[ Written by Ian Brown ]
County won through to the Second Round of the FA Trophy today with a 1-0 win away to high flying Altrincham at Moss Lane, which was ravaged by the foulest of weather.
It was forecasted to be at its worse twixt 2 and 5 pm and so it was, but County’s hardy supporters excelled themselves making up the majority of a fairly decent crowd of just under 1000, many braving the weather’s worst excesses on the open terrace.
If the victory was welcome it must be said that County did make rather heavy weather of it, Alty being reduced in numbers to 10 almost on the stroke of half time.
County were already 1 up at that stage thanks to another opportunist effort from Ash Palmer, and a considerable ‘assist’ from Mulhern, but after that, and particularly playing against the wind in the second half, they surrendered the initiative rather too often to the home side, who enjoyed more possession than their numbers demanded at times.
That said, Altrincham are third in the division and were clear favourites before the start with the bookies, so a win is a win is a win. Nuff said!
After the early exchanges that saw both sides probing the other for an opening, County gradually looked to be about to take control, as Thomas and Duxbury both saw shots deflected for corners, but neither kicks came to anything, a pattern that was repeated throughout the game.
Alty then came back at County playing some neat football, Sean Williams holding things together in midfield and straining to bring wide men Ash Hemmings and ex Hatter Kallum Mantack into play.
Like County, Alty were good at winning corners, but not so great at making anything from them, and over elaboration undid them more than once as County just bided their time before intervening.
The sixteenth minute saw Alty get a decent sight of goal, and this came via a corner from which a Williams drive was deflected behind by Palmer. The second flag kick gave our hosts a notional chance to take the lead, but when Hulme planted his header firmly towards the far corner, he was aghast to see Hinchliffe’s dive keep the ball out!
The weather was really foul now as a bitterly cold wind whipped driving rain about in several directions at once, but the teams kept at it bravely, Hemmings lifting one over the top for Alty and Mulhern replying for the blues with an effort that missed out by a foot or so.
Mulhern again went close, 21 minutes in, and if he was disappointed with the result of that effort, it did not show as he latched onto a loose clearance from Ossie’s corner to thrash a fierce drive goalward, where shades of Tuesday evening at Spennymoor, it took a deflection off Palmer into the net ,to give James Gannon’s side the lead.
This boosted the blues confidence, and both Keane and Duxbury had shots turned around the goal for corners.
More pressure, and more corners followed on from that last action, and Warburton was unlucky to see his shot saved by home keeper Elliott Wynne. Another corner then, and almost another County goal quickly followed, as a subsequent free kick by the constantly dangerous Duxbury twanged the bar with 30 minutes gone.
Mulhern tested the home back line with a tasty run next, let down by lack of response to his right to his final ball, before Alty came back at County as Mantack’s deep cross picked out Hulme whose effort on the volley headed for the net.
One all then !? Except no….Hinchliffe was on the scene and again a brilliant dive from him kept the ball out!
There was a period of pressure from Alty after that last action, but nothing really to write home about, as County, and particularly Jamie Stott, were defending with panache and determination. This aspect might just have weighed on Hulme’s mind, no matter his stamp on Stott got what it deserved – a red card, as Alty now faced the prospect of facing County with 10 men for the last 45 minutes.
The second half saw County playing with the wind in their faces, and Alty were not looking likely to go ‘belly up’ any time soon, getting forward in the half’s early minutes rather more than seemed acceptable.
It was 5 minutes in before anything of note emerged from the blues, and it came from Keane who applied the necessary to a Thomas cross, only to see Wynne in position to deal with it.
Wynne also saved well from Mulhern, and was alert enough shortly after to snaffle the pill before Osborne could apply a finish to Keane’s incisive through ball.
Keane was putting in a shift for sure, combining neatly with Thomas to win a corner, but this petered out to nothing as Hemmings was able to run the ball clear from deep.
Mulhern lifted a shot over the bar from another Thomas prompt, 56 minutes in, which was disappointing, but more angst followed on quickly as after a foul on Warburton had teed up a tasty free kick, Kirby took it to no great effect, Alty again running the ball clear from a seemingly perilous deep position.
About this time Alty made a personnel change. Kallum Mantack being replaced by John Johnston.
By this stage Alty were making a good fist of facing the rest of the game with 10 men, and if anything looked at least as likely as County to be next to score – however it was not to be, Hancock planting a header wide from one of a few Alty corners.
More followed as Richman almost squeezed his cross in at the far post – almost – as Hinchliffe did excellent work to tip the ball over the top at the last gasp!
If County thought that that might be the end of it, they were wrong as the corner reached Williams and he sent a shot in that had goal written all over it until Hinchliffe’s dive told us otherwise!
I think we did need something to shake us up a touch, and the 65th minute saw JG react to the issue by bringing Turnbull on for Osborne as County faced a succession of corners.
Warburton darted clear from the last of these and looked on for glory until he was undone by a posse of red/white striped shirts as he neared the box- chance gone!
Similarly Thomas was on the end of a further break, but there were no takers when his cross was pinged in.
That was 67 minutes in, another 2 minutes and Bell was on for Kirby, as a terrific run down the left by Duxbury threatened to tear Alty to shreds. Dux reached the by-line with no one within a country mile of stopping him, except for Wynne, whose outstretched leg prevented Scott from making it 2-0.
Alty replied in lively fashion, pushing County back into their last third, but again it was more industry than inspiration, and their best effort during this period, by Johnston, was confidently dealt with by Hinchliffe.
That period of pressure seen off, County set about restoring their grip on proceedings, but the recipient of yet another bit of Duxbury magic, Mulhern, looked on less than thrilled to see his header brush the post before going out of play.
With 10 minutes left County’s last change was Stephenson for Mulhern, but the blues, twixt attacks, were having to defend with added application, more so as the referee( Mr Swallow) who I though by and large had a good game, awarded a joke free kick to the home side in a decent position. Keane was booked for subsequent (but very understandable) verbals, at this point, and matters then improved for the Blues and their supporters as the kick by Johnston failed to test Hinchliffe.
This triggered a response from County, and shots rained in from all angles on the home goal, the action halted by Johnston’s crude foul on Bully. The free kick had potential, but again no one emerged to apply the much needed finish, so it stayed 1-0.
This brought with it the thought of a late Alty goal, and a replay that we needed about as much as another hour or so in the wretched weather we were experiencing.
We need not have feared… Duxbury was still running at the men in red and white, and Warburton was busily foraging for scraps. A foul on Warby gave County a late-late chance via the free kick, but County’s number 10 disappointed by lifting the kick into the midst of the brave dozen or so who were still standing in the driving wind and rain on the open terrace!
If that does not inspire County to win again for us on Tuesday nothing will!
In the end, as I say, a win is a win, is a win and we were second favourites going into the game – so well done County! Let’s keep it going against Ashton on Tuesday.
[ Photos from the game can be found here! ]
Altrincham line up:
Wynne, Richman, Densmore, Harrison, Langley, Moult, Mantack ( Johnston 59), Williams ( Hampson 65), Hulme, Hancock, Hemmings ( Gabbidon 79).
Subs not used: Jones, Thompson.
Stockport County line up:
Hinchliffe, Cowan, Palmer, Stott, Duxbury, Keane, Thomas, Osborne ( Turnbull 65), Mulhern ( Stephenson 80), Warburton, Kirby ( Bell 69).
Subs not used: Ormson, Minihan.