County went down to their second defeat of the season, losing a frustrating battle against Billy Heath`s collection of bean poles and bruisers, otherwise known as Alfreton Town, 1-0 today at Edgeley Park.
The game was frustrating simply because any semblance of flow was cut off at source via a constant series of free kicks occasioned by a multiplicity of fouls by the visitors.
Flow disrupted……County tried without success to make an impression as a seemingly endless stream of free-kicks came to nought.
This was a shame as JG started with both Bell and Mulhearn, which I thought was well worth a try, and Bell did put himself about enough to deservedly take the M.O.M award, but …that said…..County …despite applying much pressure more than a time or two, never really looked like finding the net against a side expertly coaxed and nurtured by longtime JG target Tom Denton.
Denton was immense……….. a magician at using a simple lofted ball and turning it into something with menace about it. Of course, he scored, but he also did what he always ever did namely get back and use his height and power in defence as County came at Town late on.
County worked hard enough in response , but with Alfreton amazingly well-schooled and neat for a side ram jam full of players well over six foot in their ranks, the blues were frequently forced to defend and at times looked vulnerable as the likes of James Clifton, Tom Platt and Bobby Johnson joined forces to add to Denton`s first-half strike.
They could not manage it…but despite a great effort, neither could County who go to Kidderminster on Monday licking their wounds and looking for a better result.
Still reeling from my doctor`s surprise diagnosis of `Stockholm Syndrome` I took up position in my new home in the Pop Side, with altogether too much racket coming from the Alfreton fans to my right- County would soon act to sort that……I thought to myself!
They started off well enough it must be said, but Alfreton were quickly into a practised game plan that involved committing early and often….clocking free kicks galore up as a result, and the first one, for a foul on Askew was slung over nicely by Walker, only for Palmer to head wide.
The early play from County was not displeasing indeed Bell was getting in Town faces rather well, forcing a corner 5 minutes in, that saw Palmer again to the fore but sadly lifting his shot over the bar.
It went on….Shiels stopping a Mulhern run……keeper Sam Ramsbottom foiling Bell.
Only 7 minutes had gone by, but already Denton was getting in his quota of cunningly cushioned headers, feeding his teammates scraps and morsels as he went.
Wilde was a seasoned feeder and Smalley did well to head his cross out with 9 minutes gone.
Sorted then…..except it wasn`t as County did not clear their lines properly allowing Wilde back on the ball to pick out Denton as he lurked menacingly at the back post. It was 0-1 in a heartbeat thereafter as Denton made short work of planting his header home!
County were shell-shocked at that, and Warburton did good work hooking the ball clear as a long throw put the blues under the cosh.
Just a minute later and County looked to have equalised. It started with Mulhern picking Bell out and the ball then speeding from Minihan to Walker who whipped it into the net.
Looked a good one to me I must say ….. but not to the officials apparently and it stayed 0-1.
Again County attacked, and again Shiels did enough to stop Bell`s gallop, tangling again with County`s number seven not long after as a rather ruffled Ramsbottom punched clear under pressure.
Meanwhile, County had Denton to contend with, and he was the hub of almost everything coming out of Alfreton, his link up with Peniket bringing a vital block from Palmer.
Palmer was there again moments later, conceding a corner when worse beckoned with Denton in his face. It was a dangerous moment for County, but it passed with Hinchliffe `s superlative take at the back post.
Platt was having quite a game for Town- hacking Warburton down one moment, before haring up the park to cause mayhem the next. The free kick following the foul brought a decent save from Ramsbottom, whilst his sortie up the park ended less well as he shot wide with Denton begging for the ball smack in front of goal!
Another free kick forced Alfreton back and Mulhern was only just foiled by Gowling after Bell had pulled a neat ball from wide left. A corner resulted and more heroics from Ramsbottom who dived to push this out in a crowded box.
We were beyond 30 minutes now, and both sides were having their moments- Warburton blocked in the box for County, and Wilde stopped brilliantly by Minihan as he broke clear.
The referee then played advantage as Bell was fouled for the umpteenth time. It was probably a good decision but Ramsbottom pushed Mulhern`s shot from the kick around the post. The corner that followed almost saw that much sought after equaliser as Denton and another defender nearly contrived to work the ball beyond the keeper`s reach into the net. Ramsbottom was on his game and kept it out to spare Denton`s blushes.
The half then degenerated into a prolonged series of County free kicks. From these Bell and Walker went close, but ultimately there was nothing down for the blues who trooped off at halftime still 0-1 down.
County had the crowd roaring upon their return to the fray- Bell heading wide from Walker`s early corner following a wave of blue attacks.
This was followed by more of the same, but Walker could not keep his shot down and the ball sped off into the upper reaches of the Cheadle End.
Bell meanwhile was imposing himself on the opposition, linking again with Mulhern to win a corner, only for the set-piece to come to nothing again.
A break by Johnson came next but Hinchliffe saved this rather well. He had to, and he was under pressure again quickly, getting down nicely to push a goal-bound effort around the post. Bell and Turnbull tidied up from the resultant corner, only for Warburton to loft his shot over the bar as County broke clear.
The hour mark came and went with more evidence of Alfreton power and capacity to embarrass, but they were lacking in the finishing department as Clifton`s excellent break was wasted when Peniket drilled his effort wide.
County struggled to clear their lines, and when they did their luck was out as Bell beat the keeper only to see his shot drift wide.
Bell was earning his corn, but so was Shiels and he again did terrifically well to keep Nyal from a flick on from Mulhern.
The 63rd minute ushered in much excitement at the away end, as the ball nestled alarmingly in the back of the County net. Thankfully it was ruled out but we needed County to tighten up in the face of increased pressure from the visitors.
But instead Platt robbed Walker and headed for goal and glory. Hmm….did I say that Alfreton were somewhat lacking in the finishing department?…well Platt did his best to prove this sending a woeful effort on its way to the Bung.
Alfreton kept the attacks coming , nicely supplemented by a lovely dive by Nathan Hotte that set the visitors up with a free kick in a very handy spot indeed. Enter the otherwise rather good Clifton…. who promptly put his kick into the empty Railway End.
Bell`s energy and willingness to chase anything and nothing was earning applause – going close a couple of times with just over 15 minutes left to play.
County were doing their best to get back to parity but without success- a corner won by Minihan seeing Warburton`s shot charged down, and Ramsbottom in action diving to keep his clean sheet intact.
The pressure might have told as Johnson`s foul on Walker brought County a free kick, but this was saved without difficulty by the keeper to frustrate County even more.
And there was more where that came from too, as Ramsbottom dived to tip Warburton`s shot over the bar. The corner then saw Bully`s shot charged down ( with a hint of hand to ball about it) by Wilde.
Did I say it was frustrating? Well, it was as both Warburton and Walker then had shots blocked in the box.
Then Ramsbottom spilled a Warburton shot looking on aghast as the ball spun agonisingly close to going in before not doing so!
Alarmingly…County again could not force the corner home, and even more so….Alfreton broke clear as Denton, in defensive mode, sent Peniket scooting up the park. This looked cool for Town, but then it didn`t as Peniket slipped a pass nicely to substitute Harry Middleton who promptly made a wakes of it all spraying a bog awful effort wide.
But Walker then did likewise at the other end, as we went into added time.
There was no lack of effort from County, only a decent finish was missing. Bell, Warburton, and late substitute Dimaio piled into the fray with increasing tenacity, but still the equaliser eluded them.
Alfreton did the `corner flag bit` for a time expertly wasting time in traditional fashion.
County did have one last fling deep into added time, courtesy of Turnbull`s continuing hunger for possession, but it ended badly as Warburton`s shot failed to test Ramsbottom.
Game over and lost, but Alfreton are a decent side and there is plenty of time to turn things around this season, starting with Kidderminster on Monday.
See you there then.
Stockport County line up:
Hinchliffe, Minihan, Askew( Kirby 66), Keane( Dimaio 90), Palmer, Smalley, Bell, Turnbull, Mulhern( Thomas 66), Warburton, Walker.
Subs not used; Ormson, Cowan.
Alfreton Town line up:
Ramsbottom, Clifton, Wilde, Platt( Bacon 90), Gowling, Shiels, Johnson( Middleton 80), Hotte, Denton, Peniket, Chettle ( Clackstone 71).
Subs not used; Nicholson, King.