Following on from their win against Winterton Rangers in the Lincs Senior Trophy, Clee made the journey to the Midlands for a second successive Saturday. They would face 2004 FA Trophy winners Hednesford Town who sat 16th in the Evostik Premier – 11 places above the Owls in the non-league pyramid.
Prize money of £4,000 was on offer for the winners of today’s tie along with the potential to lock horns with some big names from the National League North in the next round.
A large and enthusiastic away support welcomed the teams onto the pitch at the impressive Keys Park. There were 3 changes from the midweek team – Matt Bloomer, Oli Donald and Jack Richardson came in for McKay, McFarland and the suspended Flett respectively. Before the action got under way, a period of silence was impeccably observed to honour the fallen on Armistice Day.
Clee started the game with a good period of possession which ended when a left wing corner came to nothing. The Pitmen had their first dangerous moment when a break led to a deep cross, which was well cleared by Peter Winn for a throw-in.
A couple of minutes later, Luke Mascall almost got behind the home defence but he was flagged offside by the assistant.
On the 10th minute, there was a superb gesture from the Clee fans for 10 year old South Shields supporter Jak Fada, who had tragically passed away earlier in the week. A minute’s applause and chanting of the young fan’s name was joined not only by all the travelling support but by a large proportion of the home contingent as well. The non-league family had shown their solidarity for the FA Vase winners.
Hednesford came close to taking the lead in the 12th minute when a shot from James Fitzgibbon beat Richard Walton but crashed back off the post and was cleared.
The match continued to be very competitive as we passed the 20 minute mark but the Pitmen were on top at this stage. Full backs Tim Lowe and Winn were both having excellent games and were working overtime to keep the home attacks at bay.
Halfway through the first period, a corner from Joe Fitzpatrick caused a melee in the Clee box which was eventually cleared and this almost led to a chance for Danny North. However, home keeper James Wren came swiftly off his line to snuff out the danger.
Shortly afterwards Bloomer needed to accelerate sharply to prevent a ball over the top finding centre forward Joey Butlin. This was followed by more good defending from Winn, who made a clean challenge under pressure.
It was not a surprise when Hednesford made the breakthrough ten minutes before half-time, but the goal came with a good deal of controversy. A ball in to Butlin appeared be controlled by a combination of his thigh and hand before he powerfully finished from 10 yards. Referee Gardner was on the striker’s blind side and looked across to his assistant for help. There was no flag and the goal stood despite Clee’s protests.
Walton needed to be on his toes 5 minutes later when he raced off his line and did well to head clear to prevent further damage for the Owls.
The break was reached and despite the team working very hard, it had been a largely disappointing half from the visitors. Defending had been excellent but the front duo of North and Paul Beesley had been fed mainly on scraps. Better ball retention would be required if the Owls were to find a way back into the tie.
HT Hednesford Town 1 (Butlin 35) Cleethorpes Town 0
The home team had a goal ruled out on 47 minutes when a shot was well saved by Walton and the rebound was put in the net. An offside flag brought an end to Hednesford’s celebrations. This was immediately followed by a superb block from Lowe.
Clee were slowly beginning to threaten and in the 55th minute, there was a good run by Mascall but his cross could not beat two covering defenders. A couple of minutes afterwards, Lowe tried a pot shot from fully 30 yards out but his effort was well over.
Past the hour and the referee was failing to let the game flow. The whistle was being blown very regularly for what appeared to be some very minor infringements.
The Owls now enjoyed their best 10 minute period of the game but could not find the elusive equaliser. Good inter-play on the left flank led to a cross from Winn being cleared and then Clee were awarded a free-kick, 20 yards out in a central position. North aimed for the top corner but could not bring the ball down under the bar.
There was a penalty appeal when Mascall was clattered into by a defender but the referee did not give a foul. The final action in this spell saw a shot from Liam Davis well saved by Wren.
Clee were now well on top and won three successive corners without being able to fashion a clear chance. The Owls made two quick substitutions with around 15 minutes remaining. New signing Adam Drury came on for Winn, who had put in a great shift at left-back. Also introduced was Loz McKay, who replaced Davis.
It was an injection of pace from sub Drury that led to the equaliser with 12 minutes to play. Picking the ball up in the inside left channel, he surged into the box before being clumsily challenged. All eyes turned to the man in black, who pointed to the spot. North earned his reward for an afternoon of hard graft by calmly sending Wren the wrong way, to the delight of the away fans gathered behind the goal.
The Owls sensed that they could win the tie and the pace of Drury continued to be a constant threat to the home defence. He was almost in again on the 83rd minute but a defender did well to read the danger.
There was a heart in the mouth moment for Clee fans with two minutes left when a cross from the left wing flashed across Walton’s goal and this was followed by a speculative shot, which finished in the stands.
Four minutes stoppage time was indicated and Marcus Newell made his final substitution. Beesley was withdrawn in favour of Luke Aldrich.
There were no more clear cut chances during the remainder of the game and the referee’s final whistle indicated that it would be back to Bradley for a replay.
FT Hednesford Town 1 (Butlin 35) Cleethorpes Town 1 (North 78 pen) Attendance: 369
A great second half to earn a replay for the Owls, finishing much the stronger team. To use the well worn phrase, it really was “a game of two halves” and, on the balance of play, most of the crowd seemed to hold the opinion that both teams deserved to be in the hat for the next round. Also notable was the fantastic support for Clee on another lengthy trip.
The replay will be at Bradley on Wednesday (745 pm), with extra time and penalties if required. Before then, the draw for the 3rd Qualifying Round takes place at Wembley around 1pm on Monday. The 22 National North teams enter the fray along with the 14 survivors from this round to give 18 “northern” ties.
UP THE OWLS!
Updated 18:20 - 13 Nov 2017 by Club Man