeping a perfect pass into Disney’s path down the right on 68 minutes.
The full back sent Wade clear, but he smacked a shot straight at Crane when the two came face-to-face.
Hednesford manager Rob Smith sent on three substitutes – Hay, Jevons and Andre Landall – that at last pushed the home team closer to their guests' goal.
Jevons and then Hay brought the best out of an in-form Hinchliffe, but the Pitmen’s pressure lacked the cohesion to be concerted.
They were floored in stoppage time when Cheyenne Dunckley, indecisive in dealing with David Fitzpatrick’s wind-assisted pass, sent Riley sprawling inside the penalty area as he tried to recover.
Skipper Darren Campion was sent off – he had been booked in the first half following a petulant tangle with Field – for his over-the-top objection before substitute Kyle Armstrong steered in from the spot.
Vics’ Star Man Ben Hinchliffe. For the second successive Saturday he made saves that earned his team maximum points.
His reaction to stop Gary Hay’s shot in the last minute was remarkable.
Word should be spared too for Tom Field, who commanded midfield with authority and was efficient in possession.
Hednesford (4-4-2) Crane (GK), Haynes (Landell 75), Johnson, Dunkley, Campion, Durrell (Jevons 69), Denny, Osborne, Clements, Wellecomme, Beesley (Hay 69)
Subs not used Bailey, Blakeman
Booked Haynes, Dunkley, Durrell (all fouls), Campion (ungentlemanly conduct)
Sent off Campion (second booking, dissent)
Northwich (4-2-3-1) Hinchliffe (GK), Disney, Kearney, Collins, Fitzpatrick, Abbott, Field, Wade (Armstrong 77), Riley, Woolfe, Clarke (Evans 46)
Subs not used Roddy, Short, Budrys
Goals Kearney 44, Armstrong 90 (+2) (penalty)
Booked Field, Collins (both fouls)
Referee Nick Hobbis (Birmingham)