County did enough to win this and several other matches today, Stephenson and Mulhern`s work being but a symptom of their dominance, the duo striking shots against the woodwork in either half.
But……..into the ninetieth minute they were still leading by just one goal- a purler from Connor Dimaio in the first half, and County`s luck being how it is just now, having defended altogether better than 7 days previously, a momentary lapse saw Henry Cowans salvage an undeserved point for Telford scoring from almost on the line, as 2 minutes added time was announced.
That was rather more than disappointing but hearteningly County`s hardy following stayed on after the final whistle to applaud the team off.
Whilst at times Telford played some nice football, it was all without anything of note where it counts at the sharp end. By way of contrast County played some decent stuff, and with Mulhern notionally alone up front, the ball stayed on the deck and we looked all the more dangerous for it.
Thomas and Hinchliffe vied for County`s M.O.M. Thomas running from first minute to last getting over a shed load of crosses which needed someone to apply a finish.
Hinchliffe was just Hinchliffe , his double save in the second half worth the admission on its own!
County could have used a shade of luck, but as it was Referee Michael Barlow , managed to blot an otherwise decent first half from him with the late booking of Stephenson for being fouled by Max Bramley the home keeper as he attempted to round him with the goal gaping, capping this disastrous ruling with a second half full of them as free kicks in scoreable positions came United`s way by the cartload every time a white-shirted player went to ground.
Mr Barlow`s reception, and that of his liners, at the end of proceedings from the County faithful was less than enthusiastic shall I say!
Back at 3 o`clock…..Duxbury and Minihan for Smalley and Bell were County`s only changes from last Saturday, as the teams took to the field at the New Bucks Head Stadium.
Although Telford worked an early corner, this was cleared fairly easily by County who then set about pushing their opponents back on their heels with some neat play, much of it stemming from Thomas whose runs down the right were offering the blues definite options.
As early as the third minute one such Thomas offering saw Mulhern and the home keeper tangle in front of goal, and minutes later Walker saw a shot fly inches wide from another example.
This was good stuff, and more followed requiring a foul to stop the marauding Connor Dimaio. Walker`s kick teed Palmer up for a header, but sadly this went wide.
It was 11 minutes in before a reply came back from our hosts. I was expecting much from Andre Brown as he scooted up the park, but with County covering all the angles he lifted a poor effort high and wide.
Then, within a minute of that none event, one of rather better hue came via Brown again, who stole the ball from Dimaio before heading off upfield. Now this one was a decent chance, and although Brown hit the target he could not elude Hinchliffe`s dive and it stayed 0-0.
County responded by making use of the flanks where Duxbury and Thomas made good ground more than once. To halt County`s progress, and particularly that of Duxbury, fouls were becoming the method of choice for United, and it was disappointing to see Stephenson header go out from Walker`s free-kick midst the blue pressure.
Another attack…more disappointment as Thomas then headed over the bar, under pressure from Callum Cockrill- Mollett, after good work from Duxbury and Mulhern.
The pressure continued from County, but without a goal to show for it which was a worry- Mulhern and Stephenson had come closest to prospering with a line of blue shirts queueing for a pot at goal, Dazzer hitting the woodwork, but with 23 minutes gone it was still 0-0, indeed it might just have been 0-1 in Telford`s favour 25 minutes in as Cowan cleared a Brown effort as it sped goalward.
That was not great, but County offered almost immediate reassurance via Stephenson whose rasping drive caused keeper Bramley to fumble, requiring a second go to make the save!
Interesting that….and I was interested again as, within a minute, Bramley spilled the ball once more, somehow scrambling Mulhern`s shot around the post. A punch and then a catch from Bramley saw off the corner that followed but must have given his manager something to think about.
Then… 34 minutes in and there was more to talk about, starting with Mulhern`s run that required the attentions of Cockrill- Mollett and Streete to contain from Duxbury`s ball. As before, Bramley rose to punch the ball clear from the resultant corner, but the pill only went to Dimaio and he promptly lashed it home from the edge of the box!
That was a massively good strike, and County set about adding to it- Ross White doing well to block Duxbury`s run with 5 minutes remaining of the half.
That said…Telford did their best to dint the blues confidence taking advantage of a slip by Keane to push County onto the back foot. They seemed well placed to at least test the County keeper, but a foul on him by one of several white shirted forwards ended the possibility of this happening.
The rest of the half was one way traffic….heading Bramley`s way, and almost smack on half-time it seemed we were about to square this circle, as Stephenson darted onto a through ball with only the keeper to beat. Going ever so slightly wide attempting to round Bramley, he was brought down by same. Probably not a penalty, the action being several millimetres outside the box, but arguably a red card….for the keeper! But…..no…..the referee delighted the baying home specs by ending his Churchillian address to a clutch of suitably amazed County players, by waving a yellow in Stephenson`s direction.
There was little time to digest that one before it was halftime , were we happy with 1-0 ?…………..?
The second half opened spectacularly with a Stephenson run setting Mulhern up in front of goal. Facing away from goal County`s number nine launched himself brilliantly to send an overhead kick crashing into the crossbar.
That deserved better, but it stayed 1-0, and again as Stephenson was inches from contacting with Thomas`s cross smack in front of goal.
It was about now that Mr Barlow started to lose it penalising Palmer with an ingenuity and invention that would have pleased the greatest of magicians. The kick was well scoreable, and but for Hinchliffe it would have been 1-1 as his fantastic double save kept Darryl Knight`s goalbound kick and his follow up out.
McQuilkin tested Hinchliffe again not long after, but the major alarms were still all at Bramley`s end where he dived to push the ball around the post one moment…..somehow cleared off the line the next….. the searching examination ending with Mr Barlow `s free kick.
On it went…..County racking up the corners ….not getting even a shade of luck…..Telford getting free kick`s to order, giving Hinchliffe catching practise.
Beyond the hour Warburton and Bell were on for Mulhern and Dimaio, but I found myself scribbling `The refs going mental` as another cheap free-kick almost made it 1-1. It was a good delivery by Knights but White fluffed his lines when clear on goal to rather mess it all up.
But Telford had got a small whiff now, Udoh finding his initial thrust blocked by Minihan, and his follow up pushed around the post by Hinchliffe. Deeney was miles away from putting the resultant corner away and still it was 1-0, with just over 20 minutes left to play.
Meanwhile Bell was doing OK, and anyone expecting his presence to signal a succession of high balls were to be mistaken, indeed Bell showed he had lots to offer- his speed on and off the ball was impressive as was his link-up play.
Cowans wasted a useful break for Telford, as Kirby came on replacing Stephenson for County, with 10 minutes or so to go.
County piled it on after this but with no success, although the writer was not alone in thinking we had notched a second goal when Kirby cut inside before sending a shot goalward. It looked to have gone in …but sadly hadn`t.
It was still 1-0 then and we had a mere 2 minutes left now of normal time and the Blue and White Army made a really good fist of lifting their men at this point as the noise of their support enlivened a dullish afternoon.
Then it happened…..Knights made a run down the right……crossed it to Barnes -Horner who could not do anything with it…..the ball ran on to Cowans who was stood inches off the line and he made no mistake with a firm finish to give Telford a share of the points they hardly expected and certainly did not deserve.
The 2 minutes added time announced as the ball was being picked from out of the County net, then stretched to what seemed an eternity.
The end duly came and a really good ovation for the County team from the County fans- great stuff!
County will be smarting after this, and will need our support at South Shields next Saturday for what will be a big test against a team in prime form and with a doughty Cup fighting reputation.
Catch you there then.
[ match photos are here – and I see a nice ‘Northern Soul’ inspired ‘Keep the faith’ flag on display ]
AFC Telford line up:
Bramley, White, Cockrill-Mollett( Dawson 68), Deeney, Sutton, Streete, Cowans, McQuilkin( Royle 68), Brown( Barnes- Horner 75), Udoh, Knights.
Subs not used: Wycherley, Smith.
Stockport County line up:
Hinchliffe, Minihan, Keane, Palmer,Cowan, Duxbury, Thomas, Walker, Mulhern( Bell 63), Dimaio( Warburton 63), Stephenson( Kirby 79).
Subs not used: Ormson, Mantack.
Attendance : 1415