County maintained their play-offs momentum with a vital 3-2 away win over Bradford Park Avenue today.
The large County contingent in the 1044 crowd, were ecstatic at the finish after Jimmy Ball had volleyed the blues home with a late /late purler.
But??. after dominating the game in the first half, and much of the second, and seemingly cruising to victory via a fantastic brace from Jason Oswell, they rather let things slip, conceding two goals against a Bradford side that they had made to look distinctly ordinary. and a tad peevish before a clutch of second half substitutions revived them.
By way of contrast, County did rather miss Matty Warburton`s soothing presence, after he was subbed at 2-0, but thankfully James Gannon`s boys showed their metal when they needed to the most, sending 90% of the crowd home happy. Again?.this is valuable evidence of how the team is gelling at the right time under Jim`s guiding hand.
Fifty-odd of the 90% were less than happy earlier though, as humungous delays on the M62 and surrounding roads meant that the Flyer, with yours truly aboard, did not arrive at the ground until 25 minutes after the kick off, despite this being delayed by 15 minutes, and Andrew Machin did not make it at all having to turn back from the motorway mayhem.
It follows that this rather truncated report will not be as all-encompassing as I tell myself it usually is- so apologies!
The coach had erupted with joyous cheering, 7 minutes into the game when news came through to us that Oswell had opened the scoring for County following good work by Warburton.
That was great to hear, but so?.so frustrating too!
It was 25 minutes into proceedings before I could get pitch-side, and within seconds I could see that County had Bradford on the rack- carving great holes in the Yorkshire sides cover.
The result was a plethora of fouls and accompanying bookings for Avenue as they struggled to cope with County`s lively and incisive play.
Cowan`s run to the edge of the Bradford box, brought the first booking ( at least the first I had witnessed) as ex Hatter Olli Johnson brought him down.
The free kick from Duxbury was a decent effort and keeper Drench did well to tip the ball over the bar with Oswell and others in blue on his case.
A second flag kick quickly followed, via Thomas, but despite an untidy melee in the box, Bradford survived.
Back came the blues, but Duxbury`s run was cut short by a foul by Brooksby. Brooksby was booked for his pains, and County had a free kick, which again went close but without adding to Oswell`s earlier opener.
The impression of almost complete blue dominance continued apace, and only the best of saves from Drench prevented Warburton`s goal-bound effort from doubling County`s advantage- the keeper doing a small miracle to push Warby`s effort out from Thomas`s precise cross.
There were just 15 minutes of the half left now, and it looked like it would not be long before County would add to their tally, but Duxbury`s free kick after Oswell had been fouled by Luca Havern ( another former Hatter), went limply over the bar.
On it went, mostly in the same vein, but still without another blue goal. The best chance coming 5 minutes from the break as Warburton just failed to add a finish to a Turner cross.
In the half`s dying embers, Avenue did make it up the park, but when they did, Cowan was in position to make a fine tackle to cut Mulhern`s break out.
A run by Johnson that promised more than it achieved?..another neat tackle by Stott to stop Vidal and that was that for a half that, for me, was over almost before it had begun.
The resumption saw Turner go close responding to a neat pass from Warburton, but despite a fair old tussle from the ensuing corner, Drench emerged with the ball and some credit too.
Boyes shaped to get Bradford back in it next, but Stott did just enough to ensure he could not get a shot off.
Oswell, Turner and Thomas kept the pressure on the home side though, but the latter`s effort after much decent approach play, disappointed by rising over the bar, requiring no work at all from Drench.
We were 6 minutes into the half when we got the first hint of something different from Avenue, and it came via Boyes. His was a decent effort, from the edge of the box, but so was Hinchliffe`s response, and his dive saw him hold onto the ball in fine style.
Within a minute more `evidence` surfaced, and it was from Mulhern this time, but his ball in from the left, aimed at Johnson, saw the former blue fluff his lines with the goal gaping.
The first County change came next and it was Stephenson for Turner- Avenue responding by swapping Spencer for Johnson.
Straight off County were under the cosh from a free kick- it was close ?.but?..
We needed to be wary?.and then we apparently didn`t, as Stephenson won a corner that teed Duxbury up for a trademark deep cross to the back of the box. Drench had it?and then he didn`t and Oswell did- the County striker turning with the ball to blast an unstoppable shot home!
It was 2-0 to County and job done?.
Err?perhaps not?..although it took another tiresome foul, by Vidal this time, to stop a Warburton run , and earn Avenue`s umpteenth booking of the afternoon. Clarke`s free kick put our hosts under pressure, until Vidal emerged again to leather the ball clear from Duxbury`s latest cross.
The Vidals bit previously mentioned probably was the catalyst for Warburton`s almost immediate replacement by Minihan, and, just to get acquainted obviously, Vidal hacked the County man down in brutal style.
Need I say that the Avenue number eight was booked? But he had `taken one??` and it ensured the action switched ends as a result necessitating a great bit of work by Duxbury to deny Smith, who had only just come on for Boyes.
Then a loose bit of play from County saw them concede a free kick which put us under the cosh again. County just could not react quickly enough allowing Vidal room to slam a neat shot home to make it 2-1.
Hmm?.not good?and not a great way to concede a goal for sure, but is there ever really a good way to?
More pressure came County`s way after the goal- Hinchliffe and then Stott in action as substitute Smith tested County`s resolve.
Toulson for Vidal ( Bradford) and O`Halloran for Thomas for County, were the final personnel changes as the last 15 minutes arrived- Duxbury just denied after Stephenson worked a bit of magic down the right.
Despite the goal conceded, County looked in reasonable shape to see the game out at least and maybe probably settle things with another goal, as Minihan reaffirmed the good impressions left with us last time out with a clutch of lively runs.
But?.bugger?.it was Avenue who were celebrating next, and it was more unaccountable slackness, as Stott lost the ball to Smith who quickly fed Mulhern, and that was that as the Bradford man fired an excellent shot in from a bit out!
It was 2-2 ?.which was disappointing?but was that County`s lot?…..had they blown it?..and with it their play off chances?
Well?no?but with Avenue looking ever more lively?.there was every chance of both being so- a fact seemingly given fuel and born out as Hinchliffe was required to pull off a cracking save to stop Smith from making it 2-3 with 5 minutes left.
It was getting a bit tasty now ?Oswell and Ross in the wars?and Duxbury booked ( a case of mistaken identity on the refs part I say, as he justified the booking to a mystified Dux, by pointing to the far side of the park and back to the current spot presumably blaming Dux for the fouls done on him and the bookings these caused)!
I tried my best to forget this nonsense and instead concentrate on the fact that County were stepping up again and putting Bradford under the microscope.
O`Halloran was in the mix and unlucky to see Havern usher his cross away from the danger zone as 5 minutes added time was announced.
” A bonus” I scribbled hastily?..but was it?`
Well ? Minihan and Ball tried to make it so- and Killock did well to put the ball out for a corner from the latter`s effort.
Then?.4 minutes into added time the ball came out from the back from County to where Oswell met it sending it on to Jimmy Ball who half-volleyed it home from a forest of players!
Wow?what a finish?simply excellent?brilliant from Ball?and ditto Oswell who has worked so hard and selflessly of late and thoroughly deserved his goals to go with the late late?oh so vital..assist.
Great stuff, and barring a tiresome pitch invasion, that was it and it was time to celebrate which is what County players and supporters duly did.
On then to Monday and Tamworth at Edgeley Park.
Can you afford to miss that one?
[ pictures of the great travelling support can be found here! ]
Bradford Park Avenue line up
Drench, Ross, Hill, Wroe, Killock, Havern, Brooksby, Vidal( Toulson 75), Boyes( Smith 64), Johnson( Spencer 57), Mulhern.
Subs not used; Hall, D Boshell.
Stockport County line up
Hinchliffe, Cowan, Clarke, Stott, Duxbury, Winter, Ball, Thomas (O`Halloran 73), Oswell, Warburton( Minihan 64), Turner( Stephenson 55).
Subs not used: Ormson, Turnbull.