[ Written By Ian Brown ]
County took a giant stride towards the National Premier today at Edgeley Park where they took all the points in a clash of titans against promotion chasing AFC Telford.
Telford were well organised and neat, and they needed to be, as County were firing on all cylinders from early doors, all 11 and the called on substitutes contributing manfully to a wholly deserved but hard earned win that pushes them within 3 points with leaders Chorley, who lost to Alfreton.
Twice County took the lead with goals from the returning Nyall Bell in the first half, and Warby after the break …and both times the Shropshire side were able to equalise. For a time after the second equaliser went in, faint hearts will have wondered whether this was a game too far for James Gannon’s talented side, as they chased 13 games unbeaten.
Well… no way was that going to be so, and there was no further reply from Telford as County scored again through the remarkable Matty Warburton.
There was time for a couple of priceless saves from Hinchliffe in added time, with the Bucks bursting a gut to square that circle a third time. It was not to be for Gavin Cowan’s team, and although it was a disappointment to their supporters who made a good supportive noise all game, the result was well deserved.
Baines got the M.O.M but it could have gone to any of 14 today, so well did they sing to the JG songbook!
A season’s best crowd of over 4700 were inside EP come 3 o’clock, and there was ample evidence to suggest that the ticket initiatives in operation were a resounding success, as the Pop Side was packed with families and children eagerly anticipating a great game of football.
There was a surprise for us when the teams were announced, as Nyal Bell, after his match winning showing against Runcorn on Wednesday, was in for Frank Mulhern.
If County’s bench of Frank, Turnbull, Osborne, Ormson and Kirby looked formidable, those on the park looked no less so, as they took the game to their opponents from the off.
Minihan was very much in the van in this respect, but then so was Stephenson , who saw an early shot deflected for a corner, that visiting keeper Joe Bursik managed to punch clear under pressure.
The eighth minute saw County concede a free kick as Telford fashioned a break from several minutes of blue pressure. Palmer awaited this patiently…heading behind for a corner which the Bucks could make nothing of.
This brought Duxbury and Stephenson into centre stage, and the duo looked as lively as I could remember, their initial thrust denied by keen defending from the visitors.
Just a minute later and Stephenson exchanged passes again with Duxbury, but as he scooted along the left touch line he was fouled by Streete. The free kick should possibly have not caused County’s opponents much in terms of issues, as it was way out and flush to the touch line.
No matter… Bell fancied it and did his best to ignore the close attention he was getting from Deeney, and when the kick came in he turned his man brilliantly and headed goalward, ball in tow. Much to do still, but Nyall was up to the task and made light work of rounding the keeper and slipping the ball into the net.
That was a fine opener, and it lit the County fans fuse – the place was alive with excitement, as the kids headed for the pitch side hoardings to salute the goal.
County had a vice like grip on proceedings for a time after this, with corners racking up to give Bursik much to do… a flap here… a neat catch there was about how it went – Walker unlucky to see a shot deflected away from goal at one stage.
Twenty minutes had gone by, and the blues were revving up nicely now, particularly Stephenson whose diagonal run generated excitement in an appreciative crowd. Minihan took it on from Dazzer but found Bursik in good nick – his catch ending County`s interest – for now.
Interest returned pretty soon after, but Bursik did well to thwart Bell after County had swiftly turned defensive action into a lively attack. The 27th minute saw the tribute to James Phillip go off nicely…..and the 29th ushered in a shot by Stephenson that went narrowly wide.
Five minutes pressure followed from Telford – nothing overly sharp and nasty, just steady build up and tidy possession in the County half of the field. As I say, nothing at all startling, and then of course they equalised!
Telford had won a corner and Daniels lifted this towards the back post, where Sutton climbed to head home – a simple goal – neatly executed!
It was 1-1 and we had a game on our hands – as if we did not already know that!
The final minutes of the half saw County peg their opponents back on their heels again, but Warburton was unable to keep his shot down with 5 minutes left after Stephenson had won a corner.
Sutton found Reservoir 2 in extremis with Duxbury bearing down on him a couple of minutes later – Bursik tipping the ball over the bar at the last gasp from one of a number of County corners that followed.
Three minutes added time changed nothing, and the teams went in with it still 1-1.
When the game resumed after the break, Mulhern was on for Bell for County who set about restoring their lead via enterprising work from Thomas and Minihan.
A foul on Mulhern had been ignored by referee Mike Barlow, but a further bit of Telford naughtiness that up tipped Dazzer was not, but Baines, sliding in at the far post, just failed to convert Walker’s nicely delivered free kick.
Matters improved in this respect, as the next indiscretion by the Bucks resulted in a free kick altogether better placed from County`s view point. It was more central, and after the usual pre kick conference, Warby took this one beating the keeper with seemingly effortless ease – 2-1!
Duxbury was replaced by Turnbull just before the hour, which meant that Minihan switched flanks.
Nothing changed up front however – Warburton kept plugging away – hitting one in that Bursik dealt with neatly.
If I wondered where the Telford response was, there was an early answer and Keane did really well to block a determined raid from the visitors.
Stephenson’s run not long after was thwarted near the by-line, whereupon County were hit on the break- a great last ditcher by Palmer saving the day with Udoh threatening.
Loose play from County in the middle of the park had helped initiate that last trouble, and we needed this to be cut out for sure. But, instead the Blues gave a free kick away in a virtually unmissably central position – right on the edge of the box! I was still wincing when Daniel’s kick wheedled its way beyond the County wall into the net!
It was 2-2, and the noisy 150 or so from Telford to my right were increasing the decibels noticeably sensing something special.
It was not to be that simple however, and within 5 minutes of the equaliser County underlined the excellence that they have exhibited in similar circumstances of late- in short – they scored again !
Palmer and Walker had just been thwarted following a corner won by Mulhern, when County again put Telford under the cosh, via a run from Stephenson. Dazzer’s shot was held by Bursik, and when the resultant clearance by the keeper came back in his direction again, he was relieved to see Thomas’s shot charged down by a defender.
Apparently, the raid was done, but no one had told Jordan Keane who lifted the ball back into the danger zone where Warburton swivelled to beat the keeper from close in!
Wow, that was simply excellent, but County must have known that with Telford capable of disrupting the blue plans a third time, that a fourth goal was needed- possibly urgently!
And Telford seemed to verify this need, and the urgency, forcing Palmer to head out under pressure with 15 minutes left.
Walker and Minihan had done good work during a period of Telford pressure around this period, whilst further up the park Turnbull looked in his element directing traffic.
It really was developing into an archetypal team effort from County, and a back three of Keane, Palmer and Baines got through some excellent work under pressure to keep Telford out.
Telford would break, the block would be put on by County, again Telford returned to the fray, for Keane to exasperate them with some immaculate defending.
Twixt this defending, Stephenson, Thomas and Warburton were gnawing away at the soft underbelly of the visitors unit, but Warby ceased to gnaw with 5 minutes left, being replaced by Osborne.
Another couple of minutes and Minihan was back on the right flank thinking himself unlucky not to gild one of his runs into the box with a penalty. I doubt that he will be at all consoled by the thought that I would have given it, as Mr Barlow had no such intention.
Much pressure followed from County on the Bucks goal – Minihan’s latest run forcing a neat corner, and then another, but somehow County could not add a fourth goal.
The result was that Telford lumped the ball up the park where Hinchliffe did well to make it out of his box to leather the ball into the next County to save the day, as 3 minutes added time was announced.
Two minutes into added time and Udoh found himself in splendid isolation bearing down on a grossly exposed County keeper. It should have been a shoo-in, 3-3, but the forward dwelt on the ball a moment or two longer than was wise and when he took a stab at it, Hinchliffe made a brave save with his legs! Fantastic!
More pressure came from Telford, Dazzer clearing one moment, Osborne the next.
If that was encouraging, when Dazzer took the ball with him into Telford territory it was even more so. A foul stopped him en route, but the free kick was blocked notionally giving the visitors a chance for a late, late break.
Not so however as some excellent hold up play from Stephenson kept an apparently dying raid alive just long enough for County to claim all the points.
That was a truly excellent showing against a team well capable of upturning our applecart. For sure they will need to do it all again on Tuesday against Southport, but you will not be betting against them will you!
[ Simply brilliant pictures from the game can be found here! ]
Stockport County line :-
Hinchliffe, Minihan, Palmer, Baines, Duxbury (Turnbull 56), Keane, Walker, Thomas, Bell (Mulhern 45), Warburton (Osborne 85), Stephenson.
Subs not used : Ormson, Kirby.
AFC Telford line up:-
Bursik, White, Cowans (Morgan-Smith 45), Deeney, Sutton, Streete, Royle, Daniels , Barnett, Udoh, McQuilkin (Dinanga 83).
Subs not used : Morley, Knights, Brown.