This performance, if I may say so, had many of the classic hallmarks of a James Gannon team showing!
Maybe the silky smooth play wasn`t there for much of the time, but much else thankfully was!
I am talking about grit, the element that allows a team that is being outplayed (as County were for much of the first half, by a Salford team so very much up for it), and goes behind?to apply themselves ??equalise and secure the win in convincing style.
Yes, I was impressed (well, after the break I was), as the James Gannon mantra of ‘do not foul, and offer your opponents advantage` came in to play big time, winning the points for the blues as Salford fell apart , with their discipline gone for the proverbial bucket of chalk!
Top men in blue for me were Montrose and Stopforth, but I might have said Clarke or Ross, and very nearly did, as they excelled at times against a Salford team who came to play, and particularly before the break looked well capable of winning the game.
Goals by Stopforth and Montrose saw to it that they didn`t, but County`s win was as much a product of the team`s work ethic as the goals that brought it about!
Odejayi for the injured Amis was the only change when JG`s team took to the field circa 2.50. By 3 o`clock the County faithful were groaning loudly as it became clear that the blues would kick towards the Cheadle End in the first half!
Hmm, I was intent on telling myself that that would be an early but isolated blemish on an otherwise blissfully happy afternoon, but despite being first out of the traps, in attacking terms, I was soon adding frowns to groans as Salford seemed altogether better equipped than they had been last week and they were playing the ball about a bit to prove it.
Ex Hatter Stephen O`Halloran was in to his stride early doors, and it took work of exceptional worth from Mark Ross to halt the former Irish International`s push for the by-line.
Clarke was next to show, finding touch with Jordan Hulme searching eagerly for scraps in the box, and with only a few minutes gone it was already possible to allow the odd doubt to creep in, but that said?with Ross and Clarke offering the assurance of stability, I chose to ignore the negative thoughts.
This was easier to think about than do , as the passes were still zinging about the park between men in white tops- most notably Craig King and Hulme , and Hinchliffe had to look lively to deny the duo who seemed to have the County back line bamboozled for a time.
A foul on Meppen-Walter offered County some relief but this was short lived as Jay Lynch, the City keeper, snaffled the pill confidently when the kick came his way.
I took heart, 6 minutes in, to see O`Halloran`s hard work cast to the swine as one of his colleagues drifted into an offside position keenly spotted by the Pop Side liner.
It took less than a minute for things to go pear shaped for County though. It was largely their own fault really as Salford were gifted time on the ball they must have dreamt of.
A free kick to the Lancastrian side did not help at all, and the push that followed from it saw Hulme and Scott Burton thoroughly fillet County`s defence, before feeding Richard Wellens who promptly slammed the ball home.
Whoa, less than 10 minutes gone, one down?this was not good. Danny Lloyd offered hope with a typically dynamic run, but with a 2 man escort it was always destined to fail, and so it did.
That was better though, but no sooner had this thought occurred to me when Hulme sent my thought processes spinning with a leggy run that had the County back line stretched.
It looked 100% on for 2-0 as he sent the ball to Wellens smack in front, but the number ten fluffed his lines- unable to force the ball home. Hindsight allows me to identify this moment as a game changer, but at this point ( still not 10 minutes in) I was content to feel relieved.
County tried to hit back ,but with the referee ignoring a foul on Meppen-Walter, Salford took advantage of his absence to surge forward, and Hinchliffe did particularly well to save a neat back heeled effort from Hulme with his defence no-where.
Wellens tried to make amends shortly after, with a very good through ball that seemed to offer Hulme every chance of sneaking one. Enter Michael Clarke, and the County stopper expertly blocked the forwards path to goal, doing just enough to see the threat off before dispatching the pill towards Hardcastle Road.
Hmm, again, 15 minutes had now gone, and I found myself scribbling the legend ` Salford are well worth their lead`, ” Surely not ” I think I hear you cry, but they were , and another minute and I looked up from the scribbles to see Hinchliffe dive and push a shot from Wellens around the post!
County eventually responded, and Simon Grand located touch with a speed seldom seen at this level, with Odejayi bearing down on him. Ross`s throw was a good one and sent Stopforth into the box, but his effort was blocked and Odejayi found the weight of numbers too much for him beyond the far post, so Salford survived, with Odejayi inches from reaching a Meppen-Walter cross.
Back came Salford with Wellens and O`Halloran combining menacingly down the left flank- Clarke was on hand to sort the danger however.
No one was on hand next as Hulme latched onto the ball, but it did not matter as he lifted the shot high over the bar which was a massive waste of what had, worryingly, looked rather decent attacking play from him.
It went on with O`Halloran again to the fore, this time with Burton as co-conspirator. The pair did well?but Hulme did not?? being unable to force the ball home when very handily placed indeed!
The Salford attacking continued?aided by an early Xmas gift from referee Simeon Lucas whose apparent hallucinatory state allowed him to see a corner when Ball quite definitely played the ball out off a white shirt!
Ho hum, it was ever thus?but thankfully ?despite loads of man sized huffing and puffing from Hulme and Wellens ?neither could summon up a shot worthy of the name and it stayed 1-0 to City.
That last action saw the 28th minute off. Another 2 minutes, and County were level. Started by a throw that Ross hurled magnificently into the fray from wide right??hurried on via Meppen-Walter and Lloyd , allowing Stopforth to ghost in unseen to put the neatest of finishes beyond Lynch`s agonised contortions , into the net!
It was 1-1 and the County fans were singing again?and a nice sound they made too!
Both sides went at the task of getting a lead before the break with gusto, but Ross`s free kick saw Odejayi and Ball thwarted by a forest of white shirts. At the other end it was no different as Wellens was denied by Clarke.
County were looking livelier than they had done prior to the equaliser, but they still had defending to do and Ross did well to retrieve the situation after a foul by Meppen-Walter had put County under the cosh from the subsequent free kick.
More woe threatened not long after for County, again via Meppen-Walter whose poor pass put us in danger again. Thankfully Minihan did the biz- stopping O`Halloran`s pass from creating havok.
Salford had the better of the latter stages of the half??Clarke doing well to stop King, at one point, whilst Allen lifted his shot high and wide almost in the half`s dying breath, with County showing no signs of breaking free of the pressure.
I was happy with 1-1, but I guessed that JG would be far from pleased, so I expected a change in the second half, if we were to beat this Salford side.
The second half opened with County attacking. Ball`s energy earned the blues a run of corners but nothing materialised from them other than a feeling that perhaps JG`s words had started to have an impact!
Stopforth was having a decent game against his former club, and along with Montrose was doing his best to put Salford to the sword.
Irritatingly however, County still were aiding their opponents in so far as both Meppen-Walter and Smalley were caught in possession. Salford proved obligingly inept however at turning what were decent chances into goals. Nottingham showed a better inclination, but was unlucky, 53 minutes in, to see his effort fly narrowly wide with Hinchliffe beaten.
JG swapped Cartwright for Meppen-Walter a minute later, and the young fullback promptly took up position in front of Minihan on the left.
It went nip and tuck for a time after this??Ross putting Salford under pressure and oh so nearly punishing them for their indiscipline with his free kick?, Hulme did his best for City too, but found Smalley on his case and any chance but an inglorious memory!
On it went?, Allen inches away after being given oodles of space and time on the ball by County, and Cartwright disappointed to see his shot miss out a foot or so above the angle of bar and post.
Credit to Salford, they were still working at winning this one, but unfortunately for them, so were County and they benefited crucially from the persistence and skill of Jimmy Ball who won them an improbable corner.
The kick was a belter, and keeper Lynch came off decidedly second best to Odejayi as the pair came together along with the ball. The ball drifted clear?but to Montrose who stroked a monstrously good strike home from the edge of the box.
It was 2-1 to County now and a small mountain had been climbed!
The descent is always far more dangerous for climbers than is the ascent, so no one was overly bullish, happy, but cautious maybe at the same time, and rightly so as Clarke, Smalley and then Ross were called on to take rapid action with Salford intent on getting that equaliser.
Salford were getting more and more frantic now, with around 20 minutes left, and Clarke did well to stop Nottingham after he had forced his way into the box past Minihan.
O`Halloran and Hulme also went close around this time but without success, and Salford threw on 2 substitutes ,with 15 minutes left, in an effort to get back in it, but their discipline was in shreds for some reason and WW3 broke out briefly as Grand launched himself on Lloyd as he broke clear.
The duo joined together in a testosterone tango before being joined by just about everyone in blue or white shirts.
It was yellows all around when hostilities subsided ?I could see the yellow for Grand?but the Lloyd bit, surely a poor decision!? County had the free kick, but not a third goal as Salford somehow managed to hold out.
They were leaking bookings left?right and centre however, and Marsden ( having replaced Lloyd) went close with a snap shot with barely 2 minutes remaining of the game.
Into added time it went with Burton joining the long list of Lancastrian names in Mr Lucas`s book, for a brain dead foul on Montrose as he sped clear from deep defence with the ball.
County contented themselves with `keep ball` near the far corner flag ?winning throw after throw whilst keeping an increasingly frustrated Salford team pinned deep in their own half with the minutes ?and the game, slipping away from Salford.
A late/ late Marsden run petered out as the referee blew for time, and the points were ours!
That was a decidedly good result to come back and win the game against a side so?so up for it. You can just about see James` stamp beginning to show on his players, and I for one cannot wait for the next match!
I will finish by thanking all those, especially exiled County supporters, who have emailed or sent me texts or posted on message boards, offering their support following recent off field events involving myself. I really appreciate all the kind thoughts and words and am happy to say that I will continue to produce the match reports going forward.
[ Photos from the game can be found here. Love the flags on the Pop Side ]
Stockport County line up:
Hinchliffe, Ross, Clarke, Smalley, Minihan, Meppen-Walter( Cartwright 54),Stopforth, Montrose, Odejayi ( Carney 75), Ball, Lloyd ( Marsden 87).
Subs not used:
Salford City line up:
Lynch, Nottingham O`Halloran, Burton, Grand , Priestley, King, Barnes, Hulme( Phenix 75), Wellens( Poole 75), Allen( Warburton 68).
Subs not used:
Attendance ; 3830
County 2 Salford City 1
This performance, if I may say so, had many of the classic hallmarks of a James Gannon team showing!