Stanley 1 Hereford 2
John Coleman hates losing – but defeat to long-term rivals Hereford felt like the worst loss of all.
Most of the clashes between the two have rarely been without incident – the 2-2 draw which denied Stanley an 11-game winning Conference record; Stanley ending three matches in succession at Edgar Street with ten men and, earlier this season, the Bulls halted a 16-game winless run by beating the Reds.
So, even though both sides really had nothing to play for – Hereford virtually safe and Stanley fading fast from the play-off picture – this game was never going to be without controversy.
There were three off-side goals, a penalty to the Reds and then a last-gasp winner which gave three points to Hereford and meant that – and this statistic would stick in a Stanley fan’s throat – the Bulls have done the double over Coleman’s men this season.
And the manner of it was hard to take. Phil Edwards had just failed by a whisker to properly connect with a Bobby Grant corner as the game was well into injury time.
From this, Hereford broke and ex-Burnley man Marc Pugh played the ball across the box and up popped Gavin McCallum at the far post to tap in his second of the game. Then the whistle blew.
And this made sure the current statistics do not make good reading for the Reds boss: an eight-game winless run, one point out of 24, defeats to lower clubs including Grimsby and Hereford and now it is mid-table for Stanley.
Many fans would have taken this at the start of the season but now it’s disappointment as, not so long ago, Stanley were two points off the play-offs with two games in hand.
Now a top seven chance has well and truly gone and the Reds have lost a staggering 11 games at the Crown Ground this season and, while trying to attract season ticket buyers, they have lost five home matches on the bounce.
The turning point was undoubtedly the game against promoted Rochdale in March. Then Stanley led 2-0 and looked on course to make it three wins on the bounce and close in on a play-off spot.
But that was lost – with top scorer Michael Symes shown a red card and missing three matches – and since then, the Reds have stuttered and all the early-season confidence has drained away.
Coleman is still scratching his head as to why. Is it the bobbly pitch – although it is the same for both sides? Is it a lack of form from some players with the front two unable to hold the ball up like they did earlier in the season; the midfield unable to provide the supply and thus more pressure placed on the defence? Or is it tiredness after a season of more than 50 games for the young side? Whatever, Coleman doesn’t know but it is driving him to distraction: "This is one of the hardest defeats to take. Hereford have never been anywhere near our goal in the second half.
"We have got a corner and our lad has missed a great chance to win it and then it’s in the back of our net. It’s not the first time we have conceded a goal like that so it is a worry and we will have to address it in training.
"We were the best team. For the first 20 minutes, we started bright and then Hereford took control and probably deserved to go in with a one-goal lead at half-time.
"But in the second half there was only one team in it. It will be interesting to see the disallowed goal again. I think everyone was surprised it was disallowed.
"We missed a couple of chances and we put that down the pitch. Fans were saying get the ball down and play, but they need to walk on it as it is virtually impossible to pass the ball.
"We tried our best but it is not good enough. That’s one point out of 24 and that’s soul destroying."
Stanley did start well with Darran Kempson just failing to connect with a cross and Andy Procter heading straight at keeper Adam Bartlett.
But then Hereford, who needed a point to secure their League Two status, created a host of chances and scored from one.
Canadian winger McCallum got the ball 20 yards out, turned two markers and fired into the bottom of the net.
Coleman has had to make many a rallying call at half-time and this was no different.
And when Jimmy Ryan’s shot hit the hand of Ryan Valentine three minutes after the restart, ref Peter Quinn pointed to the spot.
After two misses by Edwards, Symes tucked the ball into the bottom corner for his 19th goal of the season.
Surely this time the Reds would go on and win. Symes and Luke Joyce tested Bartlett while both sides had goals ruled out for off-side – Stanley twice with Coleman questioning whether Ryan’s shot, touched by Barlett into Symes’ path who finished well should have stood.
A draw was looming but then McCallum broke Stanley’s fans hearts. And it was bitter for Coleman – made worse by the reaction of the Bulls fans.
"I thought I had decent banter with the Hereford fans over the years, but as I was coming off the pitch I was getting abuse. They should be applauding their team, not worrying about me.
"The amount of abuse was unacceptable. It was verbal assault and there is no place for that – it was an absolute disgrace."
He added: "We’ve played a lot better Hereford sides over the years than what beat us today and that’s the disappointing thing."