[ Written By Ian Brown ]
County tasted defeat today, 2-1 at home to Aldershot in front of another crowd of over 4000 at Edgeley Park.
The score line was close but, a thoroughly organised Shots side dominated from the game`s first kick, or more accurately from the moment they elected to force the Blues to face the Cheadle End first off.
Danny Searle`s side knew what they wanted to do…and did it, establishing a firm strangle hold on the game`s vitals early doors.
In response County were poor particularly in the first half. Whilst I saw good stuff coming via Palmer,Walker, Turnbull and Minihan (under pressure) at times, on too many occasions for comfort clearances were carelessly placed in central positions where yellow shirted Shots held sway. The ball just came back with interest.
It was not a great surprise therefore, when Aldershot took the lead almost on the half hour, but the quality of the goal from Panayiotou was a real corker that soared past Hinchliffe into the net, and fully threatened County`s confidence.
Another 3 minutes, and one nil then swiftly became 2-0, and that confidence took another dip, as another sweet strike, this time from Brazilian Alefe Santos, smacked into the back of the County net, to compound the County supporters` misery.
The second half saw County showing more appetite for the battle, pulling one back via substitute Joe Piggott ( another belter) , with less than 15 minutes left, but it was the proverbial `too little, too late` and the Shots sent their fans home happy hanging on with the odd alarm or two for all the points.
Piggott, although on for barely half an hour, will have been well satisfied with his showing, having another coruscating drive just kept out by Shots keeper Mitch Walker before his goal went in. Elsewhere the County team gave their manager much to think about, and whilst much of their angst was down to the shape of Aldershot`s jib, some basics do need looking at most particularly trying to see that clearances either find a blue shirt, or go out of play….. and do not feed our opponents attacking intent.
None of these worries were abroad come kick off time, but I was not alone in showing exasperation upon seeing that Shots had made us kick towards the Cheadle End . Weighed against the world`s multiple woes, this is merely an irritation, but a growing one as it becomes a habit with visiting sides wishing to get under the Blues skins.
A neat ball from Palmer, in the first minute, forced me to forget the issue, but only briefly, as Bell was blocked after turning inside at one point dangerously.
After that early action, Shots began to steadily build up attacking momentum, via Ethan Chislett down the left. The cross from Chislett was a good one, and Harrison Panayiotou ( who was to shine for Shots pretty much throughout) got a decent header in, only for Hinchliffe to trump it with a cool save.
Shots then switched flanks, attacking down the right, Palmer doing really well to stem the tide with Chislett and others on his case, as a ball pinged to the back of the box from Robbie Tinkler.
That was 6 minutes in, another minute and County replied as Thomas won a corner. Leesley took this, and Palmer fancied it rushing in at speed towards the back of the box to get a header in. He did well, but a plaintive cry of “handball!” went up from the Cheadle End, as the header from the County number five crashed into a defender.
The plea was in vain as Mr Kitchen, waved play on, and that ended any argument.
Some moments of quality, under pressure, from Turnbull and Walker illuminated the minutes that followed ,but County were having a lot of defending to do against a side who were no mugs at all, so we were clearly going to need something special from the boys in blue if County were to prosper.
And, in this respect matters did not look that great as a searching ball from Santos, put the screws on the blues again. Tinkler joined in stirring the pot interestingly, but so did Osborne and some good defensive work from him saw the danger off.
That was good…what followed wasn`t as Keane fed a clearance straight into the path Max Hunt. Back the ball came County`s way but via yellow shirts and a rare struggle ensued before County were able to feel secure again.
But Aldershot were not over keen to allow County any respite, and the blues breathed easily only when Lewis Kinsella`s shot flew wide, after more lively nonsense from Chislett!
The 20th minute saw a brief County break out involving Bell and Thomas thwarted, but Aldershot were not wilting, indeed they were getting more adventurous going forward- feasting on ill directed clearances from County. Jack Powell brought the best out of Palmer, from one such clearance, with a surging run from deep,24 minutes in. County survived OK but we perhaps hoped for maybe more than survival?
No matter- there was defending to do and Minihan did OK, clearing up after Kinsella had turned the screws on County again down the left. Pressure….corners ….followed with Palmer using his head in the County cause to his usual distinction midst it all.
The 29th minute saw a reply from County, and a bit of an uproar, as Leesley`s neat trough ball set Bell and Osborne up nicely, only for what seemed a foul on Bell to be given as a free kick to Shots.
Ho Hum…..and we did not have long to dwell on that one as some real misery came County`s way as Shields cross from the left picked Panayiotou out wide right some way out. No danger then, except Panayiotou had not been acquainted with that contention, and with County pondering action, he promptly leathered a sumptuous drive home from outside the box!
That was a fine goal, and another followed with only 3 minutes delay in almost identical fashion as Santos sent a beautifully dipping drive into the net from pretty much the same distance and angle as Panayiotou had previously!
Aldershot were 2-0 up and things looked grim from a County perspective.
County did strive to make a decent reply, and Aldershot were happy to find touch with County looking menacing, but County returned to the fray, Turnbull unlucky to see a pacy shot charged down. A corner… a free kick followed for County, but without any success, and when Chislett hooked the ball clear to stop Town`s rot, County had stuff to deal with again, most particularly Hinchliffe who pulled off a blinder of a save to tip a screamer from Chislett over the bar as he cut inside on 40 minutes!
That was a cracking save and he made another just a minute later as Kinsella was the provider setting Kodi Lyons- Foster up for a header that the County keeper kept out nicely.
We were heading for half time now, indeed I was hoping it would come soonish, but it did not , instead a mix up in front of the County goal almost saw the visitors increase their lead- Hinchliffe somehow clawing the ball out as it smacked into a post and headed in. Panayiotou was on hand but could not manage to force the pill home!
Wow….half time please……but the minutes ticked on- County doing well at one point but seeing a series of defensive blocks by the men in yellow thwart them .
Two minutes added time followed along with a booking for Bully- he baulked at this, but it looked fair to me!
Frustration at a County raid breaking down no doubt contributed to Bully`s angst, but more followed for County as Walker, in the Town goal, made a decent save, deep into added time, to keep a strike from Osborne out.
Half Time then- County 0 Aldershot 2
County opened the second half attacking , Osborne drawing a foul in a nicely interesting position. Interest peaked again as Walker`s kick was met by Palmer`s head, but it waned once more upon the Aldershot Walker making a save to deny the County pivot.
This was better from County, and I was even more encouraged by a borderline great run from Bell, kept out by excellent last- ditch work from Hunt.
Pressure followed from County but Mitch Walker did well to withstand this, and Hunt again did well to block a shot from Leesley that had something about it.
That said however….sooner or later the crosses would start to ping in from both flanks from Town, and County had to be on their toes to keep them out.
But Bully had taken a heavy knock around this time, and was soon replaced by Jackson, and within 5 minutes JG acted again to replace Minihan with Piggott.
This now meant that Thomas and Jackson were acting as wing backs, with Keane looking to get forward a touch more than in the first half.
Osborne was getting forward too, and it took a pretty good tackle from Kinsella to stop him with around 25 minutes left.
A `not so great` tackle followed on Jackson bringing a welcome free kick on the edge of the box, albeit wide left. Bell and Palmer both went for the kick but without success.
It was still 2-0 to Shots, and time was running out now, but County fans heard a distinct clarion call …a blast of a trumpet…on 74 minutes, and it came via substitute Joe Piggott who unleashed a truly fearsome monster of a shot goalward. It had goal written all over it, but the keeper`s dive saw him bravely push the ball over the bar!
Fantastic shot……brilliant save…. Still 0-2!
Alex Fletcher almost nicked in behind the blues back line a minute later, and then….in another minute……
Jackson pushed the ball inside from the left, and in an instant Piggott had it replicating his earlier effort with another of awesome power that fizzed at speed out of the keeper`s reach into the net!
At last we were moving…it was 1-2!
Hmm….OK …but wasn`t that Chislett who just cut inside before clipping the bar with a shot from distance?
Yes…it was….and County (pressing again) had to be wary as Aldershot were want to hit on the break, and they did , with 12 minutes left, County somehow clearing a cross / shot by Santos from under the bar!
But perhaps…just perhaps…..but Piggott`s header was pushed around the post by Walker, and the corner was cleared.
Piggott was a real handful for Aldershot who were relieved to see a header from him flash wide of goal from a Thomas cross with 10 minutes left now.
Dimaio came on for Leesley for the last 7 minutes or so, but try as they might County , despite corners….free kicks….just could not make another break through.
Piggott nevertheless continued to forage- winning a corner from nowt, but Aldershot dealt with this solidly and it was still 1-2 when 6 minutes added time was announced.
There was time for a series of throws midst a series of late/late County attacks. Time for defenders in yellow to find Hardcastle Road when under pressure and in any doubt.
Soon enough it was over, and the points were Aldershots , and not undeservedly so.
We clearly need to take a step back, establish what we did wrong, put it right when we can and go again.
Piggott looked a fearsome prospect tonight, so that`s something we can build on, and we have not suddenly morphed into a poor team, just one that is up a division on where it was last term, and on an understandable learning curve.
Next instalment Borehamwood Saturday- we must be able to out sing them there mustn`t we?
Stockport County line up;-
Hinchliffe, Minihan( Piggott 63), Palmer, Keane, Cowan, Turnbull ( Jackson 58), Walker, Thomas, Bell, Osborne, Leesley ( Dimaio 83).
Subs not used : Ormson, Arthur.
Aldershot Town line up:-
Walker, Tinkler, Kinsella, Lyons- Foster ( Fowler 62), Santos, Shields, Panayiotou, Chislett ( Whittingham 90), Hunt, Fletcher ( Mullins 83), Powell.
Subs not used : Eyoma, Kudiyiwa.
Attendance ; 4279 ( 226)