New dawn has got Hednesford Town smiling again

Hednesford Town have finally been stirred from their four-year slumber.

Kieran Wells celebrates
Kieran Wells celebrates

Whether it was the disastrous near-takeover or the serious threat of relegation last season that woke them, the Pitmen are now determined to seize the day.

With chairman Steve Price backed by a new management group off the pitch and new boss Gary Hayward working wonders in the dugout, Hednesford have stormed to the top of the Southern Central Premier – but they don’t plan on stopping there.

“We would love to get promoted – that would be the icing on the cake for myself, my assistant and all the club,” said Hayward. “There are no individuals here – if we get promoted, it’s down to the whole club doing it right.”

Things came to a head in February and March after months of gradual demise, started when Hednesford were relegated from National League North in 2015/16.

Uncompetitive in the Northern Premier for more than two years, the Pitmen were in real danger of going down again when Nicky Eaden – appointed manager two days after Christmas, with Hayward as his No.2 – won just one of their first nine games in charge.

Meanwhile, off the pitch, controversial online app OWNAFC were closing in on a takeover from chairman Price – much to the concern of supporters of the 139-year-old football club.

But that’s when things began to turn.

The Pitmen suddenly reeled off three wins in a row, while the plug was pulled on the OWNAFC deal – on the day its 3,500 members were set to vote on the deal.

Hednesford earned 19 points from their final 10 games, while a new locally-based management group were put in place to assist Price with the running of the club.

Eaden left in April after clashing with the club over plans for the 2019/20 campaign and Hayward was placed in sole charge.

But with this season’s surge to the summit of the Southern Central Premier – and the third qualifying round of the FA Cup – the smiles are back at Keys Park.

“It’s a nice place to be around from the secretary to the lady in the office and everyone around,” said Hayward. “Football clubs will always have problems along the way, but we try to enjoy it as best as we can. As long as everyone is smiling and when the lads cross the line and give 100 per cent I can’t ask for anything more.

“If those lads put a shift in, we will win the game nine times out of 10.”

A late shift from the Northern Premier to the Southern Central Premier meant a summer rethink in recruitment, but the proof of success has been in the results – winning eight of their 10 matches in all competitions and conceding just four goals in eight league games so far.

“We work on set pieces very hard and on nullifying sides, but we like to keep possession and break sides down,” added Hayward. “As soon as we smell a bit of blood, we go for it.

“And we are one of the fittest sides in the league – we will keep banging the door down for however long the referee plays.”

Next up are AFC Rushden & Diamonds at Keys Park tomorrow (3pm), meaning the Pitmen would have played five of the six sides directly below them in the table.

“A lot of teams have played sides at the bottom and we’ve had a tough start,” said Hayward. “I’m hoping when we start playing some of the lower teams we can pick up points more quickly – but nothing is a given.”

Right-sided attacker Enoch Andoh – once linked with a £2.5million move to Tottenham – could make his first start after signing permanently from Macclesfield Town.

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