[ Written By Ian Brown ]
This really was a performance worth calling special, as a goal apiece from Darren Stephenson, Elliott Osborne and Frank Mulhern saw County surge relentlessly to the top of the National North last night.
James Gannon’s side brushed aside all that hosts Boston United could throw at them to come away thoroughly convincing 3-1 winners, and open up a two point gap twixt themselves and long time leaders Chorley who are wilting noticeably as the season’s run in gets serious.
It was a master class in how to absorb pressure patiently and thereafter impose a ruthless hegemony on their opponents who regrettably regressed into all the bad habits we all remember from them in our previous visits to York Street.
We also saw a superb exhibition of the art of making substitutions, and JG got it absolutely spot on again. A Cowan cross enabled Darren Stephenson to open the scoring, but the crucial second, that took all the wind (but none of the resistible nonsense) out of United’s sails, came via Elliott Osborne who had been on the park about a minute. Almost inevitably Frank got the third to end the home side’s interest, that had been briefly but falsely rekindled via a fortuitous second half penalty, and a famous victory was ours!
Almost 300 County supporters gave vent to deep pride with a humungous wall of noise at the end, and the well behaved Blue & White Army deserve great credit, having sung their lungs out for 90 odd minutes, and offered up a magnificent array of County flags ( see the pics here!)that made a fine spectacle behind one goal.
Only expectation and a certain confidence in their teams irresistible form, was abroad at the away end circa 7.45 as the lightest of drizzles fell from the sullen Lincolnshire sky.
I was pretty chipper about that time as the hot dog I had consumed had been an absolute belter, and had not made much of a hole in my wallet. As I have opined before the York Street catering units present a modest face to the world but do it with heads held high, with sausages at least a portion of which had probably lived at some point (not the uneatable dead things offered up at some places including EP). The prices…as usual were decently affordable!
Soon enough the game got underway, and despite a few changes on view in the County line up (Cowan in for Minihan / Thomas for Osborne, Turnbull for Walker and Stephenson for Kirby) I rather liked the look of what I saw. JG is obviously going to use his players to maximum effect and with the utmost care in the season’s climax, not wasting them with constant over work. He is clearly doing what many play lip service to, and use the whole squad intelligently…. and they are responding like champions!
That said , it was Boston who were first onto the front foot- Hinchliffe being the first keeper in action, diving to stop a shot by Jake Wright. It was going wide, but not by much and Ben was right not to take chances.
If Boston busied themselves in the County half of the field, the first effort of real consequence came from the white shirted blues, via a side footed effort from Duxbury. It really was close, but missed the target much to keeper Willis’s relief.
New signing Jake Wright again came briefly to the fore next, but matched against the excellence of Keane’s defending, quickly missed out.
Mark Wright then went one to one with Keane, the pair going to ground for a time. Referee Amy Fearn gave Boston a free kick but this was a poor effort and County only needed minimal attention to the details to see the danger off.
Soon enough 10 minutes had gone, and Boston had given a reasonable account of themselves, whilst County had attacked when possible but mostly contained their opponents without a great deal of difficulty.
The fifteenth minute saw Warburton onto one of Hinchliffe’s better early balls from deep, and he was off and flying down the left. It looked good…and then not so…as Ben Davies stopped the rot with some sound defending that ended Matty’s interest for the moment.
County were slowly building their case now and twice Duxbury gnawed away at United’s not yet steaming entrails- his cross blocked…his follow up run cut out by the combined efforts of three defenders.
Meanwhile it was reassuring to look left and see Palmer as cool as cucumber at the centre of the County back line – his header 20 minutes in brooking no argument from a bevy of yellow/ black shirted forwards.
Just a minute later and we got an unwelcome glimpse of what we all love to dislike about Boston, as the ‘ultras’ to my right erupted as one to demand a free kick to stem the tide of County attacking which at that point was very much bearing down on the home goal. The intent was to sway Referee Amy Fearn to oblige with the kick, but she resisted, and it took a beefy swing of the left leg by Middleton to end this portion of Boston’s evening trauma.
Credit though….Boston won a corner, but Cowan saw this off nicely to re-ignite an intense wall of supportive sound from under the roof at the away end.
The support continued in concert with the County attacking, as Mulhern saw a shot charged down with a wave of white shirts heading Willis’s way. Mulhern tried again, but the last word went to Thomas and he lifted the ball midst the ‘ultras’ disappointingly.
Boston were nicking a free kick or two, and the latest, 30 minutes in, really should have seen them do better than they did, but another lulu failed to cause County any issues at all.
Then Allott went right through Cowan as County pushed on again, earning a card from the referee.
The free kick was cleared with little fuss by Boston , only for pressure to come back via Duxbury and Dazzer, the former cutting through the home back line like a ferret up a drain pipe, the latter stopped at the last gasp by the keeper’s desperate forward lunge.
That was within 10 minutes of the break….. another 2 minutes and Boston thought they had a chance, and they probably did have, as Mark Wright’s cross pinged over from the right touchline. Allott awaited its arrival, but under pressure from Palmer, could only direct his header over the bar.
Pressure continued from Boston as we headed for half time, but whilst corners came and went…. goal attempts did not.
For their part, without ever looking as switched on as in recent games, County did try to have their moments, albeit…Warburton’s effort was high and wide from way out….and a Thomas/ Warburton raid foundered for support.
Then, with the half in its final minute, it seemed that Boston were about to nick one. Well…possibly…..they did go close, but Hinchliffe performed small miracles to keep the ball out. Corner followed corner as did more heroics from Ben, before the angst was ended when Warburton ran the ball clear from deep.
Nothing came of the break, but it did not matter….it was half time and still 0-0.
An early free kick put County under pressure when play resumed after the break, but pretty much as before there was nothing about the Boston approach to set pieces that induced anything resembling panic in County ranks, just the reverse in fact, they were quick to spring clear and hit on the break- Mulhern to the fore and unlucky.
Stephenson was in the mix as well, and equally out of luck, being blocked just inside the box by Davies, who was probably Boston’s top performer.
Then the 54th minute saw JG make his first change in personnel, bringing Walker on for Palmer who was struggling physically after a knock earlier.
Walker was quickly up with the flow and, within a minute the change declared a dividend when Stephenson met a neat cross from Cowan with an immaculate volley that gave Willis no chance , and County a 1-0 lead.
That was simply brilliant and the product of the injection of fresh legs allied to the determination of those already on the park (in this case specifically Cowan and Stephenson).
But…..we very nearly let it slip, within minutes…..as Warburton lost possession inside the County half. A swarm of yellow/ black shirts headed Hinchliffe’s way, and despite attempts by County out field players to cauterize the damage, a goal looked very much on. In fact they should have scored, they didn’t because of the County keeper’s excellence. How many times does he stand on his line in games where he could usefully have brought the Guardian and a decky with him….and then…when he should be stone cold…he pulls off a blinder?
Well he did it again…..his improbable save conceding a corner which County cleared without undue problem.
Keane and Stott were now in central defence, but neither were tested , after the hour, when Wroe’s shot climbed midst the ‘ultras’ much to their dismay.
County had defending to do after that last scare, but renewed activity on the County bench saw Osborne on for Warburton .
Willis saved a Mulhern shot within seconds, and with County refusing to go away, saved again almost immediately. Unfortunately for the keeper, he parried the ball and the advancing Osborne leathered it home to the total jubilation of County and their following, and the utter angst ridden dismay of the home team, who surrounded the referee to a man doing their best to intimidate her.
It did not work – the goal stood and rightly so, and how the County following celebrated!
The locals were peeved now, their protestations and provocations rife in the minutes that followed – typified by a bru-ha-ha deep in County territory that saw one from either side on the deck.
The liner entered the field of play and joined with the referee who took time out to have a word with the home bench, presumably to ask them to cool it.
Boston did have the free kick after that, but Walker hooked it clear to cheers from the away end.
Boston were trying to get one back, but their spoiling tactics resulted in a multitude of stoppages, play being greatly disjointed.
Then the 75th minute brought another stoppage as the referee pointed to the spot at the wrong end. I did not see the action (the players warming up/down were blocking my view) but when the Boston United Twitter feed describes ‘it having been adjudged as handball, by ‘someone in white’ from a Thanoj cross, it rather tells it all.
No matter…it was a penalty…..and Davies put it away well to make it 2-1.
This served to intensify the over excited nature of Boston’s response , and they went AS in unison to get Dazzer booked after Wroe had plummeted to earth as though dead. All life signs were absent in their entirety until Amy waved the card in the County man’s direction , whereupon his recovery was as remarkable as apparently it was full!
County piled forward after this, both Stephenson and Duxbury making it to the by-line in rapid succession. One shot was saved, but Willis could do nothing with the follow up from Mulhern that almost took the netting from its moorings!
It was 3-1 now and County had a top of the table spot within their grasp!
Into the last 10 minutes and Boston started to ring the changes, but without avail, as County soaked up the pressure and continued to hit on the break – Cowan excelling in this respect, with 5 minutes left, being unlucky not to get a free kick after running almost the length of the field with the ball.
Kirby came on for Dazzer and was involved in the action straight off, clearing up as Boston threatened.
Due to the disjointed nature of the game previously referred to, we had 6 minutes added time to contend with, but County did their best to defend in the Boston half- Mulhern topping an excellent break by Osborne by winning a cheeky corner from nothing.
County were inspirational in the minutes that followed…Cowan….brilliant in cutting a break off…. Kirby relentless in his harrying of opponents who seemingly had the ball.
Kirby might have topped a spirited showing with a late goal, had his header gone in rather than into Willis`s arms, deep into added time, but it mattered not, the game was won…and County were top of the league, as their supporters had already announced to the world earlier.
Excellent stuff from County, a win that places promotion firmly in our own hands.
No M.O.M for me…it goes to the team, who are proving equal to every challenge put before them.
Get to Brackley if you can on Saturday for the latest challenge- they deserve your support which was truly excellent last night!
Boston United line up:-
Willis, Davies, Jackson, Thanoj, Middleton, Qualter, M . Wright ( Rollins 82), Wroe, Allott, J Wright ( Margetts 82), Walker.
Subs not used:- Wafula, Abbott, Harris.
Stockport County line up:-
Hinchliffe, Cowan, Palmer ( Walker 53), Stott, Duxbury, Keane, Turnbull, Thomas, Mulhern, Warburton ( Osborne 64), Stephenson ( Kirby 85).
Subs not used : Ormson, Minihan.