Diggin heads Brackley to crucial late win

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Steve Diggin’s header three minutes from time earned Brackley Town a vital three points over Conference North leaders Hednesford an a cold Saturday afternoon at St James Park.

In a high-quality encounter, it seemed the two evenly-matched sides were heading for a goalless draw, but Diggin headed home Izak Reid’s inviting cross to snatch a late win.

Earlier, Eddie Odhiambo and Brett Solkhon had both gone close for Saints, while Elliott Durrell looked dangerous for the visitors, but the breakthrough had eluded both teams until Diggin’s late winner.

The league’s top scorers had spells of dominance but Brackley’s back four once again proved hard to break down to clinch their 14th clean sheet of the season.

Manager Jon Brady kept faith with the same outfield players who shocked Gillingham, but Monday’s hero Alastair Worby was dropped from the squad altogether with Turley back in the Brackley goal.

After a subdued opening five minutes, Brackley almost took an early lead as Glenn Walker whipped in an inviting free-kick which was headed goal-wards by Brett Solkhon, but Dan Crane pulled off a superb save to tip it around the post.

Although Hednesford were enjoying more of the ball, Saints posed a threat on the break with Glenn Walker and Diggin creating moments of danger, but the game remained goalless in the first quarter.

Neil Harvey caused the first notable threat on the home goal, as he got away from the defence and fired a low shot that forced Turley into a save at his near post.

Saints then had a huge shout for a penalty turned down when Diggin looked to be barged over in the penalty box but nothing was given, much to the frustration of the home fans.

The stream of soft fouls given away by either team disrupted the flow of the game, with both Brackley and Hednesford struggling to get going as long-range efforts dominated the first half - the closest coming from Durrell’s free-kick that had to be tipped wide by Turley.

As half time approached, Brackley had a golden chance to take a lead moments before the break. It was all down to some brilliant play from Diggin as the forward won the ball back on the halfway line and sprinted down the left before squaring to the unmarked Eddie Odhiambo, but the full-back was denied by Crane.

That signalled the end of a goalless first half after an entertaining 45 minutes.

In contract to the opening period, Hednesford began the second half like a train with Durrell rifling a shot wide after the home defence had fallen asleep before the same man fizzed a cross that almost beat Turley at the back post.

The visitors remained on top for the first quarter of the half against a lackadaisical Brackley who had struggled to get going since the break and were lucky to still be level after a frenetic spell of play.

Brackley withstood the Hednesford pressure, though, and the introduction of Izak Reid completely changed the complexion of the game as the home side wrestled control to get on top and put the visiting goal under some immense pressure with corner after corner.

The impressive Diggin then came the closest of anybody as he twisted and turned inside the penalty area before curling a shot that struck the crossbar and bounced clear.

The Brackley pressure built and built as the game entered the final 10 minutes with the visitors camped deep inside their own half and finally it told with the breakthrough goal four minutes from time. Reid was the creator as he took on a man and whipped in a devilish cross that was superbly headed home by Diggin.

Hednesford came back at Saints, hoping to snatch a later equaliser, but Ryan Austin and the Brackley back four repelled everything thrown at them to hold on and clinch a crucial three points.

Brackley: Turley, Odhiambo, Austin (c), Solkhon, Sharpe, McDonald, Sandy (Reid 67), Towers, Walker, Diggin (Griffin 90), Mulligan (Mills 78).

Subs not used: Nisevic, Jarvis

Hednesford: Crane, Disney (Melbourne 45), Campion (c), Bailey, Francino, Taylor, Osbourne, Durrell (Rey 82), Harvey, Lennon (Riley 71), Thorley.

Subs not used: McCone, Thompson-Brown

Referee: John Brookes

Attendance: 448