Gedling MW ……………. 3 (Harrison 60’, 71’, Piliero 85’)
Heanor Town ………….. 3 (Sleigh 18’, Ball 23’, Daley 41’)
A strike from debutant Paolo Piliero five minutes from time secured a sensational draw for Gedling Miners Welfare against Heanor Town at Plains Road.
Welfare welcomed a Town side unbeaten all season in the league but made a promising start after only 17 seconds when Curtis Millward’s inviting cross couldn’t quite reach Courtney Hastings before Matt Newton’s recycled cut back was calmly cleared by Max Thornberry.
Three minutes later, some neat interplay on the edge of the area allowed Millward and Hastings to combine once again but the latter’s low shot was tame and easy for an untroubled Wayne White.
With twelve wins under their belt this season, the Lions arrived in Mapperley knowing a win would see them end the decade top of the table. They started slowly but had a fine opportunity to go ahead with 10 minutes played.
After being found by Kyle Daley with a neatly reversed pass, Tristan Matthews made ground through a parting Gedling defence, though Keaton Sharpe was on hand to excellently palm away his stinging strike at his near post.
The chance buoyed Town who started to take a firm stronghold of the game whilst tidy in possession and only 7 minutes later they were given a chance to take the lead when Dean Gent needlessly bundled Jamie Sleigh over inside the area.
Referee Fanrang Meng pointed to the spot and Sleigh stepped up to notch his 23rd of an impressive campaign at the second attempt after Sharpe did wonderfully to save the initial attempt.
Now in the ascendency, Heanor continued to press home their advantage and only 5 minutes after going in front, they doubled their lead in spectacular fashion.
Sleigh’s cross from the right was headed away by the returning Liam Corrigan, seemingly from danger, but with astute control and awareness, Jordan Ball superbly volleyed into the top corner from all of 30 yards with Sharpe a mere spectator.
Moments later, Sharpe was called upon once again when Matthews tested him with a well-struck effort but the ‘keeper produced another fine save to keep Gedling within two.
The home side did have chances of their own in a disappointing half and just before the half hour mark Hastings did well to lose his marker to connect with Josh Thornton’s tempting cross, but the striker could only acrobatically flick wide of White’s goal.
Hastings found another opening just before the break after he was again found by Millward, however he lacked the much-needed composure and could only scuff his effort into the grateful arms of Town’s visiting stalwart who then saw his side add another only a minute later.
Gent’s loose pass inside was pounced upon by the alert Matthews and his through pass allowed Daley to delicately chip over the onrushing Sharpe to put the visitors in a commanding lead going into the interval.
Things may have worsened for the hosts seconds later when the same duo combined again, this time Daley providing the service for Matthews who could only scoop his strike over the crossbar.
Welfare did have a brace of chances to add some respectability to the half-time score line with seconds of the half remaining.
Firstly, Millward’s deflected strike from range nearly wrong-footed White who frantically clawed away the strike before Kieran Harrison’s rasping free kick shortly after clipped the top of the crossbar to sum up a frustrating opening 45 minutes for the home side.
They began the second half well, however, and immediately set about getting themselves back into the affair and the introduction of Jimmy Spiers at half time proved to be pivotal.
Some nimble footwork to dance around Rob Ritchie-Smith, having benefited from a ricocheted Harrison set piece, gave him half a yard to test White, but he couldn’t keep his effort down.
Spiers and Harrison continued to cause trouble for the visitors who struggled to deal with their respective determination and wicked deliveries and with an hour played their stubborn rear-guard finally caved.
After the excellent Matt Newton was felled by Matthews, Harrison’s low strike eluded a packed penalty area before nestling into the far corner to give Gedling some hope of an unlikely comeback.
With their tails up, the hosts took the game to their lacklustre visitors who were still in the dressing room and moments after grabbing their first, they should have added a quick-fire second.
Down the right, Newton’s dogged work found himself in behind Reece Horne and his enticing cross found an unmarked Millward who couldn’t keep his hooked volley on target.
With time ticking, a resilient Heanor side seemed to have found some sturdiness in their defensive ranks and limited Miners to shots from distance. However, that didn’t faze Harrison when, with 19 minutes remaining, he pulled another back for Gedling with a sublime strike.
Once again, Newton found himself at the heart of things with some tireless running down the left and after cutting inside, his deft layup for Harrison was perfect for the centre half to whip his strike into the far corner past a sprawling White.
Without resting on their laurels, Welfare’s intention to avoid a third loss in four was evident as they sought a late equaliser against a startled Town side limited in their attacks.
With a rare second-half venture forward, Matthews kept Sharpe on his toes with a fine curling effort from distance but the ‘keeper kept his side’s hopes alive with a smart save low to his left.
Spurred on by Sharpe’s save, Gedling continued to knock on the door in a half they were exceptional throughout in and with only 5 minutes remaining, the sensational comeback was complete.
Fighting for scraps in the middle of the park, Newton did well to squirm a loose ball into the path of Paolo Piliero and after skipping his way around Ritchie-Smith, the debutant angled a shot into the far corner across White to level the scores and snatch an unexpected point.
A wonderful comeback from Gedling who showed nothing but passion and desire to seal and unforeseen draw after trailing by three at the break. They hope for a repeat performance next weekend (04 January) when they travel to Belper United, 15:00 kick off.
Manager Andy Clerke shared his thoughts after the game: “Without a doubt a game of two halves. We thought we started bright and could have taken the lead, but errors ourselves have cost us and against a team as clinical as Heanor are, that can’t happen.
“We made changes at half time and the change in shape seemed to have the desired effect. We owe huge credit to the character of our boys in the second half. The aim was to not concede again and build our way back into the game. We ticked all the boxes.
“We’re frustrated to have gifted soft goals away, but a great second half was a pleasing way to finish the year”.
Gedling Miners Welfare Man of the Match – Kieran Harrison
Match Attendance – 251
Assistant Referees – Mick Newton & Gary Lacey
Gedling Miners Welfare – Keaton Sharpe, Charlie Roberts, Matt Newton, Liam Corrigan, Dean Gent (Jimmy Spiers 45’), Kieran Harrison, Paolo Piliero, Ross McCaughey (c), Courtney Hastings (Dwayne Brown 69’), Josh Thornton, Curtis Millward (Jermaine Palmer 67’)
Unused Substitutes – Luke Smith, Jordan Knight
Cautions – Corrigan (foul 36’), Thornton (dissent 58’), Spiers (foul 79’)
Heanor Town – Wayne White, Rob Ritchie-Smith, Reece Horne, Max Thornberry, Shaun Roulson (c), Nick Hall, Tristan Matthews, Jordan Ball, Jamie Sleigh, Samuel Birks, Kyle Daley
Unused Substitutes – Kyle Hazeldine, Fortunate Sithole, Chester Norman, James Callum, Jake Carlisle
Cautions – Matthews (foul 60’), Ritchie-Smith (dissent 70’), Sleigh (sin-binned 82’) Roulson (foul 90’)