[Written By Ian Brown ]
County served up a top-notch pre Yule booster for their travelling army of over 400 supporters at the Hive today, where a sensational late burst of scoring saw them secure a brilliant 2-1 victory, after trailing until late, to Darren Currie`s Barnet side.
This fine win sees the Blues pushing for a playoff spot and was just reward for sticking at it when seemingly under the cosh. It was also clear testimony to County`s superior fitness levels which saw them turn the game on its head in the last few minutes as the Bees wilted before them.
Undoubtedly Barnet will feel a tad miffed , having played some skilful stuff for long periods , particularly goal scorer Ephron Mason- Clark, but all the skilled approach play in the world ( and there was lots from our hosts) is as Knut`s throne was to stopping the tides, if there is no finishing of note to go with it- and there truly wasn`t.
For County, the issues were of a different hue. They were under a lot of pressure, and they defended against this magnificently, but a familiar pattern of clearances from deep positions not finding a white shirt just multiplied County`s problems as the pressure was on them again. Then it wasn`t as, by sheer will power, James Gannon`s men hauled themselves back from the edge of the precipice to send their ecstatic fans home deliriously happy courtesy of fine strikes by Osborne and Mulhern.
Those of us arriving early were unlucky enough to experience the humourless curmudgeons masquerading as stewards interpretation of crowd control- I nearly said customer service, but we all know there is no such thing for travelling fans.
Aggressive rudeness to people I know to be regular / responsible travelling County fans, looked way over the top. Also having stopped several within our numbers from visiting the club shop, under the doubtful premise that ‘we need you to be inside the stadium’ ( at 1 o’clock that is)- useless prats just does not fully do them justice- but the memory of same added spice to the magic of the victory later!!
On the pitch, Sam Walker for Adam Thomas, and Nyal Bell for Frank Mulhern were the changes on view for County on an overcast but not remotely Siberian style cold day.
There was a wee frisson of excitement from the off as Bell surged clear, but the home defensive cover was intact and soon saw County defending.
The second minute saw a first moment of irritation at referee Sam Allison who gave Barnet a scoring opportunity via a free-kick just outside the box. This became a corner as County closed ranks in front of Hinchliffe, and despite Medi Alito`s best efforts with the kick, there was nothing down for our hosts as Osborne ushered the ball clear.
County`s attempts to make something from defensive nothings were already not shaping up that well, as Barnet, playing the pill to feet, forced the white-shirted Blues back again. It was Mason-Clark and Alexander who linked up with 4 minutes gone , and their attack down the right looked potent until it wasn`t and the limpest of finishes saw the away end ducking in unison.
Bell meanwhile looked to be seeking to do stuff, but keeper Scott Loach had enough about him a minute later to see the danger off.
For a time County tried to push on, only for Loach to party poop once more holding onto a Minihan shot after Osborne`s cross found no takers.
It went on Osborne sending another shot in…..Loach making a comfy stop……then a fine defensive block on Elito by Keane drew applause from the County following, only for the imprecision in the passing from County thereafter to end any hope of progress.
Barnet were certainly looking a capable footballing side, and it took another good bit of work from Palmer to stop Josh Walker as he surged beyond Arthur to the by-line.
Both keepers were busy lads for a time next…….Loach hungrily snaffling a cross from Rodney at one end, whilst Hinchliffe had to make a fine save with his legs to save the day with Mason-Clark advancing on goal at the other.
County had allowed Barnet to hit them on the counter, and they did it again not long after, as some excellent work by Keane and Rodney went for a bucket of chalk as County`s backline again came under threat. The result was almost precisely the same with Hinchliffe using his legs to make a brilliant stop to deny Mason- Clark. The home specs were still hyperventilating like crazy when Josh Walker had them reaching for the BP tabs as his lamentable follow-up effort again joined 405 souls under the roof of the away end.
Hinchliffe continued to be busy, doing well to make a save at the foot of a post. County responded, but without suggesting that they had sussed out how to sort our hosts- Rodney saw a shot drift wide, whilst Minihan watched as his shot beat Loach but missed out by a foot of so following Palmer`s header back across goal from Sam Walker`s free-kick.
Much as Tom Walker and Osborne would try to work something from that nothing I mentioned earlier, and Sam Walker probed the home defences with free kick`s , County thus far were no more effective than Barnet at applying the appropriate finish.
A last gasper from Tyler Garratt illuminated what was left of the half, and I found myself fairly satisfied with 0-0 as a scoreline as the teams went in for the break.
Mulhern was on for Bell when the action resumed, and in no time County found themselves defending the cheapest of free kicks. They defended this with commendable skill, and what followed gave me renewed hope as from deep Sam Walker sent his namesake Tom darting clear on the end of a precociously fine ball. He was flagged offside which was disappointing, but there were seeds of something good there to lessen the blow.
It was not long before County were defending again, and they saw off a corner with practised aplomb, but there was no counter-attack to follow, and Dunne latched onto the ball in a decent position only to drag his shot well wide.
It was end to end stuff for a time next Tom Walker getting no reward from a decent break from deep, and home keeper Loach doing enough to see off a County free-kick.
Then Barnet replied via Mason-Clark but, from his cross, Dunne again disappointing the home specs by heading over.
Back came County and I was sympathetic to Frank`s baleful appeals to liner and ref as he was felled comprehensively by Reynolds on the edge of the box.
Reynold`s irked us once more just a minute later blocking Rodney with a neat bit of precision defending though.
County were under the cosh now , and it looked ominous for a time, and I was relieved to see Johnson lift his shot into the `Bees Terrace` after latching onto another wayward clearance by County.
Beyond the hour and Jackson was on for Tom Walker, but it was Barnet`s turn on the front foot and Hinchliffe did well to keep Mason-Clark`s deflected shot out!
If that one caused a flurry, there was another one soon on the way also, this time it was Elito on the ball and then not as an awful shot from him cleared the terrace behind the goal.
Some nonsense involving a bounce up (favouring Barnet) was awarded when a Barnet pass hit the referee! Give me strength someone…..since when is that a fitting response – the correct one would be to let play go on ( or am I wrong ?)!
I was still mumbling to myself unhappily when the condition was worsened as Barnet took the lead. Almost inevitably it came via Mason-Clark who took advantage of County`s inability to clear their lines by slotting a cross-field shot in at the back post!
That was not good, but what followed on from it was distinctly so, as County took the game to their opponents in a fashion that had their supporters cheering loudly – Rodney sliding in within inches of putting Osborne`s cross into the net.
County continued to defend like heroes (they pretty much had to) with Tutonda on their case with a skilful run. His fall to earth and accompanying `death pose` was less skilful and ( credit where it is due) Mr Allison refused to buy the appeals for a penalty from the local `ultras`.
Back came County, a series of attacking moves culminating in a surging run by Minihan and a cross that invited attention. Osborne duly provided it slamming the truest of shots beyond Loach into the net!
The away end was one seething mass of happy cheering …chanting County fans, and you could almost sense the sinking feeling that would now be beginning to take a hold of the men in orange.
Yes you could, and I felt it as Jackson just failed to get a shot in from Rodney`s impish cross.
Barnet were happy to find touch now, and they needed to as Garratt pinged over a cross that scorched and fizzed its way across the face of the home goal.
Into the last 10 minutes we went with Totunda again unable to control his finish, sending the loosest of efforts way wide.
But mainly it was County doing the pressing now and Loach did well to hold onto a shot from Osborne with 6 minutes left.
Time for a reply by Barnet and a neat catch from Hinchliffe, and from that County went for the jugular again, Rodney almost doing the trick turning inside his marker into the box where Loach did brilliantly to snatch the pill off his toes.
Rodney`s general attitude and play merits a goal, in my view, but his chance to get it this time disappeared not long after with the sight of Thomas coming on to replace him with 3 minutes left.
On it went, with Barnet commendably managing a response but Mason- Clark`s cross whizzed across the box unattended by the men in orange who were about to pay the full price for their inefficiency.
The break that followed by County saw Jackson`s shot deflected for a corner. Osborne took it planting his near-perfect delivery into the 6-yard box invitingly. County attacked this wholesale but Keano and Frank were nearest. It was difficult to see which of the two got the final touch, but Frank was in no doubt and eventually got the nod ….he had scored and it was 2-1 to County.
There was defending for County to do in added time, but they did it with their accustomed efficiency, even seeing off Mr Allison`s late gift to our hosts in the shape of a centrally placed and distinctly scoreable free-kick .
For Barnet…it was not to be…..for County and their supporter …sheer joy of victory snatched valiantly from the perceived jaws of defeat.
Well done County…well done JG….well done the 405!
Barnet FC line up:-
Loach, Alexander, Johnson, Rynolds, Dunne, Taylor, Elito, J Walker, Tutonda ( Chime 86), Sweeney, Mason- Clark.
Subs not used : Azaze, Akinola , Fonguck, Hernandez.
Stockport County line up:-
Hinchliffe, Minihan, Palmer, Arthur, Garratt, Keane, S Walker, Osborne, Bell ( Mulhern 45), T Walker ( Jackson 61), Rodney ( Thomas 87).
Subs not used : Ormson, Turnbull.
Attendance :- 1536( 405)