[ Written By Ian Brown ]
County ended their festive season fixtures with a creditable 7 points from a possible 9, after coming away from their clash with FC Halifax Town with a decent point in a 0-0 draw today at the Shay.
It was a good return for JG`s side on a bitterly cold Yorkshire afternoon, and by the end was probably a fair result.
I say `in the end` because for long periods in the first half County looked capable of…and just about to establish a lead, but it was not to be, that sharp edge so apparent in the previous 2 games was largely absent today, despite much possession and an array of eye-catching moves.
The second half proved wholly different and Halifax deserve due credit for taking the game to County. As at our place, they did play some neat football at times, but they were again lacking at the sharp end and despite much pressure from our hosts after the break, Hinchliffe was hardly tested at all.
I had Leesley and Keane as County`s top performers, but would not argue with alternative suggestions in this respect after the team had dredged another 90 odd minutes graft from tired limbs and bodies.
When the teams came out, County`s line up showed 2 changes from Saturday with Turnbull and Thomas in for Sam Walker and Devante Rodney.
In green again, County had their backs to the large County following that appeared to be 50% or so of those present. They were making a good supportive noise early doors too, and the support was of value as Halifax gained an early free-kick, but this came to nothing floundering on the rock of County`s back four.
Halifax were under pressure after this, as Leesley`s cross, following a run by Keano, gave the home specs an anxious moment or two, but they need not have worried as home keeper Sam Johnson did the biz ending their early angst clutching the pill to his chest as it pinged in from Leesley wide on the left.
County looked in good nick, with just 3 minutes gone, and I would not have been greatly surprised had they nicked one even at this early stage.
They did not however, a run from Thomas seeing TW go close. A corner resulted and Staunton cleared this.
It was 3-4 minutes before another chance emerged for County and again TW was at the centre of the action, forcing another corner, but Keano`s header from this flew wide.
County had been holding Town in something of a vice-like grip up until now, but Leesley and Arthur were called on for urgent action with Jack Redshaw threatening on the break. Decisive action by the aforesaid County duo sorted matters though setting a reply up….
First off TW scooted clear, being blocked by Nathan Clarke, then Osborne saw a shot deflected for a corner, but despite all County`s best efforts, nothing emerged from this, Matty Brown eventually clearing his lines.
The sight of Leesley being tripped by Bell as he surged clear next, gave the home specs something to guffaw about, but I doubted that this merriment would be sustained as the game progressed, and I also doubted that they had spotted the push on Bell by King that caused the `hilarious` moment …….
The pressure from County continued though, and the 15th minute saw Thomas switch wings to force another corner. This seemed to light a spark, but no…somehow a defender positioned brilliantly ushered Palmer`s shot off the line. The ball was still in play but Arthur`s follow up shot cleared the bar to keep it at 0-0
It went on much in the same vein…….County pressing….Halifax defending deep, and some excellent work by TW ( aided by Leesley)saw Niall Maher forced to concede the umpteenth corner to County. Bell, Thomas and Keane all fancied this and went for it, but to no avail as King was able to clear the danger.
County were building a head of steam up now, but I checked my watch and 23 minutes had gone, and it was still 0-0.
The 24th minute got the BP on the rise however as Thomas drilled a neat ball across the box. Osborne met it beyond the far post but his shot drifted wide.
Osborne looked likely to feature prominently again within seconds, but having darted clear he looked aghast to then be pulled up by referee Peter Gibbons. I have seen worse referees than Mr G…far worse….but he was a perplexing mix of good and poor decisions allied with a palpable inability to command the moment!
Meanwhile, Maher did well to block TW as he threatened down the left for County, who were still looking likely to score at any moment. When Cooper took Leesley`s legs I hoped that moment had arrived, but when the subsequent free-kick reached Keane his header flew into keeper Johnson`s grateful hands.
It went on….TW again running clear, but this time his run was cut out by King. From Cameron King it went on to namesake Jeff and the home specs got excited as he picked out Williams with his pass, only for the excitement to abate as he lifted a poor effort high over the bar.
Hinchliffe did have to make a catch under pressure from a corner just after the 30-minute mark, but mainly it was County on the offensive and Cooper again raised eyebrows with a foul on Keane as he deftly made his way towards the box. The kick was in reasonable shooting distance but Thomas shot wide on the end of it to keep it on 0-0.
This continued to be the pattern of things, Jeff King doing well to step the County tide next with Leesley and TW bearing down on goal.
Again Halifax summoned up a reply, and this was their best so far as, after putting danger man Jack Renshaw in with a neat pass, Staunton saw his shot go close – easily the closest Town had been so far!
We were into the half`s last 5 minutes now and Brown, for Town, had just blocked a run by Cowan sending Cameron King dashing clear. County cleared the danger through Cowan, but not without exciting the locals whose impassioned pleas of “ handball” went unrecognised by the referee.
Halifax were pressing as the half ended which struck me as remarkable bearing in mind what had gone before in the preceding 40 odd minutes.
Bell opened the second half with a run that got rather less than it deserved all things considered, the men in black combining to frustrate and annoy once more!
Early County pressure then gave way to a response from Halifax -Palmer heading out from under the bar. A worrying melee followed but eventually, County were able to work the ball clear and reassure their large army of travelling fans.
Back came County with a flourish, Cowan`s pass sending Osborne clear….but he lifted his shot over the bar!
Gradually I could feel the County impetus building again as Bell and Osborne, then Tom Walker pushed their opponents onto the back foot. But there was nothing to show for it still, and that gave Town a sniff!
Twelve minutes into the half, County got a corner, and I thought a real chance of edging in front, but when the ball reached Keane, his on-target shot was somehow pushed around a post by Johnson.
That was a brilliant save, by a keeper who was not overly impressive at EP in our previous game with Town.
The corner served to keep the pressure on, but Thomas could not capitalise when Osborne put him through.
Thomas was centre stage again a minute or so later, and his cross looked to have struck Williams` hand. Apparently not…..it was only a corner, and Palmer headed this wide to end Town`s angst.
I was still fairly confident that County would manage to nick one at some point, and with Bell robbing Brown of possession impudently, I fancied that the moment had arrived. Alas….not for the first time in my life…I was deluding myself, as Bell lifted the ball over the bar and the chance was gone!
Then the disappointment almost disappeared as Cowan shaped to cross…did so…..and the ball almost sneaked in….Johnson just managing to push it over the angle of bar and post at the very last gasp!
After this Halifax started to get into their stride more, first blocking a decent move involving Leesley and TW, and sorting a raid in response from the resultant corner. A break by Redshaw was cut out by Palmer, Staunton disappointed thereafter to see his shot drift wide.
County still had their moments, Leesley sending Cowan clear on 66 minutes, but Halifax were determined not to concede in quantity as they did at our place just a few days earlier.
Rodney was now on for TW ( again off to a thunderous reception from the County faithful ), but the first action after that saw Redshaw in behind the County backline , but he dragged his shot wide.
Then Williams joined in drilling an effort narrowly wide with 20 minutes left to play.
Remarkably perhaps….the game was anyone`s still, and the tension was racked up well and truly as Clarke went through Rodney from behind.
Dispiritingly…..but unsurprisingly the perp only got a wee chat from the referee- it is too staggeringly depressing for words at times !!!!!!
And….when the kick was drilled over into the box, the liner completed the mini box set of calamitous decisions by flagging an unknown County player `offside`.
Perhaps I should temper my criticism a touch, as a minute or so later, Jeff King was booked for laying Rodders out just outside the box, but then again……the referee then ended Town`s anguish with a free-kick ……yes…for a foul on King!
There were just 13 minutes left now, and Halifax were getting more and more willing to risk it up the park, and Redshaw did just that, beating Cowan before seeing his shot held by Hinchliffe.
Substitute Mc Allinden then shot wide after Redshaw had stolen possession from Leesley.
Town really wanted to win this, but …to do so….they needed to improve at the sharp end, but with 10 minutes left Redshaw lifted his shot over the bar again.
Have I said that the referee was a perplexing mix of good and poor decisions? Well his next one was an example of the latter variety as his book came out in a flash to admonish Leesley who stretched somewhat for the ball allowing King to treat us to his ` near-death` special. Mr G bought it. The consolation was that the kick was a way from goal, and nothing came of it, but I found myself wanting the whistle to go, a feeling increased as I became increasingly surrounded by stewards as the end neared.
Bell almost got due reward for some bright play next, but the keeper claimed the ball from the corner that followed to rain on County`s parade.
It rained some more as Mulhern ( on for Thomas on 83 minutes) lifted a shot way over the bar disappointingly.
There were 4 minutes left when that last action happened, another minute and Hinchliffe made his first real top draw save of the afternoon to prevent Redshaw from scoring, then Staunton hit a post with one!
It was a relief to hear 4 minutes added time announced, and in those minutes County summoned up more effort from somewhere, Bell imposing himself with a will, but only getting a corner for his pains. That said….melee after melee then ensued in front of Johnson`s goal, only for the old eyes to go a-rolling again on seeing the referee blow for a Town free-kick.
That was the last real action I noted down, before heading back to the Flyer.
My first response was ` fair result` and, as I write this some 3 hours later I am still inclined to go for that.
I stand by my view also that County can be pleased with their efforts over the holiday period- it was a big ask…but the players did the biz!
Well done lads!
FC Halifax Town line up:-
Johnson, Clarke, Brown, Allen ( Mc Alinden 69), C King ( McCoulsky 89) , Staunton, J King, Williams, Cooper, Redshaw, Maher.
Subs not used : Appleyard, Sho-Silva, Mac Donald.
Stockport County line up:-
Hinchliffe , Cowan, Palmer, Arthur, Leesley, Turnbull, Keane, Thomas ( Mulhern 83), Bell, T Walker ( Rodney 68), Osborne.
Subs not used :
Ormson, Minihan, S Walker.
Attendance 3460 ( 1485)