[ Written by Ian Brown ]
I had an uneasy feeling about this one today at Edgeley Park, where Hereford were the scheduled visitors.
The Bulls, since dismissing the manager who took them from pub league to their present status with a raft of promotions, have been in poor form, but I was not persuaded at all to consider this one easy meat, indeed mindful of the fact that they had this week installed a new face in the managerial seat of power , and trawled the nation for players to bring in on loan, I was expecting them to surprise us.
Yes…….that’s usually the way of it for us, and my disquiet pre-match was pretty much proved to be timely as Hereford promptly frustrated the heck out of County in ridiculously blustery conditions.
It was 0-0 at the break, a half that had seen County rack up attack after attack but without ever looking that likely to score. If Frank Mulhern was our most obvious source of threat, this was largely dissipated by him having to field passes delivered at shoulder height with his back to goal. Frank thrives on a diet of slide rule passes delivered on the deck, and these were not on the menu in the first half, which with Warburton getting a welcome start was something of a disappointment.
Having weathered the first half storms, the Bulls …roared on by a loud following of well over 200….cheekily nicked the lead , 52 minutes in, from very nearly their first serious attack. It was also the second of 2 free kicks conceded in rapid order by County , and could reasonably be said to be their own fault, as Harvey Smith was able to get on the end of the kick and force the ball home to the dismay of most of a decent crowd well in excess of 3500.
County were in disarray, if only briefly, after this ,attacking with renewed resolution eventually, but it was 10 minutes from the end before, with Hereford defending raid after County raid with ever increasing desperation, and not a small measure of indiscipline, County persistence finally paid off when a hand to ball moment in the box gifted the blues a penalty which Mulhern put away with practised aplomb.
Try as they might thereafter, County could not add a second goal and 2 more points to their haul from the game, but, despite the irritating nature of Hereford’s tactics at times, that was probably all they deserved from the game bearing in mind the amount of possession County enjoyed, and the number of set pieces that came and went without unduly testing Matt Yates in the Bull’s goal.
That said however…..Yates had an outstanding game for the visitors being first to as many corners and free kicks as the blues could send his way- their M.O.M by a country mile!
County had a number of visitors from abroad at the game today I understand, and I can add another as a Barcelona supporter bought a County scarf off me in the Supporters Cooperative Cabin pre-match before asking for directions to a suitable pub and heading off for Castle Street.
I am not sure what he made of the match, but Barca apparently had not been playing well recently so he was obviously looking for a bit of County Magic to cheer him up!
The game started well enough from a County perspective, with visiting keeper Matt Yates pressed into service without delay to prevent an early cross from Stephenson from reaching either of Warburton or Mulhern who were heading for it at speed.
The first 5 minutes were mostly County, and.. err much that went on afterwards too – Stephenson unlucky to see Yates at his best again, 8 minutes in, making a save before a second attempt from Dazzer was ushered off the line by Smith.
County continued to attack, but with the finishing nowhere near matching the approach play, and with Hereford back in numbers it was perhaps to be expected.
The blues got a break, on 15 minutes, as Mulhern was upended by Billy Murphy, but nothing came of the free kick, and Yates dealt with the corner that followed not long after.
Missing that opportunity from the free kick was a disappointment, and more followed as, with County pressing, a yellow shirted defender put hand to ball smack in front but just outside the box. A free kick it was then but Warburton’s delivery was woefully poor and any chance was gone.
It went on in much the same vein…..Smith heading yet another blue free kick out after Duxbury had been carted when breaking down the left.
The lack of finishing power from County, and the inability to capitalise on set pieces was beginning to be a worry, as was the form of the Bull`s keeper who was still going through his repertoire of saves as County queued for a shot at goal at one point 20 minutes in. At another he was first to the ball from a corner after Warburton and Stephenson had set it up.
On 23 minutes there was a flicker of life from Hereford, as George Lloyd made it in behind the County back line down the right, but Duxbury, with the assistance of Hinchliffe, did enough to see the threat off.
Mulhern then sent a poor effort spiralling out of play at some height, whilst there were small signs that Hereford were beginning to get a tad ambitious.
Well…….Kieran Thomas was anyway, but he found Stephenson, who at this point was as lively as anyone in blue, on his case and able to clear his lines.
Hereford nicked a corner in this period also, but were no better than County in making anything from it.
Meanwhile County resumed offensive operations, only to find Yates continuing to annoy and frustrate ….stopping a run by Warburton on 35 minutes, and doing similar a minute later as Mulhern combined with Thomas in the box.
I was thinking that maybe with Bell on alongside (rather than instead of) Mulhern after the break County just might improve, but would JG move in that direction?
Meanwhile I was impressed to see the numbers in the Pop Side and the large number of children in their numbers.
The kids were clearly enjoying matters and it was brilliant to see them react with obvious delight upon the arrival of Vernon Bear – great stuff!
Back to the game then, and County resumed the attacks on the Hereford goal, but with no visible change in fortune as another early free kick went the way of others before it.
A Stephenson shot cum cross went close , but this was quickly forgotten as in quick succession County gave away 2 free kicks. The first was fended off, but the second from Richards picked out Harvey Smith who headed home. (Dinsley initially took credit for the goal, but this was later corrected on video by Hereford).
No matter who scored it…we were 1 down, and for a time afterwards County were a trifle ragged, being forced into their last third by a Hereford side now fancying their chances a touch.
With 55 minutes gone, JG brought Bell on for Warburton, as County did their best to fend off a raid initiated down the right by Thomas and Dinsley.
Eventually County ended the relatively brief siege, only to see Mulhern narrowly miss out on the break.
Dinsley got a booking not long after for a poor challenge on Walker, but again the free kick came to nought.
County’s intensity of purpose was noticeably on the up now, Stephenson settling for a corner from a tasty run down the left. Thomas`s delivery from the flag kick was fine, but so was Yates response and his brave reactions kept his side in the lead.
Another 2 minutes and there was Yates again foiling another Stephenson run- it was frustrating, and matters did not improve any when a run from Cowan drew the inevitable foul from a defender. The subsequent free kick was decent from Walker, being deflected for a corner, which Yates excelled himself in keeping out!
There were 20 minutes left when that last Yates save was racked up, and it only took another 3 before the keeper annoyed again with yet more bravery to punch clear after Cowan had put the skids under the visitors with a run down the right.
I was thinking how well Cowan was playing, when he was replaced by Minihan, and within 5 minutes of the change County got the goal that they were striving so hard for.
Walker had just seen a neat ball across the box from him, aimed at Minihan, sent behind by a diving header from Richards for a corner. After that County kept plugging away, but without success, until with just 10 minutes left, it changed.
Duxbury started it , a run followed up by a neat pass inside that offered much until Billy Murphy’s hand to ball moment got in the way.
The Cheadle End was on its feet howling indignantly for a penalty, and Referee Aaron Jackson, who I thought had a pretty much immaculate game, pointed to the spot after the briefest of delays, following which Frank Mulhern stepped up to send the coolest of spot kicks beyond the excellent Yates’ dive into the net.
It was 1-1 and County had found a new lease of life, but Bell rather overdid it sending an effort a minute or so later high into the Cheadle End.
With Dimiao on for Stephenson late on, County set about getting that winner, but they were met with resolute defending from the Bulls, and an increasingly irritating run of fouls under pressure.
Lloyd did not foul when stopping Duxbury, 84 minutes in, but he was pretty much on his own, as desperation from the men in yellow brought County a late influx of free kicks.
We needed these to count, but instead Ryan Green was in position to block a goal bound effort, Yates doing the biz almost immediately after from Connor Dimaio`s half hit shot.
The free kicks kept coming as Green hacked Thomas down . The free kick from this one, on 90 minutes, saw Hereford once…twice….three times repel County boarders. Then the ball was in the Danny Stand…sent there by Yates…then it was back in play and very nearly in the net as Mulhern’s nicely cushioned header allowed Dimaio a sniff of goal.
It wasn’t to be…….and Yates kept on making it so with a string of late saves that must have had his manager purring with joy.
Anyway that was the end of the action.
The points were shared which was disappointing given the amount of possession and set pieces that County enjoyed during the game.
No matter if JG does not sort that out, that would be a major surprise!
Oh……………only at County…………. do you have to queue to get out….
See you next week for Alty in the FA Cup !
[ Photos from the game – get them here ]
Stockport County line up:-
Hinchliffe, Cowan( Minihan 75), Palmer, Stott, Duxbury, Thomas, Walker, Osborne, Mulhern, Warburton( Bell 55), Stephenson( Dimaio 81).
Subs not used : Ormson, Smalley.
Hereford FC line up:-
Yates, Thomas, Greenslade, Green, Wassall, Smith, Dinsley, Murphy, White( Jackson 75) , Lloyd, Richards( Cullinana-Liburd 92).
Subs not used : Bird, Lamb , Franklin.