Hednesford 2 South Shields 1 - Report
A brace from Dan Sweeney saw Hednesford mark non-league day by securing a 2-1 win over South Shields.
In what was a convincing display from Rob Smith’s side, Sweeney netted two first-half goals to earn his team a crucial win in the Evo-Stik Premier Division.
The Pitmen enjoyed almost complete control before the break with Lee Mason then pulling a goal back for the visitors after the interval.
But in front of a passionate crowd at Key’s Park, Hednesford held on for a deserved with - which would have been more convincing had Callum Coyle converted a late chance.
Boss Smith had a selection dilema before kick-off with Charlie Gatter, Josh Craddock, Matt Dodd, Jed Davies and Sam Grimshaw all ruled out through injury.
Goalkeeper Josef Bursik, who is on loan from Stoke, was also unavailable after playing for England under-19s in their 4-1 win over Portugal.
It meant Smith opted for a 4-3-3 formation with Dan Cockerline the central striker and Dan Sweeney and Lewis Archer operating either side.
Having won promotion in each of the last three seasons, South Shields entered the clash sitting fourth in the Evo-Stik Premier Division.
But they were without former Sunderland star and talisman Julio Arca - with the visitors lining up in a 4-4-2 system that saw David Foley partner Joshua Gillies in attack.
Before kick-off there was a minute’s applause to remember longstanding Hednesford fan John Rafferty who passed away in September.
In what proved a frantic opening, it was South Shields who created the game’s first chance with Lee Mason seeing a shot from 20-yards tipped around the post by keeper Sheridon Martinez.
But from that point, it was the Pitmen who took complete control of the half - with Smith’s men opening the scoring in the seventh minute.
After full-back Matt Curley sent a dangerous ball into the box, Cockerline did well to knock it down under pressure from a defender.
And there waiting was Sweeney who fired over the line from six-yards despite the best efforts of a defender to keep it out.
Hednesford were looking organised and well-drilled in their 4-3-3 system, with South Shields struggling to create anything of note.
And the home side doubled their advantage just before the 20 minute mark with Sweeney again firing in from close range after Sam Griffiths diverted a low corner from Joe Fitzpatrick into his path.
Despite being two-goals behind, South Shields were showing very little going forward.
And Smith’s men almost grabbed a third when Callum Coyle’s pass slipped in Cockerline but keeper Liam Connell did well to race off his line and smoother.
Smith’s men then continued to dominate possession for the rest of the half but without being able to grab a third.
The visitors had to improve after the break and they almost pulled a goal back in the 50th minute when Foley turned well in the box before firing wide.
But overall the Mariners were lacking a cutting edge with frontmen Foley and Gillies both withdrawn before the hour mark.
Overall the second half was proving very even - with the next goal always going to be crucial.
And South Shields almost got it in the 66th minute when skipper Robert Briggs sent a wonderful free-kick inches past the post.
Seconds later though and visitors did give themselves hope with Lee Mason beating Martinez at his near post with a terrific strike from just inside the box.
South Shields’ new strike partnership of Carl Finnigan and Ben Harmison was making a difference.
It was Hednesford though who should have sealed the points with five minutes to play when sub Mike Howard raced down the wing before sending in a dangerous cross.
The delivery was met by Coyle but the midfielder scuffed a low strike at goal which Connell was able to claim on the goal line.
And from that point, Smith’s men held on relatively comfortably for what was a deserved win.
Hednesford: Martinez, Curley, Fox, Fitzpatrick, Galinski, Griffiths, King, Coyle, Cockerline (Mendez-Jones 83), Sweeney, Archer (Howard 75).
Subs not used: Mendez-Jones, Edge, Hollis, Veiga.
South Shields: Connell, Baxter, Adams, Turnbull (Wright 78), Morse, Brown, Mouanda, Briggs (c), Gillies (Harmison 59), Mason, Foley (Finnigan 52).
Subs not used: Hunter, Lough.