County halted their recent disappointing run to put fifth-placed Leamington to the sword today at sun-drenched Edgeley Park, with a workmanlike 3-1 win.
The Brakes were down to ten for just over half of the game after James Mace had received his marching orders for an assault on the rampant Nyal Bell.
It was 1-1 at the time, County`s early lead from a wonder goal from Bell being cancelled out within sniffing distance of the break by Mace`s header.
The first half had been a fairly nondescript affair illuminated by Bell`s super strike, but whereas before the break Leamington had had their share of chances, the second half was more a succession of County attacks orchestrated by Connor Dimaio , and Walker with considerable assists from Keane and Cowan who had a surprisingly good game in an unaccustomed left-back position ( I shouldn`t really be surprised though should I !)
Bell deservedly won the M.O.M again, and his goal was followed after the break by quality efforts from Dimaio and Stephenson who must have enjoyed staying on the park for the full 90 minutes.
It started with the realisation that County were kicking towards the Cheadle End first off- it seems that they all have twigged that modus operandi is the one most likely to prosper- at best that`s `not proven`, but what is solid fact is that its damned irritating!
There were 47 Leamington supporters in the Pop Side, and making a noise, as the game opened with a County attack faltering as Stephenson went down in the box to howls of protest from all 3 stands. There was, however, no reaction at all from Dean Hulme the Referee which disappointed but did not surprise.
More disappointment with Mr Hulme followed as a Mulhern run down the right was stopped by the prompt and typically robust action of the experienced Leamington keeper Tony Breedon. The pair came together but it was just that…a coming together of two party`s doing their best to get to the ball. Not so apparently, and Mulhern was booked within 3 minutes of the kickoff.
Last Monday I stood and watched…. breathless and in shock as Turnbull was hacked down from behind by Kiddy`s number ten. A clear red …..but the offender did not get any kind of card, only a word and a pat on the backside from the referee, as Bully made his way to hospital.
We are consistently blighted by substandard refereeing of this type that penalises trivialities and ignores really dangerous assaults that outside the football ground would land the perp in jail- it will go on , so this rant is a useless waste of energy is it not!
Breeden soon recovered from his travails and did well next to thwart Stephenson as he chased Hinchliffe`s long punt.
I have hinted that the Brakes had their moments in the first half, and the first of these came 6 minutes in, and Hinchliffe did good work to hold onto Taylor`s header from a Gittings pass.
County had their moments also.
They had just failed to make anything from a Walker free kick, Palmer`s downward header going close but ultimately being cleared by a solid Leamington back line.
County continued to press – Bell delighting with a powerful run down the right. More followed and not long after and it required urgent action by James Hood to prevent Stephenson from getting the opening goal.
Moment number 2 came next for the Brakes just 12 minutes in, and Hinchliffe did really well to deny them, keeping Junior English`s header out with a decent diving save.
Leamington went close from the resultant corner but County survived and it stayed 0-0.
And it was still 0-0 a couple of minutes later, thanks to Keane who ushered the ball off the line with Leamington pressing hard for that vital opener.
That was a worry, but County replied to hopefully calm their supporters nerves, only for Dimaio`s pass for Stephenson to latch onto, to be cut out by Mace.
If nothing was actually working 100% for County, Bell was doing his best to disprove that statement and a brilliant run by him almost did the trick for JG `s boys- excellent last-gasp work by Joe Clarke just foiling the County number nine.
From the corner Keane lost possession forcing Hinchliffe to make a good stop at his back post as Leamington again looked to tip the game`s balance their way.
But instead the games equilibrium tilted the blues way, and it was down to that man Bell!
County had been pressing, with no greater success than they had been able to sort previously, when Dimaio passed the pill to Bell. Nyall was so far back he could have ordered a beer in the Armoury had he been so minded, but instead he swung a magic boot and sent a superb strike past the keeper`s groping arms into the net, unleashing a tsunami of sound from all 3 stands.
That was a class effort…a quality goal…and no mistake, but County`s attempts to add to their lead missed out…Walker went close with one effort after good work by Bell and Stephenson, but that was about it as far as chances for the blues were concerned.
Then it happened……Taylor sneaked a corner that beggared belief( it was a GK)and from it, it was 1-1 as Mace headed home whilst County were presumably still mentally debating the efficacy of the flag kick!
That was massively disappointing, but again Bell did his best, with 2 minutes left of the half, to get County their lead back, but having surged beyond Bowen down near the by-line, he was then unceremoniously hacked down by Mace.
The crowd were incensed…..the referee just dithered…..but the Danny Stand liner had a pair and was adamant the tackle deserved a red. So it was then and Mace walked to the accompaniment of much jeering from the home specs.
The free kick that followed was poor, and despite more heroics from Bell the half ended with the score still 1 apiece.
The second half began relatively quietly, the first real offensive being launched by the visitors, forcing two corners after Thomas had done marvellously well to deny the rampaging Junior English who was seemingly clean through. Hinchliffe followed Thomas`s good work by emerging with the ball to end the angst for the blues.
Eventually, County responded but Keane `s effort whizzed just over the bar, and another from him was inches from glory not long after, following Bell`s latest lethal run.
Then Stephenson headed over from a corner set up by Thomas`s run down the left.
It was beginning to look as though County just might avoid their issues with despatching sides down to 10 men, but this thought had to be put aside for a while as Dunbar somehow wheedled a free kick from the referee on the edge of the box. It was scoreable, but the kick was sent down Hinchliffe`s throat and that was that.
It was a possible pivotal moment in the game as well, for a minute later County had the lead!
It started with Bell whose surging run took out 2 defenders. The ball ran loose from this to Dimaio who promptly turned to smash it brilliantly home.
That was smack on the hour and very welcome indeed, but subsequent attempts to add to the lead for County, went unrewarded as Breeden stayed solid in the face of some excellent play involving Stephenson, Walker and Thomas.
Mulhern went close next from a Walker corner as County kept play in the visitors half – Breeden doing well to keep a strike from Cowan out near his right-hand post.
He could only parry the ball however and Stephenson ( who had been heavily involved in the build- up) was there to slam the ball home to make it 3-1.
That was excellent, and for a moment it looked like Mulhern might just add a fourth until some borderline WWE stuff from English did for his run- bringing no discernible response from either liner or referee.
Meanwhile, Cowan was excelling down the left his run setting Mulhern up for a shot that sadly carried the bar.
That was Mulhern`s last action as he was replaced by Warburton with 17 minutes left.
Credit to Leamington….they kept plugging away and Smalley did well to stop Jack Edwards. There was pressure on County for sure at this point fanned not insignificantly by the referee`s latest hallucinatory moment that ushered in a second Leamington corner after Hinchliffe had sorted the first.
County survived that little bit of trouble, after which both teams indulged themselves with substitutions, County bringing Mantack on for Dimaio who left the park to a considerable ovation!
With Downing on for Bell a short while later ( cue second prolonged ovation) County set about looking for that fourth….Mantack pushing the visitors back but not finding a way through.
Keane and Stephenson worked well together, the latter lifting his effort high and wide of the target with time running out.
Three minutes added time were not enough for the blues to chalk up a fourth, and that would probably have been unkind to a Leamington team that had made County work for all they got from the game.
What County got was 3 points…3 valuable points, which hopefully will set them up for better things starting at home next Saturday against Boston United.
[ Fantastic photos including the best crowd shots – some unusual garb on display – find them HERE]
Stockport County line up:
Hinchliffe, Thomas, Keane, Palmer, Smalley, Cowan, Dimaio( Mantack 80), Walker, Bell( Downing 88), Mulhern( Warburton 73), Stephenson.
Subs not used: Ormson, Askew .
Leamington line up:
Breeden, English, Bowen( Morris 57), Clarke( Magunda 82), Hood , Mace, Dunbar( Obeng 79), Gittings, Stenson, Edwards, Taylor.
Subs not used: Dwyer, James.
Attendance : 2680