[ Ian Brown ]
Despite a valiant effort, against National Premier high flyers AFC Fylde, Stockport County lost their FA Trophy Semi Final 2-3 in a pulsating tie today that swung one way then the other in a topsy turvy last 5 minutes or so that had nerve ends frayed to bursting point in another bumper Edgeley Park crowd of over 6000.
It really was a good match, and a decent showing by County who held a 1-0 lead at half time, via a superb strike from Nyal Bell that will strain to be equalled in what remains of the season. That lead could….maybe should have been 2-0 , but the referee ruled out Ash Palmer’s header 33 minutes in. Had that been allowed (and I would have, if you are in any doubt!) things would have panned out a whole lot differently in my view.
As it was…struggling to make Hinchliffe work despite enjoying much possession, the hugely bankrolled Lancastrians had to rely on a penalty, at the 66 minute mark, to dint what had been an impregnable blue fortress in front of free-scoring Danny Rowe and his lieutenants, up until that point.
After that it settled down a bit before a welter of late goals did for most nervous systems in the vicinity. First Croasdale nicked one for Fylde….then Palmer equalised for the Blues before Reid ended County’s brave battle with just a minute of normal time left.
JG went with the same starting 11 that did service so well at Fylde, and in less than a minute the large EP crowd were on their feet roaring loudly as Thomas won a corner as County surged onto the attack.
Serial scorer Danny Rowe was pressed into early service hoofing the ball up the park to quell the blues first assault. Fylde had only left Alex Reid in County`s half whilst the pressure was on, but he did enough upon receiving the ball, to ensure numbers could get to him and this resulted in Dave Challinor’s side unravelling their neat passing game as yellow/ black shirts started to play the ball around.
It was neat and tidy stuff from the visitors, the type of work that has seen them head the scoring charts in the National Premier, but County were doing OK in response and the pressure was eventually ended by Stephenson who had joined Duxbury in defensive duties deep on the left.
This sent County back …deep into the Fylde half ( which irritatingly was with the Cheadle End to their backs), and Ryan Croasdale was thankful to concede as corner with Stephenson and Duxbury hitting their opponents on the break. This time Reid was back and able to hook the ball clear, but the pressure would not go away from County and keeper Jay Lynch did well to end the Fylde angst by holding onto Duxbury’s goal-bound header!
Having weathered the early storms from County , Fylde continued to play the controlled football that has taken them into the promotion positions in the National Premier- only Salford have scored more goals than Fylde (and they have played 2 more games than their fellow Lancastrians), but the neat football ended with Rowe lifting his shot high and wide, with 12 minutes gone.
Fylde have the second best defensive record also, in the league above County, and they needed some of those defensive skills next as Thomas took the game to them. Unfortunately, Adam’s cross did not match his approach play and it stayed 0-0.
Fylde then came back at County, and Palmer did well, conceding a corner under pressure, which Osborne hacked into touch. County were under the cosh a touch now…and then they weren’t …..as Duxbury relieved it with a coruscating run that promised much. It did….but there were no takers for Scott’s final ball, and that was that!
The play switched again with Fylde then on the offensive, but without finding room and a chance to get a shot off, and County in reply were keeping their powder dry awaiting their opportunity, and it arrived and Stephenson duly relieved the pressure and ran the ball clear. Bell took possession but wide left and he looked for all intents and purposes too far out to trouble Lynch. In fact….was a shot really on……he was after all facing away from goal some 30 yards or so out!
Well, cometh the moment…cometh the man, and Bell cut inside…turned and unleashed an unstoppable rocket of a shot at Lynch that would have rendered him severe damage had he got anything on it. He didn’t and the ball smacked into the back of the net to set the old place ablaze with excitement!
I do not think anyone expected Fylde to now fold…..and they didn’t…..applying themselves again to the neat passing patterns of the first 25 minutes. It paid off…they nicked a free kick, nice and central and on the edge of the box. Their fans got a tad excited as Rowe sized the kick up, finding the woodwork with it, but the blues soon had the waggons in a circle again, as shot followed shot. Philliskirk went to ground in the box amidst a melee, in spectacular style, without attracting interest from the usually awful Sebastian Stockbridge the referee.
Based on old Seb’s past form when it comes to us, that rather surprised me – it seemed to buoy County as well and Fylde had their work cut out for a time afterwards with Stephenson combining with Osborne and Duxbury to look for a second goal.
The County impetus showed no sign of relenting either….Minihan managing to keep an ambitious crossfield pass in play to then force a series of throws that inched the blues ever nearer the Fylde goal. Then we got a corner as Bell’s header was deflected wide…thenanother, and when Walker pinged the ball back into the danger zone, we thought we had a second goal too, as Palmer rose imperiously to head home, and set off home hysterics once again.
Have I mentioned Sebastian at all? Well…..he had other ideas and gave us a beautifully executed mime that told us ( I think) that Ash had climbed on his man, as he ruled the goal out!
To describe that as disappointing, just will not do…we wanted that…needed it even….
I took consolation in the fact that, after a lot of Fylde possession, County were looking a better proposition now, encapsulated nicely by Bell’s shot, with 10 minutes of the half left, that fizzed into the keeper’s arms like a veritable howitzer shell.
Nick Naughton did curl one wide not long after for Fylde, and again County were penalised with another scorable free kick. It was a prime candidate for the equaliser, and no mistake, but after a conference to rival Yalta…… any Geneva or Strasbourg summit, Rowe then sent his kick into the County wall much to the County crowd’s mirth.
County’s patient approach and thoughtful defending was paying off, but whilst this kept Hinchliffe largely out of the firing line, there was no exclusivity about this and he had to make a brilliant one-handed diving save to keep Haughton’s sweetly delivered shot out, with half time nearing!
County cleared the corner and almost got a decent break as Bell scooted clear from deep, but he was dished via Neill Byrne`s excellent work in seeing the danger off.
Massively good defending from County, faced with ever more determined forward play by the usually free-scoring visitors continued to restrict the shooting opportunities for Rowe and his teammates and the teams went in for the break with the score still 1-0 to County.
County were on the back foot when play resumed, and Palmer did well to deny Rowe and co who were quickly into their neat passing routine again. Croasdale did work a neat opening, just 4 minutes into the half, but Philliskirk could not muster a shot and any chance was gone.
Rowe was working hard though and to the by-line, just a minute later, but more excellent work by Palmer shut him out, and a foul on Duxbury as he was about to dart clear sorted the raid completely.
Reid did hit the target, on 52 minutes, but could not faze Hinchliffe at all- the County keeper standing tall to make the save.
Not long after this JG replaced Bell with Mulhern, but it was Fylde doing the attacking…..Rowe and Francis- Angol straining a gut to force County into mistakes, but Thomas and Minihan were not having any of it, the duo defending like their lives depended upon it!
Hardy joined in, his silky skills setting Philliskirk up for a shot that might have tested Hinchliffe…but didn`t!
With the hour mark approaching, it was heartening to see Minihan turn deep defence into attack, his urging run ending with Osborne`s header climbing over the bar from close in.
The hour mark saw Warburton on for Stephenson, which sent Osborne wide left behind a two-pronged front line of Matty and Frank.
Warburton and Mulhern quickly looked on the same wavelength, and Matty was unlucky to see Lynch save his shot, after Osborne had burst clear from deep.
It went on…Warburton to Osborne…..Lynch saving the shot- County looked just possibly on to nick one!
But….Fylde were still a force to reckon with, and I felt happy to see Rowe’s shot blocked, but not quite so to notice that the visitors had themselves a corner.
The pressure was on again… and when Hardy went to ground the ref pointed to the spot- Fylde had a penalty…and their fans had already started celebrating before Rowe did the deed and despatched the spot kick beyond Hinchliffe`s dive into the net.
Credit to County…..that was very disappointing…but they kept at it, and a foul on Frank ( an impromptu shirt exchange ) offered up a chance as Walker`s kick almost sneaked in- Lynch just managing to tip the ball over the bar at the very last gasp!
One corner…two…followed, but Palmer’s header carried the bar to end the Fylde angst.
We were into the last 15 minutes now and Fylde were still pressing- Palmer and Minihan doing well under pressure, with Turnbull now on for Thomas, who had taken a knock a little earlier.
Play was swinging one way…then the other….a free kick by Osborne cleared after a foul by Birch on Duxbury had stopped a tasty County break….and a spectacular dive by Reid impressed the referee to award Fylde a free kick and get Stott a booking. County defended the kick only to be penalised again – but they sorted that too, so was all well?
Well….I thought so…..but not the liner to my right who had his flag up stopping Mulhern in his tracks as Warburton sent him surging clear!
Then I thought so momentarily again next as a loose ball gifted County a run at the visitors back line, but they could not capitalise on the good fortune – Mulhern’s shot climbing high over the bar.
That was the 85th minute…the 86th saw a break from deep by Fylde end with Croasdale scoring with assurance from 10 yards or so out.
That was a shock, and the visiting specs were already singing ‘we can see you sneaking out’ when nothing of the kind was happening. They were to possibly, if temporarily, rue their cheek, as Hinchliffe’s long one went from Mulhern to Warburton – Philiskirk just able to concede a corner with much worse in prospect.
Then….the old place lit up again, as the corner picked out Palmer (my M.O.M) at the back post and he duly obliged by heading home- I am sure old Seb was tempted…….but he didn’t and the goal stood…it was 2-2 and there were just 2 minutes left!
So…extra time beckoned….and then it didn’t as Reid applied the finish to some frantic Fylde attacking by slamming the ball home from the edge of the box.
Bugger……almost smack on 90 minutes….it was 2-3!
Five added minutes were called and much of the 5 saw County piling forward in search of that elusive equaliser- it just would not come- a late Walker free kick probably the closest from County, but saved by Lynch.
The visiting specs…having enjoyed their chairman’s largess…now enjoyed their moment of glory, which was fair enough.
For County, it is the more mundane reality of league games and that push for promotion, which remains so definitely on!
See you all at Edgeley Park on Tuesday then, for the next leg of that one!
Oh….. and finally….. the blog has a nomination in the Best Non League Blog /Non League Content Provider section of Football Blogging Awards. If you would consider casting a vote in the blogs favour, which you can do via the link below, that would be greatly appreciated…..
Stockport County line up:-
Hinchliffe, Minihan, Palmer, Stott, Duxbury, Keane, Walker, Thomas ( Turnbull 81), Bell ( Mulhern 53), Osborne, Stephenson( Warburton 60).
Subs not used ; Ormson, Cowan.
AFC Fylde line up:-
Lynch, Francis- Angol, Byrne, Tunnicliffe, Hardy, Croasdale, Rowe, Philliskirk, Birch ( Odusina 93), Haughton ( Crawford 44), Reid.
Subs not used : Griffiths, Sang, Brewitt.
Attendance : 6064
[ Great photos from the game.. find ’em here! ]