Saturday, September 10, 2005

WHEN it rains, it pours. Right now, it is teeming down on Worcester City's parade following another soggy weekend.

Already miffed by a third successive Nationwide North defeat, supporters' spirits were further dampened as an early-season injury crisis arrived bang on queue.

Hucknall Town's young substitute Mark Smith inflicted the sorest wound, capitalising on more Worcester inadequacy to lash the game's only goal past Danny McDonnell.

But more agony arrived after the final whistle, with the sight of City full-back and dead-ball expert Les Hines carried gently by his shoulders down the touchline into the changing rooms.

Hines pulled up with a serious thigh injury moments after Smith's 77th-minute winner and could be sidelined for a month.

Another left-sided schemer, George Clegg, is unavailable for the best part of three weeks after straining knee ligaments, while a combination of influenza to Graham Hyde and hamstring trouble to Nick Colley exacerbated the setback.

In fact, such was the predicament for City boss Andy Preece he was forced to pick a new midfield three to those gunned down in Harrogate.

To their credit, Tom Warmer, Jai Stanley and Liam McDonald each made a decent case for re-selection.

Stanley was City's best performer and at the centre of the home side's brightest moves.

Always demanding the ball and pressing for openings, the club record signing looked, for all the world, as the player most capable of breaking the deadlock. Unfortunately for Worcester, he was involved at the wrong end.

An unnecessary short pass from Stanley to Chris Smith was instinctively swooped on by Leon McSweeney, whose darting run and centre to Mark Smith finished with the ball rippling the net.

Another clumsy error in a dangerous area of the pitch proved Worcester's downfall. It was Town's only worthwhile shot in the second-half.

The frustration of supporters was capped three minutes into stoppage time when Jimmi-Lee Jones shovelled a sitter from four yards over the bar, a chance the former Wolves professional would normally gobble up in training.

"The least we should have got is a point," said Preece. "We probably haven't quite done enough to win the game, but we didn't deserve to lose it.

"But we are making errors and getting punished. That's the way it's going at the minute. Every error we make is costing us results.

"They punished us for the goal. Hucknall had a good situation and made the most of it. We had one or two situations like that where we did not make the most of it.

"We had a great chance at the end. It came to Jimmi-Lee and it just lifted up on him as he got his foot to it. It ends up going over the bar, but that happens in football."

Preece added: "We've got a massive injury problem. But we don't want to make excuses for this player and that player being out. This is where we have got to show our strength to come through it."

Chris Smith almost notched his third City goal when a fifth-minute header was tipped over by James Lindley.

However, Hucknall shaded the opening half and smart stops from McDonnell thwarted Robert Gill and McSweeney. At the other end, Lindley palmed away Adam Webster's first-time volley.

Fierce 30-yard drives from Stanley and Preece also required fine diversions by Lindley after the interval.

As Worcester pressed during a dominating spell, they were caught cold by Smith's sucker-punch strike.

Late panic ensued in the Town penalty box. Stanley's 20-yard free-kick headed goalwards but deflected wide off the wall and Jones fluffed over from the resulting corner.

CITY: McDonnell, Warner, Hines (Hodnett 80), C Smith, Khan, Lyttle, Warmer, Stanley, McDonald (Jones 59), Webster, Preece (Kelly 66). Subs not used: J Smith, Skyers.