[ Written By Ian Brown ]
County shared the points with a strong Barnet side, in front of over 5000 at Edgeley Park today, and it was a good point for sure, but I came away once again seething at what might have been as County were denied a couple of stonewall penalties by the distinctly unimpressive Referee Elliott Swallow- one in each half, handball in the first half, and a mugging (on McAlinden) in the second 45.
On both occasions, Mr Swallow was not interested….away with the fairies in fact …..much as he was ( and his Danny Stand liner) when Akinola sped clear but in a blatantly offside position 8 minutes in, for instant clarity to return for the official as Akinola went down under pressure. The challenge looked arguably worth a pen, but only if the forward was onside, which he wasn`t!
Fair play I suppose, Barnet looked every bit the strong side their recent form and ITK word made out – far better than they looked at their place earlier this season!
If Barnet held sway for much of the first-half and came back again late on, County driven on by the combined talents of Minihan, Hogan, Palmer and Dimaio, and McAlinden in the second half, can consider themselves to be unlucky not to have notched a 3 pointer from this one.
Injury to Jordan Keane disrupted JG`s selection process ahead of kick-off so Turnbull was back alongside Sam Walker in a midfield that looked and was pretty robust throughout.
The blues went 3 at the back ( Hogan, Palmer and Cowan) with Minihan and Jackson providing width. All the back 3 played well in their differing ways, but on the question of width only Minihan succeeded in providing it, McAlinden coming on for Jackson after the break, looking lively in the process whilst giving JG `s side a better-attacking edge as they attacked the Cheadle End.
I was pleased to see Connor Dimaio get a start, and he justified his Manager`s confidence with an energetic performance only curtailed by an injury picked up 20 minutes from the end- not sure about him being M.O.M however….one of Palmer, Minihan and possibly Hogan for me.
Back to 3 o`clock then, and the start that saw Barnet first onto the attack, winning an early corner, that Dan Sweeney, despite a none too subtle `climb` all over Palmer, could only head high and wide.
This went on for a few minutes with Barnet pushing on, and County back defending in their last third. Doing it well I was noting, but I got a swift shot across the bows, 8 minutes in as Akinola scooted clear. Even from my vantage point some way away he looked offside, but liner and Referee were not buying that, both back from dreamland in an instant as Cowan and the forward came together.
Of course, the referee then pointed to the spot, a situation I would not have liked but accepted were he onside when fouled, which he clearly wasn`t.
Still fuming I looked up to see Akinola vertical again slotting the coolest of spot-kicks beyond Hinchliffe into the net.
County were 1-0 down!
For a time thereafter matters did not improve all that much as County`s back 3 earned their corn in good measure under much pressure from the visitors, Palmer doing good work in this period, with Minihan weighing in with helpful stuff as well.
It was the 14 minute mark before anything emerged of value from the Blues, attack-wise, as Walker`s diagonal ball sent Lloyd on a run down the left that won County a corner. Hogan was so close to nicking the equaliser from this, but it stayed 0-1.
Back came Barnet after that scare with Mc Callum and Akinola leading the charge, but County`s defences were well marshalled and somehow there was no addition to the score- Hogan twice doing fine work to deny Barnet forwards.
It was the 24th minute before County replied, but there was more frustration for their supporters as Lloyd`s cross saw Jackson head the ball over the bar.
If the first 25 minutes were arguably Barnet`s, you could sense a change in County`s energy levels and attacking ideas began to emerge- but Dimaio`s surging run was cut short by a foul on the edge of the box, and more frustration resulted from the free-kick and corner that followed, neither piercing the visitors defences.
Lloyd`s run to the by-line moments later, fared exactly the same, County just could not make anything of it.
Beyond 30 minutes and County were still plugging away, Hogan bursting upfield to ping a decent cross Lloyd`s way. It was a decent cross as I say, and so was Lloyd`s response but the ball flew over the bar.
It went on…..Dimaio again…. blocked on the edge of the box by Elliott Johnson- a good tackle I think, well the referee thought so …so it was!
That was 35 minutes, another 60 seconds and a shot from Dimaio fizzed its way inches over keeper Scott Loach`s bar!
That was better….much better!
County were upping their game now for sure, and Johnson was doing well for Barnet to minimise the Blues successes, a neat block by him stopping Lloyd`s latest run, 7 minutes from half time.
Another minute and some light relief as Wes Fonguck thrashed an appallingly uncontrolled effort high into the upper reaches of the Cheadle End.
Then more anguish for County and more rank bad reffing and line running as, with County piling on the pressure, the ball was handled inside the box by a Barnet defender. It was a nailed-on penalty, but despite being feet away from the action Mr Swallow and his hapless Pop Side assistant ignored a wave of protests from County players allowing play to continue with a throw being County`s only consolation! Fonguck ran this clear to add insult to injury, thankfully with no more success than he had on the last occasion he ventured forth.
Then….. just as we thought that was that for the first half …it wasn`t as Minihan and Hogan pushed County`s opponents back into their last third once more. Another throw materialised for County and Hog5an insisted on taking it, receiving the ball back before pinging a brilliant ball towards the back of the box where Palmer met it to power it home in majestic style.
It was the 45th minute….it was 1-1…..how did we ever doubt them?
McAlinden was on for Jackson, for County, when the game re-started with County now playing with 4 at the back, Minihan having slotted seamlessly in alongside Hogan on the right.
That line up was tested early, but Hinchliffe did well, making a fine catch under pressure as Barnet forced an early corner.
But…having revived noticeably in the latter part of the first half, County were now looking to build on that, and Mc Alinden`s inciteful ball only just eluded Lloyd 5 minutes into the half.
Then Mc Alinden almost got to the first of many fizzing humdingers from Minihan. Only a corner resulted from that, but the pressure continued with a second flag-kick, that saw Hogan`s header blocked as it headed in!
This was good stuff and hinted that Barnet were distinctly vulnerable to County`s increasingly lively raids.
Hinchliffe joined in, sending it long for McAlinden to chase, which he did, but he was fouled just outside the box as he cut inside from the right, and although Palmer went for Walker`s free-kick, it was snaffled by Loach to keep Darren Currie`s team afloat.
Still County pressed, and Barnet could only foul in response- Mc Callum tripping Hogan as he surged forward. Dimaio took this free-kick, only for Turnbull to loft his shot over the bar.
The hour mark saw Hinchliffe deal routinely with Fonguck`s latest effort- another poor one really, and it was not long before County piled forward again through McAlinden whose energetic run was rewarded with a corner. Palmer was so…so close from this…his header reluctantly caressing the bar.
If that was somewhat mortifying, there was more to follow as Dunne took Turnbull out ( smack under the ref`s nose) with the ball a distant memory! Dunne then went off on one as eventually Mr Swallow waved a tepid yellow in his direction. Viewed in tandem with the tackle that got Bully red-carded some weeks ago, it rather beggars belief, except it is surely naive of me to expect anything other!
Undaunted, County continued their attacking play, Mc Alinden inches from Minihan`s low delivery in the box. Again a corner resulted, and again….Palmer wanted it….got to it…..only for his header to thud into a post and fly straight into the beaten keeper`s arms!
I do not think I have said Bugger yet have I?
And with knobs on………….as Lloyd was denied a free-kick having been roughly handled by Johnson after Bell had won a keen dual with Taylor.
I had just recovered my equilibrium after that one when worse happened pretty soon thereafter when the same Taylor took McAlinden`s legs from behind as the County man entered the box.
That was as clear a penalty as the other late in the first half, but Mr Swallow was not buying was he, but interestingly he did not book McAlinden for a dive so work that one out!
Osborne came on for Dimaio, who had sustained a knock, with 20 minutes left, and after so much unrewarded attacking from County, Barnet started to get back into it pushing the Blues onto the back foot.
But JG`s men were defending well still, and Cowan put in a fantastic block to deny Alexander as he surged clear down the right.
County came under pressure for a while next, ended with 12 minutes left, as McAlinden induced Santos to slice an intended clearance into the Cheadle End. Loach claimed the ball from the corner, and McAlinden was distinctly unlucky moments after to be flagged offside having darted clear.
The 80th minute saw Santos`s header ushered off the line by the diligent Sam Minihan, the pressure was on the blues again with Alexander the prime mover for Barnet, but midst it all Hinchliffe was a beacon of solidity and confidence which seemed to be visibly seeping into the pores of his teammates!
With 8 minutes left Mc Alinden `got some` from Dunne – my notes say `a mugging` but hay….Mr Swallow`s mind was on another plain once more!
Another minute and there was work for Hinchliffe who pulled off a neat save to stop McCallum from nicking a late winner for the visitors.
More pressure ensued……another great block from Cowan on Mason-Clark….corners defended…..Cowan heading off the line, it was sterling stuff if a tad nerve-racking, but capped by a break from deep by Lloyd it was tolerable, although Barnet survived the attack!
Back came Barnet, and Hinchliffe again did well, with just a minute left, to emerge with the ball with a clutch of Barnet players on his case!
Normal time ended with Osborne blasting one high over the bar, after Bell had shrugged off Dunnes attempts at a shirt exchange.
That was Bell` s final contribution, as Arthur replaced him smack on 90 minutes.
Added time was notable for more good work from Hinchliffe, and similar from Walker and Lloyd at the other end, but none of this altered the scoreline.
Oh…and a witless………..stupid……self- indulgent exhibition from one individual who took it upon himself to jump the barrier and strut about pitchside, happened in added time, so Mr Swallow will have something more to write about in his report, which could cost us ………….again.
Thankfully, County received a decent reception from their supporters at the end, a far more fitting way to conclude proceedings after JG `s men having worked so hard for what was a decent point!
Stockport County line up:-
Hnchliffe, Hogan, Palmer Cowan, Minihan, Jackson ( Mc Alinden 45), Turnbull, Walker, Dimaio ( Osborne 69), Lloyd, Bell ( Arthur 90)
Subs not used : Ormson, Clarke.
Barnet line up:-
Loach, Alexander, Johnson, Santos, Dunne, Sparkes ( Tutonda 69), Akinola ( Walker 69), Mc Callum, Taylor, Fonguck ( Mason – Clark 63), Sweeney.
Subs not used : Matrevics, Adams.
Attendance 5011 ( 202)