Wednesday, March 23, 2005

Play off hopes take another dent

Hereford United's play off hopes are beginning to fade following another disappointing result at Christie Park. The 2-1 defeat leaves United in ninth place and four points out of the play off positions but with the top half so tight the play offs are becoming to look a more difficult target for them.

Hereford were without Tamika Mkandawire, who is thought to have received a knock against Crawley, meaning Tom Smith was drafted into the starting line up. Andy Tretton continued in the place of Tony James and Brian Smikle returned to the side but had to settle for a place on the bench.

The first half panned out in a much similar fashion to how the meeting between the two sides had at Edgar Street at the beginning of the month. Hereford dominated posession and Morecambe sat back and guarded their goal, often with huge numbers behind the ball. Danny Carey-Bertram turned well and shot wide after five minutes before good play around the Morecambe penalty area created a great opening for Carey-Bertram. Graham Hyde's cross to the far post was volleyed into the side netting by Carey-Bertram.

Morecambe had the ball in the net at the other end within a minute, but the goal was ruled out for offside. United continued to enjoy possession but failed to create much in way of goal scoring opportunities. In a rare Shrimps attack Michael Twiss played Wayne Curtis through on goal, but ex-Morecambe stopper Craig Mawson denied him by pushing his shot away.

Danny Williams fired a free-kick over the bar from a good position before captain Jamie Pitman put pressure on his own defence when he lost posession in his own half. However, Kieran Walmsley shot wide from the edge of the box. Carey-Bertram raced onto a brilliant pass to the right flank by Pitman and he picked out the run of Craig Stanley. Stanley's first time shot was wide though, when he would have surely scored if he had hit the target.

Lee Mills came oh so close to breaking the deadlock when he rounded his marker and, while one on one with Ryan Robinson, shot low but the 'keeper got his fingertips to it and the ball rolled inches the wrong side of the post. On the stroke of half time Morecambe came close themselves, Jim Bentley headed a corner into the six yard box and, after a scramble which saw Mawson make a good reaction save, Smith hooked the ball clear. Graham Hyde was booked in injury time.

Wayne Curtis should have put Morecambe in front soon after the restart, but having controlled the cross into the box, he shot straight at Mawson from ten yards out and the Bulls cleared their lines. Mills played a great pass to Simon Travis on the left, who then crossed to the far post where any danger was cleared by Darren Kempson. A second corner was cleared to Ryan Green who played the ball back into the far post. Robinson missed his attempted punch and Stanley swung an instinctive boot at the ball, but it fell wide.

Then, with just over an hour gone, the deadlock was broken. Stanley played a ball to the left flank, which Mills chased and did well to keep in play. He skinned one man on his way to the bye-line, where he rounded another defender and slid the ball across the goal face to the far post. Pitman got an outstretched boot to the ball to put it back into the middle, where Williams was on hand to push it over the line in front the away support of around 100.

Jimmy Harvey reacted to this by making a double substitution, and Morecambe never really looked back after this. Danny Carlton and Garry Thompson, two attacking players, were introduced. The Bulls failed to deal with a ball into the box from the right, and Michael Twiss equalised with a good volley into the top corner just six minutes after Hereford had taken the lead. The Shrimps began to dominate and a second goal seemed inevitable. Tretton headed over a dangerous cross and Pitman scrambled the corner behind for yet another corner.

Green was forced off with an injury with twenty minutes to go; he was replaced by Mark Robinson. Stanley was played through on goal by Mills as United became the side playing on the break, but he shot wide from outside of the box. Twiss found Curtis in space to the right of the box at the other end, but he was denied by a good low save by Mawson. Adam Stansfield was replaced by Lee Mills with little more than ten minutes to go.

With five minutes to go it was looking as though Hereford may hold on for a good away point, but any chances of that were foiled by referee M. Matador of Lancashire. Michael Howard played a long ball towards the Hereford goal, which Carlton chased down. Mawson came out to gather but the referee adjudged Smith to have fouled Carlton and pointed to the penalty spot. Twiss eventually stepped up and executed the penalty perfectly into the bottom corner for his seventeenth goal of the season, much to the delight of the home fans in the crowd of 1,565.

United were left frustrated that they had thrown away the lead having put in an improved first half performance compared to the form shown in recent weeks. The Bulls now face a vital part of their season when they face four of the bottom five sides in the league in their next six games. A change in form is needed quickly, or this season could prove extremely disappointing for everyone involved with Hereford United.

HUFC Team: Mawson, Green, Smith, Tretton, Travis, Stanley, Hyde, Pitman, Williams, Carey-Bertram, Mills. Subs: Robinson, Lewis, Smikle, Purdie, Stansfield.

MFC: Robinson, Heard, Kempson, Bentley, Howard, Blackburn, Walmsley, Hunter, Perkins, Twiss, Curtis. Subs: Thompson, Carlton Elam, Swan, Sollit.