[Written by Ian Brown]
James Gannon’s Stockport County surmounted another potentially tricky FA Cup hurdle today, by seeing off a spirited and by no means insignificant challenge from Corby Town 3-0.
The Northampton shire side may have hailed from the relatively humble Evo Stik, but they came to Edgeley Park with a unbeaten league and cup record behind them this season, and looked a decent opponent against whom to pit our wits pre- match.
In actuality the challenge from the Steelmen was as lively as was expected, at least until half time, and whilst they never really looked too likely to nick one in an interesting first half , they kept pushing for something from the game right until the end.
In reply County saw half chances come and go without success in the first half.
That said however County looked cucumber cool throughout defending diligently with no trace of panic in the face of a determined effort from the visitors.
Jordan Francis looked to be Corby`s most probable best option going forward in the first half, whilst I thought that Sam Warburton looked their top man over the ninety minutes getting forward with regularity.
Corby`s problem was that County , possibly responding to some kind words from JG at the break, emerged with renewed vigour for a second half that they largely dominated.
Most vigorous amongst those in County blue was Scott Duxbury who took the sponsors M.O.M award with another thoroughly masterful display of attacking wing back play allied to the keenest of defensive brains.
Scott was really good, but then so was Frank Mulhern who replaced Nyal Bell for the second half, and 2 goals from him had him hungrily searching for a third and a match ball to take home.
Overall it was another decent team showing from the blues, against a side that were determined to make their opponents work for 90 + minutes.
With a replay at Steel Park on Wednesday avoided County supporters went home happy on what was a deceptively cool afternoon.
Just under 2000 were inside the wonderful old stadium at kick off time, and I again found myself situated twixt the two noisiest sets of supporters as the game commenced. To my right were the Corby following who after a run of 8 league and 3 cup wins behind them, were loud and full of it in the early minutes especially. To my left were the excellent Pop Side Yellow Block who were again making a tremendous racket in support of their team, winning the battle with the visitors support both with volume and wit- it was close though!
The game started with County attacking through Stephenson who was denied by keeper Dan George after a move involving Bell and Thomas, who was back in the starting 11 in place of Minihan. Stott for Warburton was the only other change for County who concentrated on pushing Corby back into their last third in the opening minutes.
I noted a particularly beefy challenge by Keane in this period , and wondered later how much this played a part in his early departure from proceedings!
But….hey…. Corby gave us a warning, 7 minutes in, via Francis whose cross cum shot whistled across the face of the County goal with no one either in blue or black and white getting a touch to it.
That seemed but a brief aberration, as following the Francis effort, County pushed on with Osborne seeing his snap shot deflected into the arms of the keeper.
It continued in the same vein as a Bell shot was charged down from Thomas’s free kick.
Walker then went close twice- firstly seeing a shot charged down and then a second fly wide, before Osborne again saw keeper George in action seeing off his second effort of the game.
That was the first 17 minutes done and dusted.
Another 2 and Corby replied following good work by Sam Warburton to block Thomas as he raced onto a through ball from Walker.
From this, the ball found its way up the park where Francis again showed up to good effect , going close with a decent effort.
With 23 minutes on the clock Keane went down and was clearly in no state to continue, being replaced by Warburton- an interesting and refreshingly attacking move by JG.
County continued to press their opponents back on their heels , corners and throws coming and going without anything to show for them. This must be credited to Corby`s resilience in my view – they were doing well.
County were not impressed however and Stephenson was unlucky on the end of a run from Thomas that carved a fair sized hole in the visitors back line.
We needed a goal, but it would not come…even when Bell made to apply a finish to a Stephenson cross following a neat pass from Walker. Nyal probably should have put the chance away, but the moment passed with the ball still in play and County thwarted.
Cowan / Warburton…then Thomas / Stephenson cooperation’s followed but still with no goal to show for them, as with just 7 minutes left of the half a break by Joel Carta saw him drag his shot wide when well set for Corby.
County were attacking a lot, but not with any great look of lethality about their work- Osborne sent a shot wide, and Warburton saw George in action to deny him a goal.
Those were the best efforts in the dying embers of the half that saw Mulhern limbering up in front of the Danny Stand!
No score at half time had the weary willies in our midst thinking of a replay on Wednesday, and I must admit that despite the joys of travelling in the Flyer, that prospect did not overly delight me.
That said, no doubt James was about his business just now and setting things in order for the second half.
As anticipated, Mulhern was on for Bell as the game resumed with Warburton not that far away with his opening salvo of the half.
For Corby , Sam Warburton continued to show up to good effect bringing a good defensive header from Stott with his free kick.
For a while Corby continued to attack, but there was nothing on the end of it of any note- Connor Kennedy lifting an inglorious effort towards the now defunct Bung.
The pressure from County was now noticeably on the up , Stephenson winning a corner from Thomas`s run and cross. Stott, Walker and Mulhern all went for the ball from this without success.
Corners proliferated now for the blues, the next via a Cowan run down the right….then another …then the reward that County sought- a goal! Corby were struggling to clear from the corner , but there seemed no great threat as Stephenson’s cross reached Warburton just outside the box. Warburton reacted swiftly sending his shot heading goal ward where it took a deflection and flew into the net.
A touch fortunate perhaps, but it was 1-0 and County`s second half showing had deserved some reward.
Credit to Corby….they rallied bravely putting County under pressure for a couple of minutes. But the Corby bravery contributed to their undoing as County hit them on the break through Duxbury who turned defensive action into fiendish attacking lethality in an instant. He had Mulhern for company and found him with a glorious through ball that simply begged to be put away. Frank duly obliged outpacing his marker to slot a finish of delicious magnificence into the net.
It was now 2-0….but game over?
Well Corby thought not and looked as determined as ever putting County on the back foot for 4…maybe 5 minutes, but crucially without ever testing Hinchliffe.
Meanwhile County continued hitting on the break and George did well to hold Mulhern`s shot 66 minutes in.
On it went…George making a decent save to deny Thomas…….then making a diving one handed save from Duxbury. Add a Warburton effort that was blocked, and a fine catch under pressure from the keeper as one of a number of County corners sped over, and it can be perhaps seen that Corby were in danger of being outplayed.
From a Corby view point it was an uncomfortable period, as Warburton again went close and George once more excelled with some brave work in extremis.
But County were piling it on now, and Duxbury was a fag papers width away from reaching Mulhern smack in front with a neat cross. I was just digesting that one when I looked up to see Jake Bettles stop another Duxbury raid with a fine blocking tackle.
Corby were not lying down at all, and were trying to get something from the potential wreckage of their afternoon, but in response County were totally unruffled, and another Mulhern break from deep ,in tandem with Stephenson, brought another good save from the Corby keeper.
Hmm….that was disappointing, but I am guessing that Town may just have been more disappointed moments later as they piled into the attack pushing County deep into their own half. A massive melee ensued thereafter in front of the County goal . Ben Bradshaw was just one of a clutch of Corby players who almost scored…..almost…..but like magic Hinchliffe emerged with the ball at the end of Corby`s best bit of attacking play of the game.
Had that seen Corby score……….
But it didn’t , and 4 minutes later the upshot was that County scored again, as Warburton fed Mulhern with a glorious ball that Frank put away with his customary aplomb…….3-0!
By this time Minihan was now on for Thomas , as County set about sealing the win with another goal, but Mulhern`s luck was out, being inches away from another gem from Duxbury.
The near side liner then went into overdrive in the last few minutes…twice flagging Stephenson offside, and once Warburton to frustrate County.
Osborne had a shot dealt with by George and Gary Mulligan, so it stayed 3-0, which was a good enough result from a tie that gave every indication before hand of being another banana skin.
Not so…well done County, but well done Corby also for continuing to look to attack deep into the game in what was a game played in a decent spirit.
Good stuff all…now for Hereford!
[ To see some great photos from a chilly Edgeley Park , click this link ! ]
Stockport County line up:
Hinchliffe, Cowan, Palmer, Stott, Duxbury, Keane( Warburton 23), Thomas( Minihan 78), Walker, Bell ( Mulhern 45), Osborne, Stephenson.
Subs not used: Ormson, Dimaio, Smalley, Mantock.
Corby Town line up:
George, Smith, Warburton, Carta, Anton, Mulligan, Francis, Kennedy, Sandy ( Arthur 88), Bradshaw ( Allen 78), Nkrumah( Bettles 59).
Subs not used: D Smith, Mc Bride, Robinson, Atcha.
Attendance : 1935