Date: 18th July 2017 at 11:39am
Written by:

I came away from this one in a really positive mood…not only had County
done battle with mighty Preston North End of the Country’s second tier, The
Championship, but they had more than held their own in a tightly contested
game , shaded 1-2 by the Lancashire side.

It was a really decent performance from County, particularly so because
Preston fielded their first team, minus the injured keeper Declan Rudd ,Tom
Clarke and Josh Harrop, for much of the game, and only snatched the lead
with 5 minutes left of the first half.

The County players and their Manager, will be well satisfied with this
showing, none more so than Michael Clarke who I thought was excellent
throughout- always in control and cool as the proverbial….

Michael had Chris Smalley back alongside him and that was good to see.

The threat from Preston came down our left flank where Hampson, with Melle
Barkhuizen on his case in the first half, had a torrid time of it. On the
other flank at the back, Dan Cowan shaped up well , perhaps understandably
concentrating on matters defensive rather than launching himself. The
second half , with Sam Minihan on, gave Dan a chance to push on, and it
showed he could do that well enough.

Elsewhere…Oswell looked lively and combative, and not put off at all by
the exalted company on the park , and his goal was just reward for his
efforts, while midfielders Walker, Winter and Warburton worked a real shift

To sum up….impressive from County…and from Preston too. They came to
play football and certainly did that, and were supported in that by over
400 Lancastrians who were housed in the Pop Side .

Preston settled into some nice passing movements early on, forcing County
onto the back foot, and we might have seen the Lancashire side take the
lead just a couple of minutes in but for Dan Cowan who, defending like a
demon, cleared the ball off the line after Barkhuizen had beaten Hampson
and pinged in his cross cum shot.

County broke up the park next and I swear I am correct in saying County
should have had a penalty as Warburton was brought crashing down in the
box. It most definitely was IN the box ,but conforming to a fine
refereeing tradition, Mr Hull awarded County a free kick several
millimetres outside the box! The kick went straight into keeper Maxwell’s
hands to compound the angst.

The Championship side re-doubled their efforts after that last action, and
Walker did ever so well to block Robinson’s run in a crowded County last
third. Hinchliffe did even better holding onto a follow up effort from the
same forward.

Barkhuizen was having a worryingly good game down the right for North End,
and only his finishing was letting him down , as he lifted his shot high
into the Cheadle End after battling his way into the box.

Next minute Cowan was on hand again ,doing great work to stop Pringle
reaching Barkhuizen with his deep cross to the back post.

This was a real test for County, but they were showing that they were up to
the task!

Preston were working hard at getting an opening goal, but with all barring
Oswell and Warburton behind the ball, the visitors progress was limited to
shots from the edge or outside the box where efforts from Barkhuizen and
Johnson only served to get us ducking in Row R.

On it went in the same vein….Barkhuizen shooting wide….. Robinson
blocked by the immaculate Clarke…..Barkhuizen thwarted again this time
via an excellent Hinchliffe save after the lanky wide man had run through
Winter and Cowan as if they weren’t there.

Preston probably should have been leading at this point, with 28 minutes
gone, but they weren’t , and a foul on Warburton teed County up to make
them rue their lack of finishing power. The kick was good and Stephenson
was narrowly prevented from getting a surprise goal on the end of it. The
ball however was not wholly cleared and County wanted it….got it…and
did something with it as Oswell rifled a beauty home in front of the away

This stung Preston , and another link up twixt the dangerous duo- Robinson
and Barkhuizen, was only thwarted by more excellence from Clarke as
Robinson strove to reach a tasty ball in the box.

County were by no means done, indeed they might well have doubled their
advantage had not Lady Luck’s fashion accessory not hit them amidships.
First off Ball had an effort saved by Maxwell at his near post…then an
almighty melee ensued in the North End box with Oswell and Warburton
striving to add the vital touch to some dangerous County attacking play.

But……and bugger…..from all out attack….we switched to a head long
rush back in the direction of Hinchliffe as Barkhuizen broke clear before
teeing Robinson up to beat the County keeper with a cool finish!

1-1then, and I was half anticipating that Preston might rest on their
laurels a touch ( see any flaw at all folks in my reasoning so far?)

In fact …what happened was that Preston attacked again, and Hinchliffe
had to make a fine save to stop Robinson doubling his personal account!

It was good play from Preston , and good football as well, and with 5
minutes left of the half they got their reward, as Barkhuizen darted clear
to plant a neat strike into the County net .

With the half almost over, County almost equalised. A fine break from
Warburton added nicely to the work done by himself and Walker in turning
deep defence into rapid attack. Warburton could not get past North End’s
defensive wall, and although Oswell tried with a follow up effort, this too
was close but not quite close enough!

One down at half time to a decent Championship side was not a bad return at
all…in fact a very good one!

The only changes for County after the break were Ormson for
Hinchliffe….Minihan for Winter and Duxbury was in for Hampson.

Good work from Stephenson and Warburton was rendered null when the referee
awarded a goal kick after Andy Boyle had put the ball out for a corner with
Stephenson on fire in the box.

That was more than disappointing….and this feeling was compounded when
Stephenson’s efforts received further scant reward, as his shot flew inches
wide with Maxwell straining impotently to reach it!

Preston were still putting decent attacks together, mainly via Daryl Horgan
on the left, who I made their M.O.M along with Barkhuisen. The crosses
just kept on coming from Horgan , but without anyone applying the necessary
finish. Add to this the fact that the good passing disciplines Preston had
relaxed into before the break, were now going somewhat for a bucket of
chalk at times gifting County some good possession.

For County the main attacking responses came from Duxbury , and Oswell went
close to heading home from a corner created by one such Duxbury run- he was
showing great tenacity!

We were still however in danger of getting caught out occasionally and ,65
minutes in, Ormson was in action tipping the ball over the bar at the very
last gasp as it swung in from the right.

With Thomas on for Stephenson and Brazel for Oswell, County kept trying to
get that equaliser, and they very nearly did it via a gritty run by Duxbury
, as he linked up with Walker and Warburton. A foul gave County a free
kick, and almost that goal, but the ball instead flashed inches in front of
Clarke and Thomas in front of goal!

County kept it up…another Duxbury run… from Minihan that saw
Maxwell snaffle the pill under pressure at the back post.

It was good stuff ,and for North End there was still Horgan, and he was
still pinging the crosses over 13 to the dozen( but with the same end
result). He even had a chance to show his colleagues just how it is done ,
but latching onto Vermijl’s through ball, he could only emulate his team
mates by lifting his shot over the bar.

West and Etches were now on for County replacing Warburton and Ball , and
the young pair ran about to good effect without reward.

A save by Ormson from Ben Davies ended the game’s meaningful action.

Soon enough the referee blew for time and both teams left to applause after
what had been as good a test as James might have wished for, for his team.

It was not bad entertainment either.

See you at Ashton on Tuesday I hope!

[ Pictures –> here! ]

Stockport County line up:

Hinchliffe( Ormson 45),Cowan, Clarke, Smalley, Hampson ( Duxbury 45),Winter
( Minihan 45), Ball ( Etches 80), Walker, Oswell ( Brazel 75), Warburton (
West 81), Stephenson ( Thomas 68).

Preston North End teams;-

First Half:-

Maxwell, Grimshaw, Huntington, Spurr, Earl, Pearson, Johnson, Barkhuizen,
Pringle, Robinson, May.

Second Half;-

Maxwell, Vermijl, Boyle, Davies, Cunningham, Mellensteen, Gallagher,
Browne, Horgan, Doyle, Huggil.

Attendance: 1470

Ian Brown


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