Express & Star

Kidderminster Harriers 3 AFC Telford 0 - Report

They say the best part about banging your head against a brick wall is when it stops.

Aggborough Stadium

Bucks manager Kevin Wilkin has given the impression of a man who has been doing just that, and the good news for Wilkin and fans of the Bucks is that the club’s calamitous 2022/23 campaign is now just two games short of its conclusion.

Knowing that an end to the pain is imminent will surely be a relief to all concerned. Wilkin is shrewd and handles the media with candour; however, after this defeat, it was evident that there was much more he could have said, were he so inclined.

In the Worcestershire town renowned for its carpet-making, the Bucks rolled out the red carpet and laid down the welcome mat for the hosts, who strolled into an early lead they never relinquished.

The most frustrating aspect for Wilkin was that he had warned his team to be on their guard against opponents who are quick out of the starting gate. In 5 of their last 6 matches, Harriers had scored in the first 10 minutes of the game, but those warnings went unheeded.

Barely a minute had passed when Harriers won a corner, and from the delivery, the Bucks were at sixes and sevens, allowing Shane Byrne to finish from close range at the far post. Byrne, the Harriers captain and a player who enjoyed plenty of good times under Wilkin at Brackley, helped to run the show, and he enjoyed his celebrations.

Wilkin had restored defenders Luke Burke and Harry Flowers to his defence, both having served suspensions for recent red cards. Flowers played alongside Nathan Cameron and Liam Nolan, with Burke and Brendon Daniels as wing-backs.

It took the Bucks time to settle, and Ashley Hemmings almost punished them a second time, but his driven cross from the left couldn't pick out anyone in red and white.

Wilkin’s side established a little more possession, and Harrier Alex Penny was the first player cautioned when he was late in the tackle trying to stop Jamie Allen from crossing from the right. The subsequent free-kick allowed Daniels to whip over an inswinger that glanced off the head of a Harriers defender and just wide of the far post for a corner.

In the 18th minute, the Bucks' defence was sprung by Hemmings, popping up on the right and getting into space to race onto a goal-kick; Hemmings tried to beat Joe Young at his near post, but the keeper beat the effort away.

Young had to be watchful to take a steepling Joe Leesley delivery from a free-kick out of the air, under pressure from Hemmings, and although Harriers weren’t launching wave after wave of attacks, they were threatening the goal more often than the Bucks.

Montel Gibson cut a frustrated figure; he held up the ball well, but his body language suggested his teammates weren’t making themselves available. That led to him taking on over-ambitious shots from a distance that posed no real danger to Christian Dibble’s goal.

Young took a header from a free-kick to the far post out of the air one-handed and then pushed wide a low shot from Zak Brown that was probably going into the side netting, the Wolves loanee unwilling to take the chance of letting it go.

The Bucks had remained in the contest, and as half-time approached they began to show signs there may be something in the game for them. Gibson again held the ball up well before drifting infield, and this time found support as Luke Burke overlapped on the right. Burke’s cross to the far post found Gibson’s onward run into the penalty area, but his downward header bounced up and over from 8 yards out rather than finding the target.

Half Time: Kidderminster Harriers 1-0 AFC Telford United

After a disastrous start, the Bucks had edged their way back into the game, but Wilkin must have been looking for the nearest wall to recommence banging his head against as his side folded in the first 10 minutes of the second half.

The warning signs were there when former Buck Amari Morgan-Smith allowed a low cross from the left to run past him to Hemmings, whose first-time effort with his left foot flew high over Young’s crossbar when the keeper should have been tested.

Young was soon to be tested, however; in the 50th minute, a Harriers’ corner to the far post was met by Penny’s header; Young, unsighted, pushed the ball upwards from point-blank range. Byrne, eager for a second goal, headed the loose ball onto the bar and as the Bucks watched events unfold in slow motion, defender Krystian Pearce rose to nod the rebound into the net.

The Bucks did find a response, and from a corner on the left, Cameron directed a header towards Dibble that the Harriers’ keeper instinctively got a glove to, preventing it from creeping inside his far post.

The gap between the sides was soon to extend to three goals. Flowers played a ball into no man’s land, one that was picked off by Hemmings, and the fleet-footed attacker drove infield with only Flowers as cover for Young, trying to atone for his error. Hemmings breezed past him and lashed a left-footer past Young to his right from around the penalty spot, comprehensively punishing the Bucks’ lax play.

The Bucks were, or should have been playing for their pride, and from that point onwards it became a case of damage limitation, although Harriers didn’t go for the jugular.

Cameron continued after appearing to experience a back or neck spasm in a concerning moment, and Wilkin introduced Brad Bood and Luke Rowe for Daniels and Robbie Evans, the normally industrious skipper having been outmanoeuvred in midfield by Byrne and Leesley.

Bood showed some determination and fight on his arrival, as did Rowe, who has been an absentee through an illness he had been unable to shake off. Rowe did bring a save from Dibble in the closing minutes, stealing forwards to direct a header at Dibble, one which the

keeper made heavy weather of. Given how little he’d been called upon, he’d perhaps done well to stay awake.

The game ended with Young pushing away a shot from Harriers substitute Jack Bearne, the on-loan Liverpool youngster eager to make a late impression, but his colleagues had already put the game well beyond a lack-lustre Bucks side who appeared to be just wishing it was over.

Kevin Wilkin gives that impression too, but for a different reason; the sooner it ends, the sooner he can start putting in place building blocks that don't give him as much cause to bash his head against them.

Referee: Stuart Morland.

Assistants: Luis Griffiths, Simon Robinson.

Attendance: 2,536 (137 from Telford).

Telford: Young, Burke, Daniels (Bood 71), Flowers, Cameron, Nolan, Moore, Evans (Rowe 71), Ekpolo, Daniels, Gibson (Salmon 84), Allen.

Subs not used: Livingstone, Williams.

Kidderminster Harriers: Dibble, Penny, Richards, Pearce, Morrison, Foulkes, Byrne (c), Leesley, Brown, Hemmings (Bearne 82), Morgan-Smith (Hall 85).

Subs not used: Palmer, Knight-Percival.

Cautioned: Penny.

Scorers: Byrne (1), Pearce (50), Hemmings (54)