[ Written By Ian Brown ]
A thoroughly professional performance by County, saw them claim their second successive win upon their return to the National League, against Eastleigh today in the sun at Edgeley Park.
If the game, compared to Tuesday evenings epic, was decidedly less high octane, Ben Strevens` Spitfires had enough about them to make life difficult for County, and they did their share of attacking, but without any semblance of lethality in the last third where it counts.
County in response showed the sort of measured application that will serve them well at this level and there was no retreat into deep defence late on this time, JG`s side having presumably learned loads from Tuesday, and paced themselves accordingly this time out, claiming two first class second half goals and all the points in the process.
Once again it was difficult to settle on a M.O.M….Dimaio ?….he was certainly in terrific form throughout thoroughly deserving the ovation on being subbed that he received……Thomas?…..again I thought , as I did on Tuesday, that he was not a million miles away from being M.O.M…or Osborne who added a fantastic goal to another 90 minute performance today….or Keane or Palmer, both of whom contributed hugely to our first shut out of the current season.
In the end I gave it to all 14 ….and JG as well as we anticipate a visit to North Yorkshire next week with renewed relish!
Oh….and I must say I was impressed with Festus Arthur again- a talented young footballer producing the goods and fulfilling the promise of his youth team days- great stuff!
Back at 3 o’clock there was another good crowd inside Edgeley Park including a lively bunch from Hampshire who gave their side much needed and noisy support throughout.
County were unchanged from Tuesday and quickly into their stride in the sun.
Dimaio looked in excellent nick from the start , and only the tastiest of blocking tackles from Alex Wynter stopped a decent run from him.
Some lively moves emanated from the Blues in the first 5 or 6 minutes, but Eastleigh met these with ordered defence in which Wynter looked in charge and at home. Keano looked at home too, but his larruping drive flew wide with visions of Tuesday in his and our heads still.
It was time for a response from the Spitfires and it came via Ben Williamson, who I thought had a decent game for Eastleigh, and Hinchliffe had to produce a hasty `last ditcher` to deny him, which he did expertly. A corner resulted of course, but no more for the visitors as Williamson planted his header from this wide.
With 10 minutes gone, Eastleigh were gradually warming to their task as Minihan did well to concede only a corner with Mike Green and Cav Miley bearing down on goal down the left. We then got a hint of how things would go, as again the flag kick came to nothing, with the County back line in shut out mode.
It went on with Williamson close, but not hitting the target for Eastleigh, and Thomas`s cross for the blues, missing Mulhern by fractions with Wynter and Green combining affectively at the back to see the danger off.
Thomas had had a whiff of what was required though, his next run ending with keeper Max Stryjek making a crucial catch under pressure after Adam had combined nicely with Minihan and Osborne.
That was the 14th minute, fully 4 minutes elapsed before there was anything further of note to record and it came as a foul by Cowan opened up possibilities for the visitors from the resultant free kick. Jack Payne hit the wrong note however with his kick, only a throw resulting, when far worse might have been possible. The throw did give rise to some excitement from the travelling fans behind me, but it soon abated as Hinchliffe beat McKnight to the ball after Turnbull had headed out under pressure.
Soon 20 minutes had elapsed, and it had been a pretty even game so far, with both teams getting on the ball a fair bit. If County maybe looked the side more capable than the other to end the stalemate…..it remained to be seen whether or not that bold assessment by yours truly would prevail.
Meanwhile with Palmer sent up the park to challenge for a free kick, after a foul on Dimaio, it was disappointing to see Stryjek clutch the ball to him as the header from County`s number five came his way.
Twenty-three minutes gone, became 25 with no change with Osborne inches away with his snapshot.
But……County were looking lively again, and another minute almost saw Thomas in- a desperate last ditcher by Wynter enough to stop the rot for his team. He could not avoid conceding a free kick, but County were no better than Eastleigh had been in dispatching this, free kick and subsequent corner being dealt with coolly by Wynter and company.
On it went, in much the same vein, with neither side looking that likely to end the deadlock, although things suddenly sparked into life, 34 minutes in, as excellent work at the back by Palmer saw him then send Thomas surging clear from deep. It had the Blue Army roaring loudly as a one-two twixt him and Dimaio almost squared the circle- Thomas`s shot being deflected for a corner …..then another….but Eastleigh`s angst abated as Palmer`s header , from Keano`s cross, went wide.
As we headed towards the break, it was gradually becoming clear that County were building up a head of steam- Mulhern inches from getting to Jackson`s ball in the box. Wynter had done the biz conceding a corner, and this saw Palmer penalised when going for another speciality goal to again ease the visitors worries.
The last 5 minutes of the half opened with Keane in action heading out from under the post as an Exocet from Partington fizzed in from wide right.
Then Minihan took centre stage with a run that promised much. It just might have materialised as well, had Referee James Bell, or his liner, spotted a blatant body check on Mulhern as he shaped to latch onto Minihan`s pass in the box. He apparently did not see what I saw, and Frank briefly protested in vain from his position on the deck.
Just a minute on from that action, and we got a reply from Eastleigh, but Mc Knight disappointed the travelling specs by lifting his shot high into the Cheadle End.
This triggered a response from County, and it was a good one as well, involving Thomas, Dimaio and Mulhern, but we were as disappointed as the hardy travellers from Hampshire had been seconds earlier, as Stryjek denied Thomas- holding onto his shot confidently.
I fancied that that just may have been the last action of note in the half, but I was wrong, as right at the death the Blues might have….no…should have scored, and the chance fell Minihan`s way.
It started with yet another break from deep by Thomas, and a pass onward to Minihan. In truth Sam looked many yards offside to me, but the liner`s flag stayed down as Minihan saw the white`s of the keeper`s eyes. A striker would have put it away, but Sam`s effort under pressure from the keeper, went disappointingly wide, sending the teams in at half time still level at 0-0.
A siege of Stryjek`s goal ensued when play resumed, and the keeper was busy ….doing well to keep it at 0-0.
That took up 5 minutes, then Eastleith responded having perhaps their best period of the game- Holland and Mc Knight probing for an opening- the latter`s effort on 53 minutes winning a corner only, that was cleared with comfort by the blues. Eastleigh had decent approach play to point to but precious little in the way of zing in front of goal which seems to perhaps point to a difficult season ahead.
Holland then took a turn at the back but rather blotted his copy book with a foul on Dimaio. A chance? I think so, but the kick was ineffective and any chance was gone.
Then things got altogether better, as the ball headed up field from Hinchliffe to Mulhern whose pass to Dimaio opened up the visitors` rear guard. In a flash Dimaio moved the ball on to Thomas and the net bulged as he finished with the aplomb we are becoming used to seeing from him!
That was simply excellent and 1-0 almost became 2-0 as Thomas `s through ball was snaffled by Stryjek with Mulhern a fag paper`s width away from getting it!
The 64th minute saw a crucial block by Minihan stop a lively reply from the Spitfires and Turnbull do likewise just a minute later to stop McKnight.
Bell came on for Mulhern at this point, getting in the action straight off, but shooting over the top on the end of a Keane pass.
Was Bell presence having an affect on Eastleigh? Quite possibly so, as Stryjek could next be found way out of his area keeping the pill from the County forward as Hinchliffe pinged one in long.
Substitute Sam Smart`s pull back from the by-line next, saw Keane on hand to deal and snuff out any danger , but it was mainly County on the attack Dimaio and Thomas seeing shots charged down.
Yes….County were looking for a second , and did not look that unlikely to nick one, but oops……the back door was open….and Barnett was in behind the home back line! It was a chance for sure, but another to go begging as the substitute`s header sailed straight into Hinchliffe`s waiting arms.
But the Spitfires had maybe got a whiff of something now, and came back for more , and County seemed to be aiding and abetting them – fouling up a routine throw in, and them giving away a needless free kick. Hinchliffe emerged from the ensuing melee with the ball, and the angst was over….but only briefly as Cowan gave away a free kick . This was cleared, but County needed to avoid giving unnecessary bonuses to their opponents.
With 10 minutes left JG brought on Festus Arthur for Dimaio who left to an ovation.
Arthur got in the mix early , joining Jackson Minihan and Keane pushing Eastleigh back . Keane sent Minihan clear, despite the attentions of two opponents. A corner followed, but no more, as Bell was kept from the ball by good work from Wynter.
We were 7 minutes from the end now, and we needed a second goal to snuff out any last ditch resistance from Eastleigh, but there looked to be the minimum of danger as Jackson`s throw reached Osborne some way from goal. But….Osborne turned inside and instantly volleyed the ball home in astonishing fashion!
A truly excellent goal, and at 2-0 that looked the game pretty much sorted!
Hmm…..indeed….. but no one told Eastleigh and they kept plugging away, but Barnett`s header , with 2 minutes left, went wide.
Into added time we went then, with Kirby on for Thomas, and Eastleigh continuing to seek something from the game, but in response Arthur, Palmer and Keane all got good work in to frustrate them.
Right at the death some overly tricky footwork from Stryjek almost gifted County a goal, but I think that County will be content with the 2-0 win – the supporters certainly were and let them know so when the whistle went.
Since the season`s start we have now seen steady progress…..a loss…followed by 2 draws…..then by a first win …..and finally a second win with a clean sheet- that augurs well for the season to come , in my view.
Off to North Yorkshire next Saturday then, and with added confidence as well after a thoroughly well deserved win.
See you all there hopefully!
Stockport County line up:-
Hinchliffe, Minihan, Palmer, Keane, Cowan, Turnbull, Osborne, Thomas ( Kirby 91), Mulhern ( Bell 65), Dimaio ( Arthur 80), Jackson.
Subs not used : Ormson, Curran.
Eastleigh FC line up:-
Stryjek, Partington, Green, Boyce, Mc Knight ( Smart 67), Payne, Rendell ( Barnett 67) , Wynter, Miley, Williamson ( Bearwish 83), Hollands.
Subs not used : Atkinson, Baughan