[Written By Ian Brown ]
County found it hard going at the Impact Arena today where hosts Alfreton Town frustrated their efforts to replicate the heroics of Tuesday evening at Ashton.
Indeed, at times County looked somewhat second best as Town, no doubt, fully motivated by Billy Heath, and smarting from their Spennymoor Town experience, played as though they really wanted it today.
It wasn’t that the home side created masses of chances, if anything, particularly in the first 20 minutes or so, it was the white shirted Blues who racked up these, but without putting any of them away.
The result was that at half time the teams were level, and with Alfreton opening the second half very much on the front foot, things began to look a tad precarious for JG’s men.
That said, they defended well enough, until they didn’t, and a foul in the box gifted County’s opponents a penalty. Clifton managed to miss the target by a distance with this, only for referee Aaron Jackson to blot his copybook for the first time by giving Town a second spot kick after Wilde had gone down in slow motion in the box. Styche stepped up and slid this one home, giving the home side a 1-0 lead, much to the tiny home following’s delight.
JG was ringing the personnel changes by this stage bringing Bell on for Cowan and Osborne for Mulhern who had got no change all afternoon out of Dave Lynch.
The final change came with just 15 minutes left (Walker for Turnbull) and that was possibly a crucial move as within 5 minutes County were level as Nyal Bell snaffled a typical poachers goal, to make it 1-1.
Much of what followed was one way traffic (towards Sam Ramsbottom’s goal) but it was too late, and in the end a share of the points was probably a fair reflection of how things went – if disappointing!
The pressure on the home back line started from the off, but despite good work by Duxbury in winning a couple of early corners, the closest County came to an opener was a shot by Stott that went narrowly wide.
County looked lively at this stage, and a foul on Kirby (halted in full flight on the edge of the box) gave them a real chance, based on the free kick’s position, but Duxbury sent it wide.
Play continued in much the same vein, and the next significant action involved Warburton whose shot thudded into a post.
If that had gone in…. but it didn’t, and County could not utilise a short series of corners that followed on from this. Whilst Alfreton were getting on the ball fairly regularly, there seemed not to be much threat associated with the possession, and it continued to be County looking the more likely of the two sides to net.
Then a Bully/Warburton charge through the middle gained County another free kick in a decent position, but Warby’s effort was repulsed relatively easily by the home defence. County would not let it drop, or Turnbull wouldn’t, and hard work from him kept the move alive, long enough for Warburton to have another crack at goal, only for Ramsbottom to excel himself with a decent save.
Back came Alfreton, via Tom Allan who did well to snaffle the ball from Cowan and Thomas, but having done the hard work he then dragged his shot wide of the target.
That was a warning from Town, for sure, but things with 20 minutes gone, still looked to be in County’s hands, but a neat move was ended with a shot from Turnbull that cleared the bar.
That was probably not any kind of real chance, but the product of the next action decidedly was, as Kirby burst into the box before pinging a lovely ball back to Thomas.
It was a chance for sure, but Thomas snatched at it sending a horrible miscued effort high over the bar into the standing County contingent behind the goal.
Meanwhile Alfreton were beginning to stir, and a cheekily quick free kick almost paid a dividend for them – County doing just enough to fend disaster off.
For a while afterwards, Town showed every indication that they had eyes on winning this one. Styche missing out with a couple of indifferent finishes rather dented this intent, as did a free kick, a corner both of which failed to really trouble a County back line that looked as watertight as ever.
Adam Curry meanwhile, was intent on keeping County quiet. And he did excellent work keeping Kirby’s searching ball from Mulhern in the box!
That was a crucial intervention, and sent the teams in the break still level at 0-0.
The second half opened with County on the back foot as Alfreton , through Styche won an early corner.
Nothing came from that, but the fiftieth minute saw Bateson make it to the by-line, County eventually surviving via a free kick as Warby was fouled when trying to run the ball clear.
On it went.. Allan blocked by Stott.. Styche not stopped but lacking radar as his shot cleared the bar.
County were absorbing a fair amount of pressure, but still with an eye on the half chance, but Warburton’s shot was charged down, after Keane had turned deep defence into attack.
Then, with the hour mark approaching, County upped the pace of things. Shiels, the home captain, doing well to block another effort from Warburton. But Warby was not done and won a corner shortly after which resulted in a free kick as Turnbull took a knock when trying to ensure the pressure stayed on the home side.
Nothing came of the free kick or the one that followed after Nathan Hotte had tapped Kirby’s ankles as he sped towards goal – Keane taking a pass but lifting his shot high over the bar.
That was as good as it got for a while, indeed it all seemed about to go down hill fast as Referee Aaron Jackson pointed to the spot after a coming together twixt Cowan and Allan.
Clifton stepped up confidently enough to take the kick only to send the County contingent wild with hysterics as his kick headed off in the direction of Blueys!
Bell was now on for Cowan, but within no time at all Mr Jackson took a hand in proceedings again awarding Town a second penalty as Wilde went down in dramatic slow motion in the box.
Styche stepped up this time and made no mistake sending a neat kick beyond Hinchliffe into the net!
With Osborne on for Mulhern County set about putting things right, but a foul by Hotte halted Kirby`s progress, and when the subsequent free kick came to nowt, Town had it on the break through Styche who shredded the County cover with a dangerous run that ended with a tasty shot. Goal then, 0-2, except no… Hinchliffe threw himself upwards to tip the ball majestically over the bar!
Allan, Bateson and Peniket all had efforts best forgotten, but the pressure was still very much on County and one such just might sneak in!
We needed to sort matters, and JG acted accordingly bringing Walker on for Turnbull with 15 minutes left, after which the two teams traded attacking sorties- Duxbury’s powerful run winning a corner, which Clifton first blocked, and then ran clear for Styche and Wilde to gnaw away at County’s defensive entrails.
Those entrails held, and the classic counter attack saw Thomas (who had had a quiet game by his standards) scoot clear and send a peach of a cross to the back post where Bell slotted it home with aplomb!
That was an excellent move, and a fine finish, once again showing the value of a strong squad of players singing off the same song book.
About this time Styche was substituted, leaving the field with a collection of pantomime gestures to the accompaniment of ribald abuse from behind Hinchliffe’s goal.
Just 8 minutes remained as a Duxbury run turned Alfreton’s defences inside out. A corner resulted, only for Bateson to slam the ball out of the ground, earning himself a card in the process.
A close call at County’s end, was followed by several at the other where first Warburton and Osborne, and then Osborne and Duxbury joined forces – Duxbury’s shot was closest flashing across the face of goal agonisingly close to going in.
It was now clear who was on top, and it was not Alfreton, and the 90th minute saw Kirby upended in the box by Hotte, but the referee was clearly dozing as had he been awake he would surely have given County a penalty… I would have! But he did not, and that was that.
Kirby went close with a header in added time, and County had to defend a late/late Town free kick, which thankfully they did, aided by the liner’s flag, and that was the game put to bed.
In the end a point would do us, when altogether worse beckoned at one point, so credit County for hanging in there and coming close to stealing it late on.
This result leaves us nicely placed as we head, like lemmings, for the Yuletide festivities.
Enjoy all, see you at Edgeley Park on Boxing Day!
Alfreton Town line up:-
Ramsbottom, Clifton, Wilde, Lynch, Curry ( Hotte 51), Shiels, Styche ( Platt 82), Collins, Peniket ( Hobson 89), Bateson, Allan.
Subs not used : Nicholson, Sinnott.
Stockport County line up:-
Hinchliffe, Cowan ( Bell 65), Palmer, Stott, Duxbury, Keane, Turnbull ( Walker 75), Thomas, Mulhern ( Osborne 67), Warburton, Kirby.
Subs not used: Ormson, Minihan.