[ Written by Ian Brown ]
County had to be content with a point today upon their return to Edgeley Park after the disappointment of last Saturday’s narrow FA Cup defeat.
Unfortunately the blues were faced with a Chester side that simply oozed life and organisational nous, with Dawson, and Mahon possibly the pick with Asante and Stopforth not far behind. Roberts also deserves a mention for the visitors as he had a game long stream of free kicks to ping into dangerous areas for City.
Therein lay much of County’s problem, namely that they never really managed to get their game going at all, the free kicks breaking the rhythm up constantly. At least some of these kicks were genuine, so we maybe need to tighten up in that area a tad (an unusual thing to say about County who generally do not concede shed loads of free kicks).
Not unusual at all was the form of Ben Hinchliffe, in goal for County, and he again shone brightly holding Chester at bay with some cool keeping and a clutch of saves at crucial moments that kept the blues on an even keel. Ben took the sponsors M.O.M to possibly no one’s great surprise.
Duxbury was back after his suspension, which was good, and he got forward pretty well at times if without too much support from those to his right. The result was not too many blue moves with the kind of shape with them that many of City’s had. The second 45 was not a million miles from being a re-run of Barnet, with County working like demons for a winner. They were all energy and verve after the break, but it was all a touch too frantic at times, keeper Shenton not being really tested as he might have been.
In the end then, the result was disappointing but Chester did arrive here in third spot in the league, so that much must be taken into consideration as well as the fact that, buoyed by the backing of almost 700 travelling fans, they showed form commensurate with their league position.
There were over 3700 in Edgeley Park as the game got underway in conditions that would have made Roald Amundsen or Eric the Red shiver.
Chester went straight onto the attack, and the early minutes were illuminated by an immense sliding tackle from Minihan that halted the lively Mahon in his tracks.
That augured well, if only we could stem what seemed an unending stream of attacks from City. But Dawson and ex Hatter Gary Stopforth looked menacingly fired up at this stage, and it was not long before Hinchliffe was required to head clear from the edge of his box with Asante heading for goal.
It was 5 minutes before County could muster a response, and when they did Stopforth did for the initial raid. County came back at City through Mulhern, only for Warburton’s shot to drift wide from the pass that followed.
The next minutes saw Chester put together some neat moves, and I had just congratulated County on keeping them out and restricting the shots to long range, when Dawson wheedled his way into the box to set Asante up for a shot that thudded into Hinchliffe`s right hand post at a rate of knots!
That was an escape for sure, and with Chester continuing on the offensive, Keane did well to nullify Mahon`s ambitions as he made ground down the left.
Howard did similar good work at the other end for Chester almost immediately as Mulhern again ran at the visitors back line from deep.
Mulhern then saw an effort held, without undue distress, by Shenton, as the game continued in the same vein with County defending because they must in the face of determined Chester attacking, and attacking when they could.
Soon enough, 23 minutes had elapsed, and neither side had that prized opening goal.
But… things could have just tipped County’s way, as central defender Danny Livesey limped off to be replaced by Dom Smalley. Would this give County the boost that they required?
Well, not immediately anyway as I looked left, just 2 minutes later to see Hinchliffe claw another threatening cross from Dawson off the head of Asante smack in front of goal!
That was M.O.M stuff for sure, but we needed something of substance at the other end of the park, but when Warburton fashioned a break with Mulhern he then sent his shot crashing into a post. Mulhern won a corner from what followed, but that was a chance gone, and the feeling was abroad, at least with myself, that chances just might not be too thick on the ground today. Palmer headed goalward from the flag kick only for the referee to ‘see something’ and give City the oxygen of a free kick.
Back came Chester however and Hinchliffe had his hands full punching clear under pressure from the latest Roberts free kick, but the County keeper was nowhere when another Chester corner ended with Simon Grand heading inches wide.
It was beginning to look a touch ominous, how long would it be before Chester would make one of their moves count?
Well, the answer was not long coming, as was yet another City corner. From this the ball reached Dawson and he pinged over a peach of a ball that eluded a veritable army of blue shirt, on or around the line, picking out Asante who wasted no time in making it 1-0 to the visitors.
County did respond, attacking with some skill, particularly Minihan who did well to win a corner. Thomas headed wide from this, and Mulhern went really close to squaring things, with just 5 minutes of the half left to play.
It must be said, that County were working hard to square this circle, but it was just that the essential finish was missing, thus good work from Duxbury and then Keane went to waste.
Then it changed… via another dazzling bit of work from Duxbury, which drew a free kick from his opponents. Over this came whereupon the old place erupted as Smalley handled the ball under the referee’s nose. It was a no brainer, and Mr Herczeg duly pointed to the spot.
The ‘who would take it… Mulhern or Walker’ query was soon answered by Sam Walker who stepped up to rifle his kick home to the absolute dismay of 700 or so to his immediate right!
It was one apiece, and not long after it was half time also.
When the teams returned, Osborne had been replaced by Stephenson for County, and the early moments, galvanised by an early free kick for a foul on Keane saw County looking for an early opening.
Chester came back at the Blues of course, but Stott did well to thwart Stopforth as he strove to dish his former employers. A corner, a bit of huffing and puffing from Chester…but no goal to show for a promising move.
Duxbury was beginning to test the visitors back line again, but invariably when the raid broke down, County were faced with tracking back at speed to cover as City endeavoured to hit on the break.
In fact that was how it was shaping up now. County would attack… Stephenson halted by a foul as he tried to play Keane in… Walker’s kick missing out, only for the pressure to switch ends via a Roberts free kick. This latest set piece was complicated by a rapid falling to earth by Smalley, which had the away block in a right old tiz. Thankfully the referee resisted his chance to ‘do an Elleray’ and instead awarded a bounce up – a cop out, but I liked him for it!
It was nip and tuck for a while thereafter, the nearest thing to a further goal coming on 66 minutes when Hinchliffe pushed a shot from Dawson around the post after Stopforth had burst clear from deep. Palmer and Keane both made decisive defensive headers from the resultant corner. Hinchliffe topping the lot with an unlikely save to stop Stopforth from scoring when a goal looked on.
It was not long before Bell was on for Mulhern, and he won a corner almost straight off, as with Duxbury in full flow, County upped the pressure again on the visitors, but without that much sought after second goal.
Indeed Chester thought that the second was theirs as a cross by Mahon reached Dawson at the back post. He must score… he thought he had (again) … but Hinchliffe had somehow prevented the ball from crossing the line!
Wow hardly covers it!
All the while Roberts’ portfolio of free kicks was burgeoning, but further success continued to elude them as County defended with determination in response.
Bell went close, his shot held by Shenton, after Minihan had worked wonders to set the chance up.
Keane and Walker were noticeably trying to re-charge the blue batteries, but still that final finish was missing – Duxbury played in, but sending his header just wide.
Into the last 10 minutes of normal time we went with Chester pushing County back again through Thomson whose forward run saw him cross the ball from the by-line. It was a lulu, and Minihan did really well to run the ball clear with Chester looking on to prosper.
Cue a County reply, but more disappointment as Warburton’s shot was charged down.
A minute later more good work from Minihan resulted in Bell side footing the ball home, only for the liner to raise his flag and rule the effort out ( it’ll be in the memoirs no doubt… the reason the ‘foul’, but for now we had to be content knowing that he had ‘seen something’).
Chester replied and not content with a corner, late on, the away block went full tilt for a penalty… they really wanted one, but the referee this time had ‘not seen anything’ the trigger for much gnashing of teeth at the far end of the Pop Side.
County mounted attack after attack in what remained of the game, but try as they might, shots kept coming back out off a defender or going narrowly wide.
Somehow Chester survived to share the points, and that was possibly about right!
An interesting competitive game, fought out in the right spirit, so I for one will not be complaining. I’ll just prepare for Spennymoor on Tuesday instead.
See you there!
[ Pictures from the game can be found here! ]
Stockport County line up:-
Hinchliffe, Minihan, Palmer, Stott , Duxbury , Keane, Walker, Thomas ( Cowan 84), Osborne (Stephenson 45), Mulhern ( Bell 67) , Warburton.
Subs not used: Ormson, Turnbull.
Chester City line up:-
Shenton, Thomson, Grand, Roberts, Livesey ( Smalley 23), Howson, Mahon, Stopforth , Asante, Dawson, Dudley ( Noble 87).
Subs not used: Murphy, Brown, Marsh- Hughes.
Attendance : 3714