[ Written by Ian Brown ]
I was worried, I remembered our match with Maidenhead United earlier in the season at Edgeley Park, where referee Simon Mather`s display, described by one who shall remain nameless as ` as weak as a whisper at a Joanne Shaw Taylor gig`, contributed heavily to County`s 0-1 reverse that day!
Despite Athletic having brought in a keeper and a League 2 striker pretty much as they journeyed down to the game, I was upbeat as to County coming back from a briefish loss of form today, notwithstanding that one jaundiced eye would be relentlessly focussed on the form of the man in black.
And …regrettably…..all my forebodings were bourn out, as Mather gave us a variation on a theme this time around, choosing to penalise County, the team pretty much always first or second in the Fair Play League, by sending their skipper off in the first half for as innocuous an ‘offence’ as you are ever likely to come across.
Turnbull clearly played the ball and Effiong even more clearly made a five-course meal of it aided by a clutch of pewling Dover players who surrounded the referee with the obvious intent of getting Bully sent off ( Aldershot, and the appalling Richard Hulme writ several times larger)- a tactic that worked perfectly thanks to the hapless custodian of the whistle, who apart from a late aberration that saw him book the Dover keeper, also totally failed to curb the visitors game long time-wasting habit, that started almost immediately they disembarked the team coach.
Notwithstanding that up until that point, County had been second best to Athletic, that sending off decided the match! There was no way back for 10 man County after that. They battled hard and bravely thereafter, but without success before conceding a second that was put away by Effiong late on.
I heard it argued after the game, that County should be good enough to rise above the comedy refereeing (who`s laughing?) and win matches despite the setbacks, and I suppose there’s an element of truth in that, but had the second half been 11 v 11 there is no doubt in my mind, that with the Cheadle End sucking shots into Ashley Mayward- Brewer`s goal, we were poised to win the game until the man in black intervened.
McAlinden for Osborne was the sole change for County as the teams came out.
The weather was cold but perhaps no worse than you could reasonably expect in February, but a large crowd of well over 4000 took up positions in all 3 serviceable stands, with 89 bravely making the trip from Dover.
Inih Effiong was first to show for Dover, but his shot cleared the bar.
County were under a fair bit of pressure in the early minutes, but…remembering Athletic`s indifferent attacking display at their place earlier this season, I was not unduly concerned, a feeling reinforced when a cross from Lloyd fizzed across the face of the Dover goal.
What was a concern was that no one got on the end of it, but it was early doors!
We then saw a familiar and obnoxious tactic unfold from the visitors, who were to deploy the dubious methodology game long seeing Mr Mather acquiesce so readily. It was Aaron Simpson this time, going down as if dead, remaining so until the referee`s attention was drawn, eventually recovering with commendable speed soon after a free-kick had been awarded and taken.
Already Dover were habitually surrounding the referee and earwigging the poor soul, and it was, to say the least…. annoying!
Still….Mc Alinden created some interest with a run down the left, so maybe…..
But County had to watch the Dover forwards who, although not causing too much distress, were busying themselves rather more than was good for the Blues peace of mind.
That said….a fine block from Turnbull, and a break by Lloyd again served to emphasise that County were capable of more and better, but again Lloyd`s good work went to waste as no one in blue claimed and applied a finish to the County wide man`s cross when it came.
We were 20 minutes in now, and Dover were still looking for a goal, but Effiong`s shot from Reason`s free-kick came back out off Archer. Eventually, the raid subsided, and Festus took a hand in proceedings, his neat through ball so unlucky not to send Lloyd in, one minute, an even neater through ball the next putting the keeper in difficulties. New signing Maynard- Brewer found touch in a hurry and sorted matters via a catch and clearance that kept it at 0-0.
Twenty-five minutes had elapsed now, and if Effiong was an irritation, constantly running at County`s backline, Kevin Lokko was more so as he was constantly in the referee`s ear with no apparent justification. He was not alone in this respect, unfortunately, and this loathsome tactic would claim a dividend only too soon!
I bit my lip…looked up to see Rigg and Effiong run at the Blues backline only for good work by Keane to thwart them. It was a corner though, and Dover`s best chance came and went from it as Gobern saw his header headed off the line, in fine style, by Turnbull.
Free kicks and corners started to pile up at this point for Dover, the phase ending when Simpson dragged a poor effort wide.
A break by Lloyd offered County relief, but this was curtailed as he was clattered just outside the box. Cue Yalta 2…..as Mr Mather was then in deep conversation with a clutch of white-shirted players. If the subject was obscure, the result wasn`t….despite the foul on Lloyd, the referee gave Dover a bounce up ( without any County involvement) and any chance was gone, along with my self-control as the ball headed Hinchliffe`s way annoyingly.
Both teams had a go next…..Lloyd unlucky with another run and cross……Hinchliffe catching confidently as Munns` cross put County under pressure.
Then I began to regret leaving the BP tabs at home, as Turnbull stretched to push the ball away in a 50/50 with Effiong . Absolutely no problem then…except that old Effi remembered the script and stayed down, cue for the Aldershot effect to come into play (see clutch of pewling Dover players above), and for Mr Mather to produce his card. I was livid…..that did not deserve a yellow at all…….but Turnbull was walking ….it was an unbelievable red!
Ten-man County stepped up the ante in the remaining minutes of the half with Osborne now on for McAlinden.
Lloyd was just short of reaching Cowan`s cross smack in front at one point, and at another Mr Marsh went from bad to very much worse……first off watching Lokko climb all over Archer just outside the box ( nothing given, ball cleared)….then producing a yellow on Thomas for…………..anyone please….let me know…..
The half ended not long after to a chorus of boos for Effiong and Marsh- thoroughly deserved!
Bell was on for Archer when the second half started, and he was in the mix straight off, and it was soon evident that if Bell and Lloyd could replicate an early cooperation, County might just finish up quids in. But the extra man for Dover ensured that Bell was easily dispossessed on occasions and clear cut County chances were at a premium as a result.
Then…just when I had convinced myself that one…just one slice of luck…one break….and the game would be sorted….it all went decidedly sour as a slip by Keane let Effiong in to give Dover the lead.
Credit to County though, they were not cowed, they did take the game to their opponents, but that extra man was always likely to tell in the end.
No matter, they had a go…..Osborne`s shot cannoning out off a defender ….Thomas`s cross putting the visiting keeper under the cosh, and Clarke doing exactly the same just a minute or so later.
I was encouraged again……just one break….a slice of luck……but Maynard- Brewer did enough to nullify a link up by Bell and Lloyd, and that slice of luck……well it was nowhere to be seen Locko`s wild slice sent Thomas`s cross thudding into a post before heading out to safety!
OK …the pressure continued from the Blues, but where was that luck in all this, as Lloyd saw a fine effort fly inches wide?
We were heading towards the last 20 minutes now, and County were still notionally in it …1 goal is always undoable, but from a County corner Dover broke clear, winning a cheepo free-kick. This was defended well by County, but we needed to ensure accuracy of passing as well as maybe now economy of effort as the load got progressively heavier on 10 broad shoulders.
But I was still being encouraged, but the keeper just managed to keep a belter from Lloyd at the last gasp, Clarke doing well in the follow-up raid that followed without enjoying so much as the merest scintilla of luck.
Then the inevitable occurred…..one of Dover`s attacking breaks paid off. It did not appear to have done as Hinchliffe saved Effiong`s first effort well, but the ball ran loose and the striker wellied it home to double the visitors advantage and extinguish my last glimmer of hope!
Jackson came on for Lloyd almost at the death, Effiong missed a chance put off by Hinchliffe`s presence, when a third goal looked on, Taylor shot wide not long after for Dover whilst Clarke, Osborne and Thomas each gave Dover much to think about and several corners to face as the game`s end neared.
I have spared you the description of the `joke throw in ` that the Danny Stand liner gave to Dover late on, under his nose and clearly won by Thomas, the ridiculous nonsense of a `decision` lost in a veritable ocean of inappropriate flag-waving and whistleblowing.
County now have to pick themselves up and start again, beginning at Dag & Red on Saturday.
See you all there then!
Stockport County line up:-
Hinchliffe, Cowan, Palmer, Arthur, Clarke, Turnbull, Keane, Thomas, Archer ( Bell 45), Mc Alinden ( Osborne 40), Lloyd ( Jackson 88).
Subs not used: Ormson, Walker.
Dover Athletic line up:-
Mayward- Brewer, Passley, Lokko, De-Havilland, Reason ( Poleon 71), Woods, Effiong, Munns ( Cumberbach 76), Gobern ( Taylor 38), Rigg, Simpson.
Subs not used: Yussuf, Rooney.
Attendance : 4506 ( 89)