Posted by: Laura Hammond
Mon 20th March 2023
Written by Will Sendel
Despite a resilient defensive performance from Alfreton Town, a late header from ex-Premier League striker Nathan Delfouneso saw visiting AFC Fylde walk away with all three points on Saturday (March 18) afternoon.
The loss meant that Alfreton failed to close the gap on the play-off places.
The Reds put on a strong display against the team at the top of the league, and could have won had their attack been clinical in front of goal.
Billy Heath was forced to adjust his forward line, with top goal scorer Matt Rhead suspended for two games after picking up his tenth booking of the season. In-form Jordan Thewlis was omitted due to injury, with Tom Denton and Ahmed Salam coming in.
From kick-off Alfreton were under the cosh. Early attacks from Fylde were dealt with well, particularly one stunning block in the second minute when Dom Smith valiantly prevented a goal-bound effort.
George Willis played a key role in keeping The Often level early on. A powerful header from opposition striker Luke Conlan seemed destined for the net until Willis made a wonderful save, sprawling low to his left.
Alfreton’s defence continued to excel throughout the first half, with Adam Lund, Danny Preston and Dom Smith all making crucial blocks in the penalty box.
Lund was particularly impressive in keeping the league leaders at bay. A long ball into the Alfreton box looked dangerous until his breath-taking sliding tackle forced the ball out for a throw in.
The Reds’ back four has been one of the biggest factors in the promotion push this season, boasting the joint best defensive record in the league. The team have conceded just 33 goals in the campaign.
As the first half went on the hosts grew into the game, gaining much-needed confidence. Most Alfreton attacks were created through Yusifu Ceesay on the right, who generated some good chances but nothing which threatened to break the deadlock.
In the 36th minute an Alfreton corner saw the ball find the back of the opposition net, but the elation from the home fans was short-lived when the referee disallowed the goal for a soft foul on The Coasters’ keeper.
The teams went into the break level, though in the second minute of injury time Dan Pike should have put the visitors ahead. After weaving into Alfreton’s penalty box, a powerful strike from the full-back beat Willis but ricocheted off the post and away from danger.
The second half was a scrappier affair than the first. George Cantrill picked up The Reds’ first booking of the game after needlessly tripping up Nick Haughton in the middle of the pitch in the 65th minute.
Just five minutes after Cantrill, Lund was shown a yellow card for a reckless challenge. In the 75th minute the hosts received yet another booking, this time for Danny Preston, who was judged to have committed a foul despite seemingly winning the ball fairly.
Alfreton’s string of cautions was capitalised on by Fylde in the 80th minute, when a headed goal put the visitors in front.
A harsh free kick was given against Ceesay deep in the opponent’s half, from which a long pass by Danny Pike reached the right side of Alfreton’s penalty area. An inviting cross into the six-yard box allowed ex-Aston Villa striker Delfouneso to thunder a header into the top left corner on his debut.
To Town’s credit, they continued to pile pressure on despite the deficit, coming closest to equalising in the 85th minute. A long ball from Willis into the opposition box was stuck hard and low, but a wonder save from Fylde goalkeeper Chris Neal allowed the visitors to maintain their one goal lead until the final whistle.
Speaking after the game, gaffer Billy Heath was clearly disappointed with the referee’s performance.
Having made his frustration with the referee known, Heath praised his team for their courageous performance against high flying AFC Fylde.
“Our players more than competed today, we had more than enough chances to get that first goal. I can’t criticise our players, they’ve given the club everything.
“We deserved something from the game.”
Heath will be looking to bounce back on Tuesday (March 21) as Alfreton travel to mid-table Southport FC in hopes of picking up another crucial three points to maintain their promotion push.
Alfreton Town 0 – 1 AFC Fylde
Official Matchday Attendance – 557
You can see more pictures from Saturday’s match here.
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