[ Written By Ian Brown ]
What do you do when you pitch up at the home of the team that is not only the top of the league, but has won the last two games scoring nine goals in the process?
When you are Stockport County you roll up your sleeves, graft for 90 odd minutes……add a dash or three of inspiration to the perspiration, and the jobs a good `un.
That was exactly how it was last night at the nicely appointed Hayes Lane Stadium, where County gave the league leaders a goal start and came away with a highly creditable 2-2 draw.
Put simply…..that was a very good performance indeed, and alongside Saturday`s win in the same far off southern county against Dover, it adds up to a highly satisfactory return in difficult circumstances for James Gannon`s men!
Forced to point to top men in blue, I would mention the tireless Thomas who was as energetic and dangerous in the 94th minute as he was in the first. Adam had a perfect foil in the redoubtable Sam Minihan, and the other Sam….Walker, in the absence of Paul Turnbull showed up big time being behind much that was of merit from County. Add Elliott Osborne, who scored a belter and worked hard throughout getting a rousing ovation from the Blue and White Army (hardy heroes every one of them on the open terrace) when he was subbed late on, and those for me were our top performers.
The draw and the point it brought us were a brilliant and deserved return for a satisfying display- not perfect of course. Put under pressure by a game-long barrage of aerial incomers, the Blues developed a worrying tendency to concede free-kicks allowing our hosts to welly some more beefy high one`s over, which they did but thankfully without that much clue as to how to apply an appropriate finish ( both Bromley goals had elements of good fortune about them). Even allowing for a referee who was far from even-handed in the application of the rule book, we do need to tighten up in this regard, and the clearances under pressure need to either find someone in blue or touch, which often they did not last night, but I nitpick, and refuse to labour these points any further, in the sure knowledge that JG will have them sorted soon enough!
It was amazing, as I gazed across the stadium to the open terrace to see it nicely populated- 197 the total it was later confirmed and that was truly awesome! Well done one and all!
Much of the play in the early minutes saw Bromley in possession as they purposefully went in search of a repeat of Saturday`s 5-0 tonking of possibly erstwhile promotion contenders AFC Halifax.
The balls out wide to either flank looked tasty, and the subsequent crosses that resulted, gave the County backline much to do and think about.
They came through the early examination OK, although Hinchliffe had to look lively to cut Coulson off, as our white-shirted opponents surged clear after a shot from Mulhern had been charged down.
County were back under pressure, and it was already clear that they needed to be as sharp as knives and not present Neil Smith`s team with any gifts, and I took solace in seeing Arthur head Hackett- Fairchild`s cross out from under the bar.
Commendably, County looked to be trying to impose a slower meter on play, with the Ravens legging it about with some purpose early on, but the clearances by the blues were not helping as they were frequently finding a white shirt, but again I was tempted to forget the negatives as a break by Tom Walker caused more than the odd flurry deep in the Bromley half.
Then we got another warning as again danger threatened the Blues as a County raid, deep in home territory, came to nought. Osborne did the biz this time, but his shot was blocked, and County were caught napping as Mekki broke clear down the left. The County backline saw the danger off, but again we had to dig deeper and stop these breaks from occurring- easier said of course than done, but none the less necessary.
But maybe County could alleviate any issues by ensuring the pressure was on their opponents more often, and a glorious through ball from Sam Walker might have secured this and a goal, and advanced that theory, had not Ravens keeper Ryan Huddart reached the ball before the on-rushing Osborne.
That was good work all round, but it stayed 0-0, and within a minute County were beholding to Hinchliffe , his save keeping Coulson`s shot out after County had failed to prevent Hackett- Fairchild from surging clear via a throw-in deep into the home side`s half.
If that was a warning it went unheeded, as within a couple of minutes Bromley took the lead.
County had just looked to have a whiff of something good in their nostrils, having won a free kick on the edge of the box, but from this Tom Walker`s shot was blocked. That was disappointing, but worse quickly followed as Arthur lost the ball to Coulson just beyond halfway. County were now in retreat, but Coulson held all the cards his shot coming out off Hinchliffe to Hackett- Fairchild, who put the loose ball away.
That was a blow……the home specs were exultant with their team now 1-0 up.
County replied through Thomas whose run stretched the home defences almost to bursting, but a foul by Osborne saw the raid end.
Back came Bromley, and the 23rd minute saw Hinchliffe in action again pulling off a fine save to deny Mekki following some sloppy defensive work from County.
That escape was still in my mind when less than a minute later…..deep joy…..County equalised, and it was a bit of a belter!
I am sure that, up until this point the home specs, and their team too, thought this would be another stroll for them, but they were wrong and Osborne emphasised this fact with stonking great gold knobs on, an irresistible run topped off with a superb shot thudding into the back of Huddart`s net silencing what had been a fairly bullish home crowd.
Meanwhile, almost 200 heroes at the far end were getting behind their team, and they probably needed that support as the league leaders now looked a tad shell shocked, and maybe this was the Blues chance to capitalise on this!
But Sam Walker had been laid out, and stayed down for a while receiving treatment. Despite County getting the free-kick for this, the referee ensured that Sam left the field while the kick was being taken- it was cleared perhaps unsurprisingly, but the major element of surprise for me is that referee`s at this level continue to get away with this kind of none adherence to the rules( last Saturday the opposing keeper allowed to carry the ball out of his box and roll it clear without being sent off – last night this!)
Thankfully, matters were getting better on the park as Minihan had Ravens defence in tatters. He had no luck though, and the same was the case shortly after as Tom Walker was inches away from Thomas`s cross smack in front of goal.
For me, County now looked well capable of winning this one, and the next action only served to firm up this view for me.
Minihan started it, of course, passing the ball inside to Keane. The cross that followed fizzed and spat venum, and Tom Walker did the rest, slamming the ball home from close in!
County were 2-1 up, and their loyal supporters were cheering them loudly!
The euphoria did not last though, as within a couple of minutes Bromley were level thanks to a Michael Cheek break, his cross, and a touch of ill-fortune for Minihan – the ball going into the net off Minihan with Hinchliffe helpless to intervene.
Bromley probably shaded what was left of the half, and even had the ball in the County net at one point, but that was offside, and the sides went in with honours even at half time.
The re-start saw both sides pile into attacking moves with gusto, but without any success- an early County free kick repelled, a clear chance spurned at the other end by Ravens, who did better shortly after only to find Hinchliffe spoiling their chances with the bravest of saves.
County continued to soak up the pressure in the minutes that followed, before JG made his first substitution bringing Jackson on for Tom Walker, presumably to give Garratt some support with Coulson in dangerous form down the right for Bromley.
Close to the hour mark, Bromley nicked a free-kick smack in front and scoreable, only for the ball to skim the woodwork on its way over the top.
Corners followed for Bromley increasing the pressure on the blues, who defended these well enough, only for Arthur`s haircut to get him in trouble again. It was an innocuous `offence` and a free-kick apparently, but Jackson headed clear from this to end the angst for now.
County came back at Bromley after that last action, fantastic play by Sam Walker setting Jackson up to win a corner. County should have taken the lead next as Thomas met Jacko`s kick with a thunderous drive that smashed into an unsighted defender on the line before crashing into the bar…..and flying clear.
The pressure was now on Bromley and Minihan was in the van of this furnishing a series of crosses each of which might have squared the circle for County, instead, the home defences held and had no compunction at all in finding touch when all else looked likely to fail!
Bell was now on for Mulhern, but 6 or 7 minutes of almost solid pressure followed from Bromley, Hinchliffe earning his corn with a couple of saves, and Ravens getting but wasting a couple of free kicks.
Then County replied -Bell inches from putting Jackson`s cross away, with just 13 minutes left.
Another 60 seconds and a Thomas/ Jackson cooperation went close without nicking that winning goal.
More followed, with Huddart stopping Bell reaching a neat ball from Thomas.
I was just getting used to this pattern of play when it swung abruptly, and Arthur had to head the ball off the line with white shirts inside the blue box in numbers. Then another choice free-kick looked to have finally given Bromley the chance that they craved.
It was nicely central, but it trimmed the bar so the score remained 2-2.
Into the game`s last 5 minutes of normal time we went with County, urged on and inspired by Minihan and Sam Walker`s example taking the game to their opponents who continued to respond with more high raking balls either into the box directly or there via the flanks.
It was a good contest right into added time where again County found the necessary to get forward again- Sam Walker and Garratt winning a corner that Keano was unlucky not to force home beyond the back post.
Both teams continued to have a go right until the final whistle- a credit to both of them in a game that could have gone either way.
That was very decent point that, and JG can be proud of his team, and their supporters who again did the biz last night- seriously good stuff folks!
Finally, I enjoyed Hayes Lane, a decent ground, and the game was OK too, but what wasn`t reported, from credible sources, of County supporters being subjected to a search process that extended to include the minute scrutiny of the contents of their wallets!
This sounds very much like, back to football`s dark ages, and beyond, as far as football supporters human rights are concerned and as such should be stamped out at source.
Bromley line up:-
Huddart, Kizzi, Wood, Holland , Coulson, Cheek, Mekki ( Edmonds- Green 64), Bush, Klass ( Clifton 72), Hackett-Fairchild, Rees ( Raymond 68).
Subs not used : Najia, Henry.
Stockport County line up-
Hinchliffe, Minihan, Palmer, Arthur, Garratt, S Walker, Keane,Thomas, Mulhern (Bell 62 ), Osborne ( Cowan 89), T Walker ( Jackson 53).
Subs not used: Ormson, Hammill.
Attendance: 2205 ( 197)