Hawley 18, 77
Briscoe 30, 53
THE television cameras at Alfreton cast a critical lens on a dismal defensive day for United.
Karl Hawley exacted sweet revenge on the Gulls by scoring the first and last goals in a 4-2 defeat, but the chances definitely came United’s way in a very open game.
Louis Briscoe equalised the first effort from Hawley, only for Tom Shaw to give the home side a 2-1 lead at half-time. Briscoe scored again immediately after the restart but sloppy work at the back allowed Paul Clayton to snatch a third, and then the recently departed Gull completed the scoring.
The centre-back question that has troubled United manager Chris Hargreaves all week was answered by midfielder Courtney Richards returning from suspension to play that role in the absence of banned duo Aaron Downes and Angus MacDonald.
Striker Duane Ofori-Acheampong was another Gull returning from a ban but he had to settle for a place on the bench, as the boss opted to stick with a combination of Toby Ajala and Briscoe supporting the main front-man, Ryan Bowman.
Alfreton manager Nicky Law made three changes to the team beaten at Gateshead last weekend but the Reds retained former Gulls Lathaniel Rowe-Turner and the recently released striker Hawley in their starting line-up.
United came flying out of the blocks and Briscoe drilled in a low cross that Ajala should have turned goalwards, but his air-shot spared Cameron Dawson from an early save. Moments later, a delightful cross by Tom Cruise was nodded a fraction wide by Bowman.
Alfreton responded by showing their threat from set-piece situations and a powerful leap by Clayton resulted in a strong header steered inches wide of Martin Rice’s far post.
The home side continued to pose a more sustained threat in attacking areas and a loose pass in midfield from Josh Wakefield allowed Alfreton the space to find Hawley in the left channel, but his low shot was safely gobbled up by Rice.
Gradually, United began to assert their authority and a surging run through the middle from captain Luke Young ended with a pass for Bowman, who planted his shot well wide of the target, and the punishment was severe and instant.
A long ball over the top was perfect for Hawley to sneak in behind Richards and Krystian Pearce, and the finish was sweetly slotted past the advancing Rice. It was all too simple from a Yellow perspective and a special moment for Hawley was particularly painful for United.
The Gulls looked to make quick amends and a decent burst from Ajala manufactured room for Briscoe. His first-time shot flashed wide but it turned out to be a useful sighter for the powerful forward.
The game had reached the half-hour when Young swung over a corner and Briscoe leapt on the loose ball, holding off his man before executing a fine finish on the turn to level the match.
It should have been the catalyst for United to take control but the reality was a disallowed goal for Clayton and you can understand Alfreton’s frustration at what appeared a very soft decision.
Clayton was a real aerial problem for the Gulls, although the pressure was relieved by Courtney Cameron having a lash at goal that Dawson did well to hold. United then had to remove Bowman due to injury, with Ofori-Acheampong coming on as the natural replacement.
Half-time was beckoning for both teams, which made the second goal for Alfreton even more infuriating and there was no denying it was poor defending that allowed Hawley to win a header in the box, but credit to Shaw for a tidy finish.
Buoyed by the opening 45 minutes and the hope of ending a four-match losing run, Alfreton started the second period brightly and United right-back Dale Tonge needed two brave blocks in quick succession to protect Rice.
The Gulls responded with a number of high balls into the penalty area, testing the defensive strength of the Reds, and it was a challenge the home side failed to meet.
A driven cross from Young should have been comfortable for Dawson in the Alfreton goal but he completely misjudged the flight of the ball, and a panicky parry was perfect for the prowling Briscoe to convert from close-range.
United were suddenly dominating the match and a clever exchange of passes down the right saw Briscoe pick out Wakefield, who turned sharply and fired narrowly over from 20 yards. Shaw hit back with a fizzing effort from distance that was well held by Rice.
The determination of Ajala on 68 minutes presented Ofori-Acheampong with a glorious chance to grab the lead, but Dawson did a fine job in quickly narrowing the angle to make an excellent save, and once again, the missed chance was severely punished.
A hopeful ball over the top had United scampering back and Clayton showed tremendous strength to hold off Pearce, and the lobbed finish over the onrushing Rice was expertly taken, but no doubt it was poor defending.
Clayton was then removed for the fresh legs of Joe Ironside, on loan at the Impact Arena from Sheffield United, but the onus was very much on the Gulls to try and find a third equaliser.
Instead, it was a horrible moment for Richards, who completely miscued his back-pass and Hawley had the freedom of the stadium to saunter into the right channel before slapping a confident finish past the exposed Rice.
Ofori-Acheampong spurned one last chance for redemption from a Young corner but there was no saving United from a very disappointing result.
Alfreton (4-4-2): 20 Cameron Dawson; 2 Bradley Wood, 5 Luke Graham, 3 Lathaniel Rowe-Turner, 14 Dan Gray (15 Jordan Keane H-T); 12 Tom Shaw, 11 Anthony Howell, 4 Dave Courtney, 24 David Mellor (10 Danny Bradley 78); 9 Paul Clayton (18 Joe Ironside 73), 23 Karl Hawley. Substitutes (not used): 14 Jake Sheridan, 17 Massiah McDonald.
Booked: Mellor 40
United (4-4-2): 1 Martin Rice; 2 Dale Tonge, 5 Krystian Pearce, 16 Courtney Richards, 3 Tom Cruise; 7 Louis Briscoe, 8 Luke Young (capt), 22 Josh Wakefield, 11 Courtney Cameron (14 Ashley Yeoman 80); 9 Ryan Bowman (24 Duane Ofori-Acheampong 40), 10 Toby Ajala. Substitutes (not used): 6 Ben Harding, 20 Jake Hutchings, 23 Jordan Seabright (GK).
Booked: Ajala 45
Referee: Ben Toner