Second half goals from substitute Sam Birks and Jesse Vowles completed a spirited comeback for Heanor Town as they drew with Gedling Miners Welfare at Plains Road.
Jack Jepson’s 18th minute goal was cancelled out by Jamie Sleigh’s penalty 2 minutes from half time before goals from Joe Meakin and Jurgen Charlesworth had put the home side in a commanding 3-1 lead.
Birks reduced the deficit just after the hour before Vowles’ superb effort 5 minutes later gave the Lions an unlikely point from the game.
The home side set the tone early on as they sought to avoid back-to-back defeats following a 4-2 loss last time out at Ashby Ivanhoe.
Joe Meakin forced Town full back Harry Towner into a hastily rushed clearance after only 2 minutes with a wicked low cross from the right before the danger was fully averted.
3 minutes later and Courtney Hastings’ rash shot comfortably flew wide of debutant ‘keeper Josh Mason-Barrett’s post as Gedling showed early signs of potential.
Heanor’s best opportunity came via top goalscorer Jamie Sleigh on 10 minutes but after the striker did well to avoid the attention of Dwayne Brown, his stinging shot was excellently tipped over his crossbar by Danny Brown.
Gedling continued to control the opening exchanges as the game turned feisty and their committed mentality was none more so evidential than Martin Holt’s crunching challenge on Rob Ritchie-Smith who felt the full force of the defender’s tackle after a quarter of an hour. From the resulting free kick, Kyle Daley’s effort sailed high and wide over his target.
Despite the chances, Heanor struggled with the host’s dominance and were only restricted to efforts from distance as Brown and his defensive four remained fairly unworried early on.
Going forward Gedling were impressive and their retention of the ball was matched by some clever and improvised off-the-ball movement that incessantly worried the visitors and after 18 minutes they deservedly look the lead.
After Meakin and Jurgen Charlesworth had linked up well down the right, the ball eventually found its way to Hastings and his superb pinpoint cross found an unmarked Jepson who flicked home past a sprawling Mason-Barrett who couldn’t prevent the talisman notching his 16th goal in all competitions this season.
On the contrary, the visitors posed very little going forward and their long ball approach to a very isolated Sleigh proved insufficient as Gedling comfortably soaked up any pressure. The home side should have doubled their lead on 26 minutes but after Jepson found some fortune in the box following a scramble amidst a dangerous Hasting’s corner, Mason-Barrett excellently matched the goal bound effort with a fine one-handed save to keep his side from going further behind.
The attacking trio of Hastings, Charlesworth and Jepson had begun well and the latter was a particular thorn in a very nervy Town defence as his movement started to concern the Heanor centre back partnership of Jack Coulson and skipper Jake Carlisle who found it difficult tracking the quick mindedness and direct approach of the striker all afternoon.
As the half progressed, the travellers, whilst often neat in possession emanating from the impressive Ben Cartwright in the middle, failed to carve open any real opportunities for themselves and never looked like drawing the scoreline level.
Their best chance came 10 minutes before the half and following a deep cross from full back Jake McIntosh, the nod down from Sleigh was met by Max McClead but the midfielder could only sweep over Brown’s goal from 10 yards out as he vented his frustration.
Gedling continued to push forward in a 45 minutes they completely dominated and controlled and the visitors will be thankful for their 16-year-old stalwart between the sticks who kept them in the tie. 5 minutes before the break, and in a carbon copy to his earlier chance, Jepson’s fiercely struck volley from 10 yards out, following another Hasting’s set piece, was wonderfully tipped onto the crossbar by Mason-Barrett and around for a corner as he took the accolades from his relieved colleagues.
However, the young stopper could do nothing from Miners doubling their lead from the resultant corner.
This time the danger was cleared at the first attempt but following up his own cross and after setting himself up for the shot brilliantly, Meakin took aim and fired a venomous volley over the crowded penalty area and Mason-Barrett could do nothing to stop the strike as it was beyond him before he could react. A fine effort from Meakin to record his 2nd in as many games and deservedly extend the score for Gedling who looked good for their lead.
Looking to avoid a third successive defeat following losses against Sherwood Colliery and Selston, the visitors knew they had been second best and, through their own admission, were poor in a first period that was arguably Gedling’s best showing of the season.
Despite threatening very little, however, Town were given a lifeline only 2 minutes later when a hopeful punt forward wasn’t dealt with and after Daley had gotten to the bounce ahead of Holt, the defender could only bundle the winger over and referee Scott Mason had no hesitation in pointing to the spot.
Sleigh stepped up and hammered the penalty past Brown sending the ‘keeper the wrong way for his 18th league goal of the campaign.
Lions manager Neil Walton admitted after the game that Sleigh’s goal just before the break changed their whole complexion going into the second half and it was evident as the visitors came out sharper and with more intent as they looked to put a forgetful first period behind them.
Pushing for an early equaliser, the game was stretched and allowed ample opportunities for both teams to advance forward. Though Gedling continued to enjoy the better spells of possession and they seemed undeterred by Heanor’s passage back into the game shortly before the interval. 6 minutes after the restart and following a miscued free kick from Hastings, Jepson reacted quickest but his powerful shot from an angle could only trouble the side netting.
4 minutes later and Charlesworth’s speculative volley from a Luke Smith free kick had Mason-Barrett scrambling to cover his right-hand post but the ball trickled wide. However, not long after the home side did manage to add a warranted third.
Following some fine interplay down the left between Meakin and McCaughey, a fine cross from the latter wasn’t cleared with conviction by Carlisle and the ball fell kindly to Charlesworth who drilled a wicked strike into the bottom corner from 12 yards out past the despairing Mason-Barrett to regain Gedling’s 2 goal cushion.
Despite the scoreline, Gedling didn’t rest on their laurels and continued to pour forward looking to put the game out of Heanor’s reach. Only 2 minutes after extending their lead, controversy ensued as there were strong claims for a penalty after Jepson was scythed down from behind by Coulson but referee Mason waved away all protests as the visitors broke downfield.
With the ball then finding its way to Cartwright, his defence-splitting pass into the path of Samuel Birks was excellent and the substitute rounded the onrushing Brown and slotted home to give Town a way back into the game following an almost instant reply as Gedling’s continued appeals were ignored.
When the game settled, Jepson should have added to his personal tally but after another accurate cross from McCaughey found him unmarked, he could only divert his stooping header wide of the mark as the defensive queries were prompt.
The chance came and went as Gedling couldn’t quite find the goal that would seal a merited and much needed 3 points as they look to pull away from relegation danger. Though despite being on top and in full control of the encounter for the most part, the sucker punch came 20 minutes from time when the Lions equalised.
After clever deception allowed him to skip over McCaughey’s challenge, Jesse Vowles advanced forward and after creating half a yard, unleashed a thunderous strike into the top far corner past Brown as the away fans congregated to celebrate the effort.
Despite the setback, Gedling resumed with their approach and pushed toward regaining the lead but were thwarted by a resilient Town defence who had calmed following a nervy start to the game. However, as the final few minutes approached, the game mellowed and both sides couldn’t create any real noteworthy chances as Heanor looked to take an unlikely share of the spoils back to Derbyshire.
They may have taken all 3 points back home with them following a flurry of late chances. With a minute left, Vowles looked to emulate his earlier effort with a dipping shot that Brown did wonderfully to tip over. Deep into injury time and, from the right, Cartwright fired a dangerous cross that found Daley at the back stick, but could only spoon his shot high over the crossbar with the final kick of the game.
A fine performance from Gedling who were impressive and did more than enough to seal all 3 points. They face an important bottom-of-the-table clash next Saturday (19th January) when they travel to face Borrowash Victoria at the Anderson Electrical Arena, kick off 3pm.