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Gravesend and Northfleet 0 Accrington Stanley 0

STANLEY boss John Coleman went through a mixture of emotions in the 10 minutes after their goalless encounter against the Conference strugglers.

STANLEY boss John Coleman went through a mixture of emotions in the ten minutes after their goalless encounter against the Conference strugglers.

He was frustrated that defender Steve Halford became the sixth Red to be sent off this season as he felt Halford's first yellow card was undeserved. The Reds chief was disappointed that skipper Lutel James's last gaspeffort had found the way into the keeper's arms instead of the back of the net. He was relieved that Stanley had got away with a point after Ben Abbey struck a poor penalty which was easy for keeper Jon Kennedy. And then he was hopeful when the referee said he would have a look at the video and maybe reconsider Halford's first yellow card.

This was given in the 62nd minute when Ben Walshe did seem to make a meal of a tackle on the half way line which left the referee, S Tomlinson, reaching for his notepad. Halford protested that the ref had been duped by the player but to no avail. And it proved costly when Halford pulled down Walshe in the area as the ball came forward in the 72nd minute and the ref awarded a second yellow to the former Bury defender.

Coleman said: "It was a penalty, I have no doubts about that. It was just the first yellow card - it wasn't like they were going to score or anything. There was hardly any contact with the lad and then another player goes in with a two-footed tackle on Steve Flitcroft and he isn't spoken to. I felt it wasn't consistent but the referee had said he will have another look at it so we will wait and see."

In fact there were seven yellow cards and one red shown in a game which became increasingly bad-tempered. Stanley were already having to manage without striker Paul Mullin, who is struggling with a calf injury, and skipper Peter Cavanagh and midfielder Andy Gouck who were both suspended for this one game. Then, with only 30 minutes gone, Paul Cook came off, feeling the effects of flu which have troubled him for two weeks.

There was still no place for new signing Justin Jackson who is also trying to shake off a bug and so it was a new-look line up for the Reds. In came Paul Haworth for his first start of the season in the right back slot while Lutel James moved from the right wing to up front - which he was quite happy about.

Striker John Durnin started in attack alongside James while Dean Calcutt - eager to play against his home-town club Huddersfield in the FA Cup - moved into the right wing slot. He fractured his wrist around six weeks ago but was able to get his first start for some time, playing with a light cover on. And the Reds started well with Fleet keeper Paul Wilkerson pushing away a James 20 yard effort on six minutes while Kennedy had to do the same at the other end a minute later to deny Steve McKimm.

Both sides were limited to long range efforts in the first 20 minutes with James seeing another effort go wide while Matt Lee also tried his luck from long range but the Reds keeper was there again.

But the home side should have opened the scoring on 23 minutes. Walshe played a great ball in from the left and Abbey, unmarked, should have touched the ball into the empty net. Instead, in a let off for Stanley, he fired wide.

Fleet were then on the attack again and Kennedy had to kick the ball away from Abbey at the edge of the area as he started to line up a shot and the
Reds goalie then had to make a quick recovery and get back in his goal to clear Walshe's follow-up with his feet.

Rory Prendergast's 20-yarder was wide on 42 minutes while Durnin played a ball across the face of goal but no one was there. And Walshe almost gave Fleet a half-time lead but his low free kick was smothered by Kennedy at the second attempt.

After the break, the game began to get niggly with the ball bouncing around in midfield and limited action in the box. The tackles were flying in, there were off-the-ball scuffles and the referee began to take centre stage. Steve Hollis needed lengthy treatment after a hard tackle in the middle of the park by Rob Haworth on 68 minutes which saw both Haworth and McKimm, for getting involved after, go into the book.

Then Halford was sent for an early bath. The defender had moved into the right back role with Jonathan Smith coming in as centre half at half-time and this meant he had to contain the troublesome Walshe. And the referee had no doubts that Halford had brought down the left winger in the area and he was dismissed. It was agony for the lad who had battled to win his place back in the team after being an ever-present last season - and he was desperate as he didn't want to sit out a game and risk losing his place again.

He sat in the stands and could hardly watch as the pacey Abbey stepped up to take the spot kick. Gravesend had scored six penalties in midweek to see off Exeter in the FA Cup so the money was on Abbey finding the back of the net. Instead, his weak effort was easy for Kennedy who dived and calmly collected the ball.

The ten-men hung on - as they re now used to doing - and Stanley could have snatched three points at the death when Prendergast's cross found unmarked James in the area - but he only found the keeper's arms much to Halford's agony.

With four minutes of extra-time, Stanley had to defend a number of free kicks around the box but both Gordon Armstrong and Smith made some crucial clearances to make it just one loss in 13 games for the Reds.

Coleman said: "I don't know why but if this game had been at home we would have made more chances and won it. We are just not making the chances away from home - we have got to be more positive on our travels. I brought Jonathan Smith on at half-time as I thought we needed a bit more height.

"I don't have a problem with Paul Howarth, I know he has ability but just thought Smithy could make more of an impact with his height - and he did. In the second half, we lost our way a bit or they adapted to our system a bit more and Rory didn't get as much of the ball, John (Durnin) should have pushed on more and Lutel had a great chance at the end.

"I thought Jon Kennedy made a great save in the first half but to be fair the penalty was poor and Steve Flitcroft did well. But we do need to improve away from home, we have only had one win on our travels and that is disappointing.''


Stuart Pike
Deputy editor specialising in politics
Alex Bell
Bethany English
District reporter
Beth Abbit
Court reporter
Jon Macpherson
Kate Watkins
Reporter specialising in communities
Garth Dawson
Photographer and columnist