County took all the points from the closest of encounters at Haigh Avenue this afternoon, a tasty finish late on from substitute Connor Dimaio securing a 1-0 victory for James Gannon`s men.
This was no classic, but County opened with a verve and energy that seemed to point to a win of FCUM proportions.
Despite loads of possession however, and more than the odd scare for home keeper Dan Hanford, it stayed 0-0, even after Bill Priestley earned a red card with a ruthless hack on Mulhern as he darted clear on 36 minutes.
The same score at halftime soon became a cause for concern as Liam Watson`s full-timers started to play a bit after the break.
It is fair to say that Hinchliffe did not have that much to do or many moments where the brown trousers were called for, but the overwhelming feeling dawned never the less, that the Sandgrounders, despite the disparity of numbers, looked the team most likely to…..
I scribbled as much , with 80 minutes gone, but had not factored in the late arrival of Dimaio on the scene, and a sweetly struck effort from him with just 5 minutes of normal time left, sorted matters for County.
Southport will think themselves unlucky, and not wholly without cause, but we will take the points against a side at the seasons birth we were widely expected to lose to.
Not so , and it was our first league win at this venue since 1956, so crack open the shampoo boys, you deserve it!
The afternoon was not without its downside. County’s goal being the trigger for some individuals, from the away end, to encroach on the pitch. This was accompanied by the throwing of a flare onto the pitch.
There is quite simply no excuse for this mindless stupidity, and it WILL cost us. Little do the morons involved care!
Back at 3 o`clock County supporters were there in numbers, pretty much filling the open terrace and half of the newly refurbished main stand, and the prevailing atmosphere was fine and dandy.
Things looked OK on the pitch also as County opened in fine style, almost going one up within 60 seconds of the kick off.
A Stephenson / Mulhern cooperation induced a wild back pass from Langley, and was the catalyst, and keeper Hanford did terrifically well to keep the ball out of the net with the large County following bellowing for a goal. It was not to be….Hanford scrambled the ball off the line, and the moment passed when Bully`s follow up cleared the bar.
County looked well set to make their supporters happy at this point, but there was no sign of a goal from all the neatly put together play, and Walker saw his shot charged down, 6 minutes in after Dazzer had dazzled down the right.
The eighth minute saw Hinchliffe in action saving from Jason Gilchrist, and Smalley did well to charge down an effort from Jack Sampson, but overall it was the white-shirted blues who were doing the attacking.
There was some quality about the County work too, but Mulhern looked on frustrated to see Hanford rise to tip his shot over the bar. A corner followed and a lob from Warburton, that teed Stephenson and Smalley up to do their worst, but no goal!
Stephenson was troubling the home defence for sure, going close twice in rapid succession just after the 15 minute mark.
Add a shot from Bully that was the proverbial inches away….and a Mulhern/ Stephenson link up that saw the latter shoot just wide when right on the by-line, and it surely would not be long before County would score!
That said….Southport flexed their muscles a touch , but without ever looking very likely to score…..Elliott Osborne missing with a tame effort, and a header that got the locals all excited, and Nathan Lowe wasted a free kick in an interesting position.
We were beyond the half hour now, and the need for a goal to emphasise the County superiority, was obvious, and the 35th minute looked about to produce one as Mulhern darted clear heading for the box with no one twixt himself …Hanford….and glory.
Did I say no one? Well no one in front of him, but Priestley was trailing in Mulhern`s wake and announced his presence by smacking into the County man from behind.
It looked a red to me, and Referee Matt Corlett agreed giving the Southport number five the `Order of the Early Bath`.
County fans were delighted, but less so when Warburton`s free kick hit the wall and was cleared.
Halftime was approaching now, and it was still 0-0, and beginning to be a tad worrying. For sure Southport were continuing to provide sustenance via free kicks as white shirted bodies took some iffy tackles here and there.
But…we still could not find a goal….notwithstanding the mother of all melees that ensued in front of Hanford’s goal as 1 minute added time was announced, and the last act of the half came from Josh Langley whose header might have embarrassed us but instead went wide from a late /late Southport free kick.
Halftime then …and still 0-0.
Into the second half then, and nothing really changed with Lynch comprehensively `sorting` Bully- County making nothing of the resultant free kick.
Southport had started the second half altogether more positively than they had the first, and Hinchliffe did well to hold Osborne`s shot from an early corner.
The pressure continued from our hosts – Minihan happy to find touch in extremis. Palmer joined in, heading clear as Morgan pinged a dangerous ball into the box.
County were struggling to clear their lines and thus set up moves, and JG moved to perhaps address this bringing Bell and Dimaio on for Warburton and Turnbull, just before the hour mark.
It did not immediately alter things- Smalley doing well to sort some little difficulties as a throw put County in distress briefly.
Had I said that Dimaio was on? Well he was and he gave us a bit of a boost with a snapshot on the turn from Minihan’s pass. It cleared the bar….but……
More encouragement followed as Gilchrist got a booking for clattering Minihan, but Stephenson was ruled offside from the kick and the excitement dissipated rapidly when Hanford managed to hold Bell`s effort on 64 minutes.
At this point Mike Phenix came on for Southport. It was a surprise to see him not start, but when he came on he made an impression causing County more than the odd bit of difficulty.
A cheap free kick to Southport did not help County nerves any, Minihan being adjudged to have gone `feet up’ , but although the position of the kick was scoreable, it did not happen for the Lancashire side the kick going inches wide.
Hinchliffe watched that one whizz by the post, but was more active next foiling Phenix . County cleared the resultant corner but they were still struggling to clear their lines and construct coherent moves thereafter.
Phenix was there again forcing a corner and watching as Winnard sent his header wide from a second flag kick.
The quality, so very present from County early doors, was now largely absent, due in more than a small measure to the joined-up response from Southport.
We needed something from someone….somehow, but instead Dimaio got a booking for what looked an innocuous challenge.
County were trying, but there was more enthusiasm than cutting edge about their work so far in the second half.
That said Jordan Richards looked distinctly ill at ease in finding touch with a clutch of white shirts bearing down on goal.
So…..at this point…I felt that Southport were the team most likely to……
Phenix blotted his copybook by spraying a poor effort high and wide, however , and when he found his range again a minute later Sampson lost his and fluffed a chance when smack in front, so at 0-0 the game was still anyone’s for the taking.
Enter Connor Dimaio……
Mulhern had just gone close with a pull back from the edge of the box that deserved better when, with just 6 minutes left, and with Mantack warming up beyond the touchline, Keane imposed himself in fine style winning possession brilliantly before sending the pill to the edge of the box where Minihan and Stephenson were hemmed in by what looked like 12 Southport players. No way through then, and then there was as the duo magicked a ball inside to Dimaio whose low shot beat the keeper to give County a vital goal and the lead!
Mulhern made way for Mantack with 2 minutes left, and Frank left the field to a tumultuous reception from County fans!
Dimaio went into overdrive in added time, firstly sending Mantack clear and then Bell, both of whom found no way through but consumed valuable time. The last action saw Phenix waste a notional chance deep in added time, blazing an effort high and wide.
Not long after this, the whistle blew for time and the points were County’s.
Credit to Southport for a valiant fight, and to County for having the wherewithal to stick with it.
Pretty it was not in the end, but the points are just what we needed – well-done boys!
Southport line up:
Hanford, Richards, Mueller, Morgan, Priestley, Langley, Lowe( Winnard 36), Lynch, Gilchrist( Phenix 66), Sampson, Odborne.
Subs not used: Charles, Parry, Green.
Stockport County line up:
Hinchliffe, Cowan, Palmer, Smalley, Minihan, Keane, Walker, Turnbull( Dimaio 55), Mulhern( Mantack 88), Warburton( Bell 55), Stephenson.
Subs not used : Ormson, Downing.