[ Written By Ian Brown]
County turned it on at rain- swept Boundary Park today comfortably seeing off Football League outfit Oldham Athletic with 2 first half goals.
The 2-0 win, in no way flattered James Gannon`s men who now start their first season back in the National Premier on a massive high.
It was a chillingly efficient performance from the green shirted Blues, who struck with practised lethality before the home side had mentally changed into their playing kit. Three minutes gone…..County were one up courtesy of a Palmer special!
Then, after more than coping with everything that the Latics could throw at them thereafter…..with their opponents minds now drifting towards the dressing room …..the Blues struck again via Sam Walker after the home keeper had struggled to hold Connor Dimaio`s shot with just 1 minute of the half left.
That was quite simply …awesome, and long before the finish the home specs were deriding their teams efforts and sarcastically applauding when eventually a shot got through to Hinchliffe from a blue shirted forward, such was the grip that County had over their Football League opponents.
There were changes to the starting line up for County as play got underway in a steady downpour. For starters there was no Keane at the back where the immensely versatile and willing Dan Cowan slotted into his place alongside Palmer. Minihan was at RB with Ben Jackson on the other flank, and really there was absolutely no place for the Latics forwards to go faced with the barrier that this group of County defenders erected.
I thought Minihan did particularly well, and Jackson did not disappoint, but probably County’s trump cards were in the middle of the park, in front of that back line, where Walker and Osborne were outstanding. Osborne played deeper than usual linked up perfectly with his forwards, and Walker`s none stop/ all action display was hardly flattered by the goal he scored, just at the right time!
Up front Thomas, Mulhern, Dimaio and Kirby gave the home side plenty to do , and any doubters worrying about how we are going to fair from next Saturday onwards might well have been reassured had they ventured to be amongst the hardy 404 who supported their team magnificently today in the pouring rain!
The first action was at the wrong end as Oldham won a quick corner, but this turned into the most poisonous of chalices, as, from it, County scored. It was started by Hinchliffe, whose kicking today was a vital part of County threat capacity , an a long one from the back was eagerly chased by Minihan and Thomas bringing a County corner.
Up stepped Walker……and it was 1-0 as his near perfect delivery saw Palmer rise to head home to the great joy of the boisterously supportive 404 behind the far, left hand goal.
That was as emphatic an opening statement as you could wish to see from your team, and County were not content, instead they surged forward to a purpose, Zak Mills, for Latics, just managing to block Connor Dimaio`s effort from Thomas`s run and cross.
Walker again found a County head with his flag kick from this last action, but Kirby`s header was held coolly by Latics keeper Gary Woods.
There were about 10 minutes gone now as way to my left “Championees….Championees” rang out loud and clear…..and we are !
Meanwhile Hinchliffe was still providing the ammunition I spoke of earlier, his latest lethal offering seeing Mulhern on the end of it, chesting the ball down invitingly. It went to Dimaio, but his shot lacked power and did not test Woods at all.
That was 15 minutes in, another 3 and I was thinking ‘second goal’ as Dimaio, Thomas and Minihan took turns to severally examine the home defence. Another corner resulted and Oldham seemed well pleased to have got away with that, but a spill under pressure by Woods almost brought that ‘second goal’ to pass, but Sonhy Sefil came to his side`s aid by leathering the pill up the park to clear the danger.
Thomas and Minihan would not let matters lie, again stretching the home back line, with 20 minutes gone. Again a corner resulted , and once more Walker pinged a neat one over, only this time Mulhern`s path to the ball was blocked by Sefil who headed the ball clear.
It kept on building in much the same fashion as 4, 4 , 6 minutes passed with Oldham just unable to sort how County functioned at all. Almost inevitably …..fouls resulted, as did County free kicks, and a foul on Thomas gave Osborne an opportunity to try his luck in what would usually be Walker territory. It was not a bad kick at all and Mason had to resort to a none too convincing punch out under pressure. The ball flew to Dimaio, but the keeper did altogether better next holding the volley that followed with a degree of comfort.
Trialist (15) got a rare burst of applause from the sodden home specs after this- his enterprising run down the left eventually running out of grass as he progressed deep into the County half.
That was a rare aberration really as , despite …or maybe because…playing Cowan in central defence…County, with 30 minutes gone now, were shaping up for another ‘shut out’.
Yes- I thought Cowan was outstanding again, covering all options…left…right….central….loved it !
Meanwhile Hinchliffe was back with another howitzer and Stott did well to get head to ball and prevent Mulhern from capitalising.
Then more County excellence lit up the gloomiest of Lancastrian afternoons, as Osborne brilliantly turned defence into determined attack with the sweetest of diagonal balls. Again a foul resulted …and a County free kick some 10 yards outside the box, then 2 corners in rapid succession that saw County go close to adding a second, and Stott again to the fore blocking Palmer`s attempt to head another corner home.
The free kick count was becoming wearisome now as both Osborne and Walker who `sorted` in rapid order. The referee gave advantage from the first , but , with County`s entire midfield now on the deck, he had little option other than to award a free kick.
The kick was cleared, but did not stem the tide of County`s forward thrust, a prolonged period of possession from JG `s men exasperating the locals.
They were exasperated again pretty soon after as Sefil located touch after Woods had kept a shot from Mulhern out with his legs!
Yes……Frank was buzzing as usual and Woods did well again , just a minute later, holding on determinedly to another shot pinged in by Frank.
The 41 st minute brought a break from the almost constant County possession, as the exotically monikered Desire Segbe Azankpo spanked a shot wide after some decent build up by Latics.
There were just 60 seconds left to play, and the unwary will have been thinking of a Bovril….a pie…….a coffee or tea… and the players…a comforting word or two from their Manager.
Hmm………..mistake……and Latics were punished in fulsome measure as Mulhern and Minihan tore the Latics left flank to shreds with some excellent play, bringing Domaio into the mix. Dimaio`s shot was true, but Woods was able to stop it, but he only parried the ball, and Walker found the back of net with some style to make it 2-0 to County.
That was a truly excellent bit of typical County……play to the whistle…chase everything …assume nothing…..collect reward!
Half time must have been sweet for those County supporters packed in the upper tier behind the goal that County would attack in the second half. I hear that there were no hot drinks available but maybe County`s performance would be warming enough on what was otherwise a miserable day.
It took just 60 seconds upon the re-start for County to test Woods once more, and the keeper did well to deny Minihan after much good work by Dimaio.
County were as consistent as was the rain, the pressure continuing with Mills doing well to cut Kirby off as he sped onto a through ball from Mulhern
It was good stuff from County, and Minihan was looking back to his best, forcing a corner, that saw Woods escape punishment after having spilled the pill under pressure again.
Just before the hour we saw something of a rally by Oldham – Cowan doing well to cut a raking through ball from the back from Latics out. It went on for a time, with Oldham playing it about on the deck but with the bare minimum of venum. That said, Segbe Azankpo`s cross on the hour, ushered in a bicycle kick by substitute Johan Branger- Engone. It was wide of the target, but the home specs seemed consoled that it was at least an effort on goal!
County were not in the business of making life easier for our hosts- just the opposite, but Osborne`s shot on 67 minutes went wide.
By this time County had swapped Turnbull for Dimaio, and Latics had made 2 changes as well- Stott being one of the players substituted.
The changes seemed to briefly enliven the home effort, Hinchliffe having to look sharp to tip the ball over the bar from Nepomuceno`s cross following work by Urko Vera that raised a smile from the locals.
Hinchliffe punched the incoming corner out under pressure and the danger was gone!
County replied via Osborne, but he was again fouled, allowing Walker a free pot at goal which Woods was happy to punch clear midst a clutch of green shirts.
Into the last 15 minutes we went with Curran on for Thomas, and Stephenson for Kirby, and County were still taking play to their opponents be it Minihan with another scorching run down the right , or a Mulhern / Jackson combo that briefly exited interest.
Yes….County were well in control and looking for a third goal, but the locals got exited next, and they were not smiling as Vera was adjudged to have fouled Jackson. We made nothing of the subsequent free kick, and justice was arguably done, within a minute, with some `quid pro quo` as Vera milked a fall to the ground like a true thesp!
County brought the promising Festus Arthur on for Frank with around 5 minutes left, as they looked to secure their clean sheet, but Latics were helping somewhat as they were prone to error- repeatedly so in fact.
Almost at the death, the home crowd manufactured some comedy excitement all their own as a shot from Branger- Engone brought no more than a routine save from Hinchliffe.
Dazzer took a nasty knock late on ,and Mohamed Maouche shot tamely wide, and that was that…..save some boos from the locals…..and some contented cheering from the away end!
That was an impressive win and a suitably strong finish to County`s unbeaten pre-season campaign- entirely conducted away from Edgeley Park.
We can approach the new season with quiet confidence.
Be sure not to miss the first game at home for some time next Saturday, and be aware of the early kick off- 12.30 !
[ Photos! Get ’em here! ]
Oldham Athletic line up:-
Woods, Mills, Iacovitti, Sefil, Stott ( Hamer 63), Sylla ( Nepomuceno 45), Trialist ( Missilou 45), Trialist ( Branger- Engone 45), Wilson ( Vera 63), Trialist ( Trialist 72), Segbe Azankpo ( Maouche 45).
Sub not used : Zabret.
Stockport County line up:-
Hinchliffe, Minihan, Palmer, Cowan, Jackson, Osborne, Walker, Thomas ( Curran 76), Mulhern ( Arthur 84), Dimaio ( Turnbull 65), Kirby ( Stephenson 76).
Sub not used : Ormson.
Attendance 1227 ( 404)