[ Written By Ian Brown ]
County, backed by a fantastically supportive 913 travelling fans, came back from a goal down to share the points with Notts County last night at Meadow Lane.
The game was a tasty affair- both teams having their periods of domination without turning same into game clinching goals. In truth though, there was far too much tension abroad, with both sides giving their all, for it ever to be put down as a classic, but I found no one under the roof of the Jimmy Sirrel Stand complaining on the way out.
County, with Osborne back for Dimaio, opened brightly, indeed Osborne looked particularly `up for it` as County pressed for the opener. It would not come, and gradually our hosts found their game, and the pendulum swung with County having to defend deep at times, going behind to O`Brien`s snap shot on 37 minutes.
The Blues started with Minihan at left back and Cowan on the other flank, and I thought that Sam struggled at times at the back, a fact that the Magpies traded on.
But JG sorted the situation just before the hour bringing Jackson on at LB with Minihan doing well upon switching flanks in front of Cowan.
It was just what was required, and I thought young Jackson played really well- well enough to deserve a start in my view!
Whilst Notts County continued to have their moments in the second half, it was County largely in the ascendancy going close a few times before Osborne stormed through for the equaliser with 20 minutes left, after a quality move.
The Magpies did have a couple of late/ late chances, but both were scorned.
No matter, County deserved that point which they can now start to build upon beginning at Huish Park on Saturday.
Back at 7.45 County were greeted by a wall of supportive sound from a big contingent packed into one corner of the Jimmy Sirrel Stand. There were more locals present, in a great Tuesday night crowd of almost 6000, but all the noise was coming from the Blue Army, who kept it up throughout the game in exemplary fashion. In short the travelling County support was magnificent !
An foul on Mulhern gave Walker an early free kick, but this came to nought.
I liked the look of what Osborne was up to early on, but home keeper ( and their choice as M.O.M) Sam Slocombe, was too alert to let anything through.
It was not long before our hosts started to put passes together and both Walker and Keane were pressed into action to put crucial blocks in with Enzio Boldewijn seeking to sneak in down the right.
More followed from Neal Ardley`s team, Walker again doing well at the back along with Turnbull with the pressure from the home side building ominously.
Notts had signed Sam Graham earlier in the day, but his final ball, on 12 minutes, gave his forwards too much to do, and County responded with some energy as Osborne latched onto a loose ball. Ossie and Mulhern ran at the home back line only for Slocombe to hold onto Frank`s shot to deny him.
In shades of things to come, play again switched ends via Boldewijn but his shot was smothered by the dependable Hinchliffe.
The 15 minute mark signalled another switch in play, with the same Boldewijn back defending and grateful to concede a corner with Minihan threatening at the sharp end of the neatest of County moves.
The corner was headed out by one of a clutch of home defenders around Slocombe`s goal, but the keeper needed no assistance to deal with Walker`s lob that followed, his catch sorting matters for his team.
But matters were not sorted…not by any means, and Slocombe did really well to hold onto Osborne`s strike on 16 minutes.
It went on as well, with County pressing through Minihan and Osborne, forcing Dion Kelly Evans to concede yet another corner. Slocombe got an indecisive punch to this under pressure, Zoumana Bakayogo rescuing his side by hooking the ball clear.
There was no let up from County, and Osborne was unlucky to see Slocombe able to keep another effort from him out after 20 minutes.
`It was just a matter of time`, I told myself, as another Osborne shot took a deflection off a defender , and County went so…..so….close from this latest flag kick, but there was still no reward!
There was yet another corner however…and appeals for a penalty from this that were sadly only answered with a further corner by Referee Peter Gibbons.
The clearance from this kick saw Nathan Tyson dart clear from deep and only a tackle of the utmost class by Palmer ensured it stayed 0-0!
Tyson was replaced by Declan Dunn 5 minutes later , and this seemed to put a touch more lead in the Magpie`s collective pencil , only for Kane Hemmings to squander a half chance having wheedled his way to the by-line- his shot sailing straight into Hinchliffe`s waiting arms.
County replied via Thomas`s run and their umpteenth corner, but Kelly-Evans did well for his team, preventing carnage with Mulhern nibbling away at the Magpies soft under belly.
Half an hour had gone by, and it was still 0-0 and the Mulhern nibbling continued, with Osborne also still at the sharp end , his latest contribution, a free kick following a foul on Frank, seeing Slocombe climb to punch clear under pressure.
That had been a formidable effort by County, but with 30 minutes gone, it remained 0-0, and we just knew that there would be a response from our opponents, and they looked very lively indeed going about it too- Walker`s intervention resulting in a corner rather than anything more angst inducing as the ball whizzed over from the left.
Palmer headed the kick out, following this up with another brilliant blocking tackle, as a loose ball from Minihan put the blues under pressure.
Notts definitely looked to fancy their chances more than a bit now, but Dunn rather spoiled it for the home specs . 35 minutes in, by shooting wide when reasonably well placed.
That was a relief, but it did not last long, as the blues failed to clear a long throw allowing O`Brien to volley home from outside the box.
Almost immediately County responded through Kirby and Osborne, but the latter`s shot was held by the home keeper.
Notts were not done but a screamer from Dunn cleared the bar with 3 minutes of the half left.
Things got a touch confusing next as the comprehensive clattering of Turnbull by O`Brien, resulted in an extended panto and bounce up rather than the prescribed free kick.
We did get a free kick minutes later, but the half ended with Slocombe beating Palmer to this in confident style.
The pressure was on the Magpies straight off from the re-start, but Walker and Turnbull`s cooperation ended with the former`s shot zinging inches over the bar.
It was nip/ tuck for a while after that last action, following which JG acted bringing Bell and Jackson on for the disappointing Kirby, and Thomas.
This had an immediate revitalising effect on the blues, but it stayed 0-1 as Mulhern`s shot climbed over the bar on 58 minutes.
The hour mark saw Bell dive to send a header inches wide from Cowan`s cross, and already we could see the efficacy in combining Cowan and Minihan down the right- it was forcing the home defence to find touch with something approaching regularity.
It went on with Bakayogo spoiling things for County by blocking a move instigated by Minihan and Osborne, and the constant incremental increases in pressure from the blues forced Neal Ardley into a change as he swapped a defender for a forward bringing Ben Turner on for Pierce Bird.
It was a sound move, but County had the momentum with them again and Bell`s energy allied to Walker`s inventive drive almost squeaked one for JG`s men, as yet another zinger from Cowan headed their way in the box.
That was the 63rd minute, another 60 seconds and County almost had the equaliser. The pressure was on Notts big time, and the singing / chanting in the far distance to my left , from the glorious 913, reached thus far unheard levels as Slocombe was beaten by Turnbull`s shot that skidded across the face of goal missing out by the merest of margins!
County had been steadily stoking up the revs in the first 25 minutes of the second half, but the 26th brought a break in that scenario as the Magpies won a free kick outside the box down the right. This was defended, and the corner that followed, but Hinchliffe was called on then to pull off his first big save of the night – diving to his left to push a shot on the turn by Hemmings around the post.
A goal to our hosts at this point would have pretty much ended County`s quest for points, but they must have taken heart, if not from the crescendo of supportive noise piercing the cooling night air to their left, then from the fact that Dunn, though well set, drilled his follow up shot wide.
But that goal instead was County`s!
It was a result of swift and incisive passing into the box, then a neat feed from Bell to Osborne who did the rest burying his shot beyond Slocombe into the net.
In the minutes that followed that goal, the pressure on Notts was immense – Minihan and Cowan in particular stoking it up, Cowan`s latest offering appearing to strike a home hand in the box, but without response from Mr Gibbons. Jackson did get a shot in, but sent it over the bar.
Jackson was looking good, several runs from him threatening to pull the plug on the men in black and white.
The 82nd minute saw Jackson win a corner which Slocombe earned his M.O.M tag by tipping over the bar at the last gasp from Minihan`s dipper. Slocombe was a busy lad for sure and had to react quickly almost immediately to deny County, Osborne firing over the bar following a decisive punch out under the cosh by the home keeper.
We were into the last 5 minutes now, and still the Blue Army were singing their collective lungs out, as Jackson did well to block a run by Boldewijn.
Into the last 2 minutes or so, and almost unbelievably Notts were finding a second wind, only for Mitch Rose to shoot straight at Hinchliffe.
A County free kick broke the home concentration somewhat, but despite Bell and Minihan piling in on the Magpie`s back line, they somehow held out.
Three minutes added time were announced as Dunn again disappointed the home specs by lifting a limp effort into the crowd behind the goal.
And there was more of the same ilk for the locals to ingest, as with time slipping away, Boldewijn ruined a decent break by him, by replicating Dunn`s action by sending his shot high and wide of the target.
Meanwhile County were in there looking to nick that winner, and no one more so than Frank, but his hand to ball moment prior to firing the ball into the net, was not missed by the Referee, who promptly waved yellow in the County number nine`s direction.
There was time still for a bit more defending from County…a break by Mulhern…and a shot from Bell, but this was charged down and that was the end of a pretty decent game.
County `s share in the points was a good return from a tricky encounter, and as much credit in this respect should go to the travelling support as to the team- they were superb throughout!
It is good to be able to witness County supporters responding the way they have this season giving fulsome support. It would be even better to actually be a part of this again instead of being an observer. I almost opted to down my pen for this season-the yen to be `amongst it` once again growing season by season, and this sort of evening just serves to stoke that feeling up more.
Keep it up County fans, you are doing the Club and its team proud!
Notts County line up:-
Slocombe, Rose , O`Brien, Tyson ( Dunn 28), Boldewijn, Rawlinson, Hemmings, Kelly-Evans, Bakayogo, Graham, Bird( Turner 62).
Subs not used: Fitzsimons, Tootie, Campbell.
Stockport County line up :-
Hinchliffe, Cowan, Palmer, Keane, Minihan, Turnbull, Walker, Thomas ( Jackson 56), Mulhern, Osborne , Kirby ( Bell 56).
Subs not used : Ormson, Curran, Dimaio.
Attendance : 5820 (913)