[ Written By Ian Brown]
I do not think that anybody in the Blue Army felt, beforehand, that this game would be easy, and in reality, it most certainly was not, as Marc White`s decent Dorking Wanderers side stuck to their task after going 1 down mid-way through the second half to an opportunist goal from Adam Thomas, to then equalise 8 minutes later, through Jason Prior, finishing an open and even tussle not undeserving of at least a draw, that takes them to Edgeley Park on Tuesday for a replay.
It was a good game, but always on a knife-edge as one team and then the other would take the game to their opponents.
County looked silky smooth and very threatening early on, but without ever really producing anything on the end of some eye-catching attacking moves. The result was that the home keeper was not overly tested.
Thankfully, despite an excellent game from Neil McManus, apart from the Prior strike highlighted above, Dorking had little with which to test County keeper Ben Hinchliffe game long either, which from a neutral`s viewpoint, would be deemed a pity as they steadfastly refused to `lump it long and high` playing instead studiously from the back which was highly commendable.
Top man for County, for me, was Ben Jackson, and he showed up particularly well at both ends of the park in an impressive showing. Adam Thomas was his usual self and added the neatest of opportunistic goals for good measure- a goal that home keeper Slavomir Huk will want to forget!
So, back to earlier, and the Flyer got us to the Meadowbank Stadium before 1 o`clock.
Upon arrival at the ground, the weather took a slight turn for the worse as a bank of dark cloud commenced dispatching its load of drizzly wetness in our direction ( thank you Met Office weather….not !)
Cowan for Garratt and Jackson for T Walker were County`s only changes as the game got underway, before a packed house.
Jackson was soon in action, doing well to snuff Dorking`s first move out, following this with a run up the park and a cross that was dealt with well by the home defence.
Already it was clear that Wanderers were committed to playing it out from the back, and not lumping it long, and they declared a potential early dividend as referee Gary Parsons gave them a free kick in an interesting position. County came briefly under pressure from this Palmer heading out after Moore`s effort had been charged down in the box.
Sam Beard then sorted a break by Osborne inside the box…I briefly wondered…..but the referee was probably correct- it was a good tackle.
It did not seem to matter though as Minihan then won County a corner, but Festus narrowly missed out from this and it stayed 0-0.
It was James Mc Shane`s turn to try to embarrass the green-shirted Blues next, as he stole possession from County. The chance was certainly on, but he then dragged a weary effort wide of Hinchliffe`s back post!
Ten minutes had gone by, and this was definitely a decent football match!
The next 5 minutes saw County exert loads of pressure on their opponents- Osborne`s` cross blocked and cleared.
Then a feeling of growing irritation surfaced as Beard took Thomas`s legs for the second time in just a few minutes- both times the referee waved play on. Thomas resumed after treatment, but my early impressions of the man in black were not at all favourable.
Sixteen minutes in and McShane again failed to test Hinchliffe sending another shot wide, after Dorking had emerged from the period of County pressure with apparent fresh energy and some neat passing moves.
I took solace in the lack of oomph at the sharp end, but could County do any better?
Bell did win a corner off Tom Richards who then set about berating the near side liner, who unaccountably was flagging our way too much for his taste. I was warming to the officials by the minute now, but County made nothing from the corner, a familiar trait ( occasionally) and that was far from warming.
Still….County seemed to have the bit twixt their gnashers now particularly Cowan who, with Minihan, urged them on down the right. It looked good again, but Thomas put his shot over the bar, and that was that.
And it went on in the same vein- Keane inches away with a decent effort on 22 minutes.
Just a minute later the nip and tuck nature of things was confirmed again as Mc Shane and Briggs took the game to County down the right. This move promised much for Dorking, but the final effort flew harmlessly wide to keep the scoreline blank.
That signalled a response from County who won 2 corners in rapid succession, Palmer going close from the second, but Huk`s goal never really looked severely threatened.
The pressure remained on Wanderers though and a good tackle from Beard on Thomas brought County yet another corner, that saw Festus striving for another goal only to be disappointed.
That was 27 minutes in, another 2 and Huk pulled off a spectacular save to deny Osborne after great work by Bell in the build-up.
On it went, County pressing, Thomas winning another corner that saw a shot from Jackson fizz in and come out off a defender, before being cleared.
A bit of a panto then ensued as Luke Moore looked to all intents and purposes dead. His prone `corpse?` lay motionless for an age as play was allowed to continue by the referee ( to whom I was warming noticeably now). Reviving instantly as Mr Parsons eventually ran over to him and bade him rise and resume, which he duly did to ribald laughter from travelling County fans.
Dorking had defending to do after this as Thomas and Cowan pushed their side on.
But Dorking were not done and hit County on the break, a protracted bout of passing ending abruptly in the blue box where Moore treated us once again to one of his very best, plummeting to earth like one not long for this existence.
Mr Parsons remembered him however and would have none of it waving a yellow card in his direction reducing the Wanderers number 18 to a seething mass of uncontrolled disgruntlement out of the refs earshot.
And Wanderers kept working at it with half time nearing and Hinchliffe had to pull off a good save to deny McShane who had at last found the target.
The last few minutes of the half saw both sides having a go still, Jackson seeing a shot saved by Huk with Osborne hovering hungrily ……Hinchliffe in action to deny Prior, and finally a decent move by Keane and Thomas was thwarted by excellent work from Beard and Gallagher.
It had been a rare old 45 minutes…..anybody`s…..and we still had another 45 to go!
There was no change when the play resumed after the break, with both sides probing the other.
It was the 52 minute before a real chance emerged for either side, and it fell County`s way, as Osborne surged clear to send a cross fizzing its way into the box where Bell awaited its arrival. One-nil then…..but no…Bell could not force the ball home!
Bell did better quickly though, tracking back to head a dangerous cross cum shot from McManus out.
Back came Dorking via a McManus free-kick which County defended well.
Mc Manus pushed County back again almost immediately and it took some brave defending to keep him and Prior out.
Corners came and went, but no goal for Dorking and we saw why just before the hour when Gallagher lofted a poor effort wide.
The hour mark came up with Huk in outstanding form plucking the ball off Bell`s toes as he broke clear.
Meanwhile, I continued to be impressed with what Wanderers were doing, neat ..tidy on the floor….pretty good stuff, but with nothing on the end of it as another shot flew high and wide after a neat move.
Then the game swung back again as Gallagher clattered Osborne to earn a booking, and County a free-kick, which they made nothing of.
And at last there was a breakthrough and via an unlikely source as Huk, with Thomas in sniffing distance, suddenly went all giddy allowing the hyper-alert County number 7 to latch onto the ball and slam it home!
That was excellent, and tempted me to fancy that the job might just be on the way to being done, but no….I looked right to see Cowan clear the pill off the line as a shot from Prior pinged in.
This, in turn, encouraged Wanderers only for Gallagher to ruin a fine move by dragging his shot wide.
It was building now from Wanderers who were being prompted and sustained by an outstanding performance from McManus, and eventually, the good work paid off as one of a few crosses from wide left found Prior at the back post to side foot home!
That was disappointing, but not entirely unexpected, but there was still time to put things right, but when Thomas looked to do just that, there was no support at all as he looked to cross into the box on a run.
If that continued the disappointment for County, Huk almost gave us a reprise of his earlier mishap- recovering his composure in the nick of time with Keane looking interested.
But still Dorking were not done, and they looked on the cusp of something good when another cross pinged in from the left. County were seemingly filleted, and Prior looked odds on to double his and his team`s tally, but he fluffed his lines heading meekly over the bar.
Sam Walker came on for Osborne with just over 15 minutes left, and within another couple he had stung Huk`s hands with a rasping drive!
Ridiculously the nip and tuck continued as the game swung once more -Hinchliffe saving well from McShane after a free-kick had put County under the cosh again.
With 11 minutes left County had respite in the form of a decently placed free-kick, but they promptly lumped this down Huk`s throat to end any prospect of a second goal.
A further couple of minutes of Dorking pressure then ensued – Hinchliffe doing well to hang onto Gallagher`s driven cross with Prior lurking goal side menacingly.
What an excellent end to ender this was…………..typified by what followed, namely Jackson almost squeezing a cross /cum shot in, and Frank ( on for Bell now) won a corner, only for Wanderers to break clear forcing Jackson into action to cut the prospective raid off!
Three minutes from time Prior headed wide when well placed, and spot-on 90 minutes Bully almost sneaked a cheeky one at a Dorking fee kick that they appeared to have tapped sideways and not taken on. Seeing those in red/ white stock still Paul latched onto the ball to dart clear, only for the referee to stop him and allow the home team to `re-take` the free kick- hmm…….panto…..RADA style dramatics……and now this….no matter County defended the kick and into 3 minutes added time attempted to get that winner and thus avoid the necessity of a Tuesday night replay.
Ninety minutes plus 1, saw Thomas win a corner….
Ninety plus 2 and Minihan cleared the bar with his shot from the flag-kick.
Just as I was at last feeling slightly safe ( if also a tad queezy thinking about Tuesday) Dorking worked the ball clear again winning a corner.
Once again though the good stuff from Dorking was let down by the quality of their finishing, and County`s last line of defence held firm until multiple blasts of Mr Parsons whistle pointed us towards Tuesday and a repeat at Edgeley Park.
I have been a bit critical I know, but Dorking are a very good team going places in my view so 1-1 was a decent result from a tie that was distinctly loseable!
In saying well done to County and urging them on for Tuesday, I must also complement Dorking Wanderers who were superb hosts, stewards…everyone were welcoming and this was appreciated by County fans!
Hopefully we can return the compliment on Tuesday- see you there!
Dorking Wanderers line up:-
Huk, Philpot, Beard, Gallagher, Mc Manus, Gallagher, Prior, McShane, Richards, Briggs ( Sole 73), Moore.
Subs not used: Ray, Beckles, Dickson, Taylor, Dyett.
Stockport County line up;-
Hinchliffe, Cowan, Palmer, Arthur, Minihan, Jackson, Keane, Thomas, Bell ( Mulhern 68), Osborne ( S Walker 73).
Subs not used : Ormson, Downing, Garratt, Hopkins, Czubik.