[ Written by Ian Brown ]
Just one word sums up what I have just watched…….AWESOME !
It really was, as faced with a bank rolled side crammed full of high paid players( some nicked from humble old us) full of swagger and attitude, County responded magnificently, refusing to be intimidated by a rack of raw boned assaults from the Coasters, answering the perpetrators in exactly the prescribed manner , by routing them at actual football.
Injuries had forced County to ring the changes, and JG brought in 2 young players who both responded like lions. Ben Jackson came in for Jake Kirby and rewarded JG`s confidence by nicking his first County goal to put them 1 up.
Fylde, to be fair, had masses of possession, and against a County team shorn of defensive midfield king-pin Paul Turnbull, they might have expected a rout at kick off time! One did not materialise due to the blue back line that again showed all their exceptional talents in huge quantities- Keane was immense again, but then so was Palmer, Cowan, Minihan and Walker too, and I have not mentioned yet the other youngster I alluded to earlier, and he was simply brilliant.
That was Festus Arthur who was in for his first start, with 20 minutes his longest stint to date previously. Pitted against the likes of Mark Yeates, Rowe and others, any experienced player would perhaps be stretched, but not Festus- he just reeled off the decisive blocks…the imperious towering headers under pressure- it was a massive performance from a lad who Alan Lord and James Gannon have nurtured to perfection!
Two up at half time, following a panic induced Fylde own goal, and with the old place buzzing at the sight of a County team that had cutting edge to spare, County were faced with a Fylde team simply aching to nick one back after the break. They put loads of pressure on County, moving the ball about sweetly at times, but there was always someone in blue at the sharp end to spoil the party.
Jordan Williams did pull one back on the hour, and the visitors did up the ante after that, but despite the referee obliging them late on with a series of temptingly scoreable free kicks, they could not find a way through the impenetrable blue wall blocking the route to goal.
Discipline was another area in which Fylde fell short, time and again foiling County breaks from deep with limb threatening fouls usually on the serially unfortunate Elliott Osborne ( who again worked his socks off and some more last night) but others took flak too, and kept a tight rein on their discipline.
If County were at all ruffled by the rough stuff, it did not show, and in the end the blue`s discipline was the key factor that saw them home to a victory that sees them into fifth place in the National League!
Injuries to Turnbull and Kirby meant a place in the starting line up for Ben Jackson and a debut for Festus Arthur – a product of the fantastic County youth policy.
It was raining as the game commenced with Fylde pushing forward, playing the ball around to feet.
It looked neat enough, but we would see later whether there was much else there to go with the neat passing.
As early as the second minute Festus was called on as danger man Mark Yeates shaped to shoot, and the block from the County debutant was spot on bringing the first groan from the away block on the Pop Side.
Rowe and Croasdale were doing their best to control the early forward push from the Coasters, but the latter found Palmer in position nicely to do what Festus had done before him.
A long diagonal ball to the back of the box, from Rowe, had theoretical threat with it next, but this vanished as Minihan confirmed he was still in the form he showed us on Saturday, with some excellent defending under pressure.
Jackson joined in with some brave defending to block Jim Criagen, and that was the first 6 minutes done and dusted, with County largely penned in their own half.
It was still 0-0 however, and that is what counted, and it was the same score on 10 minutes as a long ball from Hinchliffe induced the first scary moment for the visitors, as Bell chased the ball into the box. Keeper Montgomery and bruiser Byrne seemed to have it covered, and then they didn`t, and County had a corner as Montgomery fluffed an attempt to keep the ball in play.
The Blues pressed briefly from the kick that followed, but without success.
If I was impressed with the neat Fylde passing, there was a growing sense of deja vu about which impressed me more– Wrexham had pretty much done the same on Saturday and ultimately failed due to a massively impressive defensive performance.
We would see whether the visitors had anything extra to show us apart from some nice passing, but for now I could not see it as twice within a couple of minutes shots, of no particular merit, passed harmlessly wide of the target from Fylde.
Byrne was foiled by Jackson on the end of a lively run down the right, but when Jacko sped clear he was promptly upended only for Sam Barrott ( a truly poor referee) to allow play to continue with Fylde now on the ball.
Nothing came of that possession, and County at last showed a hint of what they were made of, as an incisive move involving Jackson, Arthur and Minihan won the blues a corner. Both Jackson and Thomas were interested from this, but the danger ended when Jackson`s shot was charged down on the edge of the box.
I looked right then to see Dan Philliskirk challenge Festus and lose. I was still smiling from that one when County won a throw that landed with Jackson. He was off and running, cutting inside before unleashing a neat strike that beat Montgomery`s attempts to keep it out. The ball was in the net, it had taken a slight deflection, but who cares….it was 1-0 to County.
The vast majority of the massive Tuesday night crowd of almost 4000 were animated in their response to that last action, and they nearly had more to celebrate, within a minute, as a loose back pass from Duxbury almost embarrassed Montgomery with Bell looking for scraps.
But further celebrations were not long delayed however, as another incisive blue move tore the Fylde rear guard to shreds. Thomas was the initiator, and his cross looked to pick Osborne out as his darting run took him into the box. Criagen saw the danger and got to the ball before Ossie only to push it into the net to give County a neat 2-0 lead.
The place was buzzing now, and Minihan was on fire down the right, refusing to allow raids to die a death. His work created a chance for Walker, but his shot came back out off a defender to Thomas whose follow up effort went out off Sam`s head.
Wow …County were proving the value of discipline and togetherness over attitude and entitlement, and a third goal at that moment would have killed the game stone dead!
As it was County continued to press- Jackson blocked by Byrne, with Rowe doing his utmost at the other end ( without conspicuous success) to keep the Fylde flag flying. The County back line largely had his number!
At this point, it looked like nobody in black/yellow had Bell`s number, but he spoiled a neat run and turn by lifting his shot high into the Cheadle End.
The half hour mark arrived with a Fylde attack, but it was another without reward as Byrne sent his close in header wide. Then Hinchliffe had work to do holding onto a shot from Croasdale, he did that well. Minihan did well too continuing to offer options down the right – just a corner resulted this time but…………..
Then we got another taste of the darker side of the men in yellow and black as Byrne thundered into Jackson with an insanely irresponsible challenge. I refuse to call it a tackle- it was awful and could easily have proven career ending. Jackson was down for a fair time, after which he resumed eventually, but Byrne just got a token yellow card- a full on nailed down cop out from Sam Barrott- the man in black.
The game was marginally less heated in the minutes that remained of the half, which were notable, in my book, for some busy defending from the ever diligent Elliott Osborne, who never ceases to look for stuff to do!
The half time break arrived with the score still a highly satisfactory 2-0 to County- could they continue to maintain their lead in the second half faced with the inevitable back lash from Fylde? We would see!
Into the second half we went with Rowe bearing down on the County goal.
Fylde were attacking the Cheadle End ( another ploy that rebounded for Dave Challinor and his men), but Rowe`s shot took a deflection and County defended the corner with typical nous, and the head of Palmer.
A Minihan / Osborne raid, enlivened things a tad for County fans next, and they were roused even more, applauding loudly as a break by Croasdale was snuffed out by the most decisive of interventions from Festus!
If there was any concern about, over the amount of possession that Fylde were getting it was assuaged hugely by the fact that County were constantly channelling them down blind alleys. No amount of neat work could get Fylde a decent spot close in from which to get a shot off!
Bell interrupted a period of Fylde pressure, going close after much good work from Thomas and Minihan. A corner resulted, and Festus had a go for this, but it stayed 2-0.
More pressure came from Bell within a couple of minutes of that last action, but after showing the ball cheekily to Jameson…and then skinning him…..Nyal sent his shot narrowly wide.
Bell was causing issues for the visitors back line, who were quick to seek out Mercian Way with the County number 16 on their case.
Eventually Fylde came back at County, and Hinchliffe did well to make a save, to keep a strike from Duxbury out on 58 minutes.
It was noticeable, and had been for some time, that County were defending deep into their last third- doing it well….but with an accompanying strain on the nerves for their supporters.
County were not able to do anything other than aim clearances up the park from deep positions, and the ball just kept coming back at them. One too many in fact, as the 61st minute saw Williams latch onto the pill and fire home from close in.
Hmm…..it was now 2-1 , and Fylde must have fancied their chances a touch especially with almost 30 minutes left to play!
It was at this point that JG opted to freshen his pack up, bringing Dimaio and Mulhern on for Jackson and Bell, and within a minute County fans thought their team had a third goal , but Walker`s volleyed effort had hit the side netting much to the relief of the sparsely populated away end.
With Dimaio on, County had someone to initiate stuff on the break, and the 71 st minute saw him narrowly fail to reach Mulhern with a typically inciteful pass.
Mostly though, County were under pressure- Willoughby gaining ground but unable to get a shot off when surrounded by blue shirts…..Hinchliffe called up to smother a shot that Willoughby did manage to get in.
On it went with crosses pinging over from Fylde, the latest from Kosylo losing out to an immense block from Festus!
Then Rowe dragged a limp effort well wide after a promising link up with Duxbury, and that was still, for me anyway, the crux of the issue for Fylde… for all the money spent……`where was the beef?`
But Fylde were not slow to upend their man if a break threatened and Dimaio was the latest to feel the pain in this respect with 15 minutes left. Nothing came of the free kick, which was from a relatively deep position, and Fylde came back at us again only for Duxbury to shoot wide from another cooperation with Rowe.
It went on….Haughton setting Philliskirk up for another abortive effort on goal, and Cowan in position to usher a Duxbury shot out of the danger zone.
There were now just 10 minutes left to play, and Kosylo had just seen a run by him seen off by a resolute blue back line, when from the break that ensued from that action, Osborne was crudely hauled down by the aforementioned ex County man. Did this, like Byrne`s `challenge` earlier, deserve more than a yellow? I thought so but the referee did not, and with the free kick being cleared, Fylde`s crude rule of thumb tactics had declared a dividend!
This signalled a reply from Fylde, but despite crosses raining in from both flanks the County back line remained implacable in resisting all thrown at them.
But County were working handy breaks from deep, and excellent work from Dimaio on 85 minutes did just that, only for his progress to be cut short by another limb threatening foul.
That was depressingly typical of the lazy `don’t think your way out of a difficulty- stick a leg out and foul your way out of it` approach sadly prevailing from our visitors, and a series of similar situations racked up as game`s end neared- Osborne the victim more than once!
But County were showing their metal big time, and Palmer was a fag paper`s width away from connecting with one kick with just 2 minutes of normal time left.
With one minute left, Frank joined the ranks of those wronged being brought down in the box. He did not appeal for a penalty, he was probably as weary as I was at this point of the way things were and the referee`s response to same.
We were into added time now, and Keane had just ushered a shot from Rowe out from under the bar, when the place erupted at the sight of the mightiest of blocks from Festus with Willoughby threatening.
Fylde were getting ever more desperate now- County were still countering when they could, but the pressure was mounting on JG`s men, and deep in added time he moved to switch Downing for Osborne.
Twice in this period the referee obliged Fylde with tasty free kicks, both centrally placed and very scoreable, but both were resisted manfully by County, Fylde`s last chance falling to Rowe whose kick smacked into the wall to a resounding cheer from almost all of the 3912 present.
There was just time for a Keano final `M.O.M` saving header, and County`s fourth win in five had been brilliantly secured!
That win made me so proud, and the crowd stayed to applaud their team off at the end of a truly excellent performance.
It really had been AWESOME !
[ And for cracking photos please click here! ]
Stockport County line up:-
Hinchliffe, Minihan, Palmer , Keane, Cowan, Arthur, Walker, Thomas, Bell ( Mulhern 65), Osborne ( Downing 92), Jackson ( Dimaio 62).
Subs not used : Ormson, Curran.
AFC Fylde line up:-
Montgomery , Duxbury, Byrne, Jameson, Kosylo, Croasdale, Rowe, Philliskirk , J Williams , Yeates ( Willoughby 69), Criagen ( Haughton 61).
Subs not used : Whitmore, Ngwatala, Lavercombe.