The fate of the Midlands Football League Premier Division title is in the hands of Hanley Town after they beat Worcester City to retain their five-point advantage at the top of the table with just two games to go.
Reece Jones scored his 19th goal of the season just five minutes before the break to ensure that Hanley will go into Easter Monday’s monumental clash with Boldmere St.Michael’s in pole position.
Ahead of the game, Hanley were forced into a late change as goalkeeper Ben Chapman pulled up injured in the warm-up, and he was replaced by Kieran Harrison. The former Kidsgrove goalkeeper was called into action just 60 seconds into the match when forward Demetri Brown stabbed an effort goalwards. Thankfully for Hanley, it was a comfortable save for Harrison.
Last weekend Hanley looked nervous in the first half against Highgate United with some of their passes going astray. This week against Worcester, they looked assured and confident without causing the visitors too many problems.
The first chance for Hanley came on 22 minutes when captain Louis Dodds played in Chris Dagnall. The forward checked back on his defender before getting a shot away. However, the effort was weak and straight at Worcester goalkeeper Adam Harrison.
Dodds was next to have a chance for Hanley just before the half an hour mark when the former Port Vale midfielder collected the ball midway inside the Worcester half before hitting a fantastic effort goalwards, which looked destined to find the bottom corner of the goal. But, he saw his effort turned round the post for a corner by Harrison who did well to get down so quickly. From the set-piece, defender Kyle Stubbs put an effort well over the crossbar.
Hanley finally broke the deadlock just five minutes before the half-time break when Dodds played a great ball out to Charlie Walford. The left-back got forward before whipping the ball into the area where Jones was waiting. The winger couldn’t miss as he tucked the ball away for his 19th goal of the season, and it could well be the most important one he has scored to date. The goal carried extra importance as the news that Boldmere had taken the lead away at AFC Wulfrunians was starting to come through.
Worcester could have hit back with an equaliser in the final attack of the first half. A ball into Aaron Roberts saw the forward turn his man and hit an effort goalwards. However, it was a comfortable save for Kieran Harrison.
Hanley could have doubled their lead just after the break when Dagnall put an effort well over the crossbar when he should have done better. Meanwhile, Walford should have got his sixth goal of the season when he got forward and saw his effort well saved by Harrison.
Adam Harrison then made another five save on the hour mark when Dodds got himself into a great position to score, but he saw his effort blocked by the goalkeeper’s legs.
Worcester started to push forward as they searched for an equaliser in the last half an hour of the game. But, the visitors found their route to the goal blocked by former Stoke City defender Ryan Shotton, who put in several vital tackles to win the ball and keep Worcester at bay.
Dodds had a chance to wrap up the game for Hanley with just 15 minutes to go when he linked up well with Jones before getting around his defender. The ball ran towards the goal line, which made the angle narrow for Dodds, and he dragged his chance across the face of the goal.
It’s a vital win for Carl Dickinson’s men as they maintain their five-point advantage over Boldmere St.Michael’s, who won 1-0 at AFC Wulfrunians, at the top of the table. Boldmere make the trip to Hanley Town on Easter Monday in a game where Dickinson’s side can win the league should they avoid defeat against the team from Sutton Coldfield.
After the game, I spoke to player-manager Carl Dickinson.
I also caught up with the goal scorer Reece Jones.
Hanley Town: Harrison, Green, Walford (Cotterill, 83), Sanders, Stubbs, Jones, Dickinson, Dagnall, Dodds and Campbell-Gordon (Avery, 75).
Unused subs: Gibbs, Malbon and Twyford.
Worcester City: Harrison, Debar, Randle, Tilbury (Monteith, 63), Jones, Schuck, Baker, Douglas, Roberts, Brown (Maphosa, 68) and Muirhead.
Unused subs: Withington, Smith and De Garis.