The evidence of our eyes in the preseason games just finished, gave ample opportunity for County supporters to assess the pros and cons in respect of the new side that James Gannon has put together ahead of another season in Vanarama North.
The general assessment, and definitely one shared by this writer, has been that there is some real quality in our recent acquisitions that make a realistic tilt at promotion more on than at any time before in recent times.
The bookies seemed to agree installing the blues as favorites, but there is `many a slip…twixt cup and lip` and plenty lying awaiting us that might skew our upward impetus the doubters opine.
So….the visit of a usually tough as teak FCUM to SK3, a side bolstered by the returning Ex Hatter Harry Winter was as good a test of County`s worth as we could look to have, and it took County just 12 minutes to size up and start sorting the situation this afternoon , and by that time the excellent Frank Mulhern had scored!
The sun was out, and James Gannon’s well drill outfit had a will and terrific power about them as move after dangerous move pushed harassed red shirts further and further back.
They were immense…… particularly in the opening 45 minutes when they simply tore Tom Greaves’ side asunder with a series of powerful lightning raids.
Minihan and Duxbury were behind much of what went on, and the visitors had no answer to either, nor the control that Bully and Walker initiated over everything in red, in front of the back 4.
This control allowed both Mulhern and Warburton to flourish, Mulhern scoring the opener mentioned above, and unlucky more than once and Warburton showing, with 2 fine goals, that he will be up there again with a regular haul this season.
Three up at the break, with no reply looking at all likely from the side from Moston, County started the second half as they had finished the first…on the hunt for goals, but these did not come, at least not until late on, meanwhile, FCUM snatched one back with under 20 minutes left.
If this encouraged the traveling FCUM fans…they were to get excited unnecessarily as County left the best until last…Bully slamming home a piledriver on 89 minutes, and late magic from Kallum Mantack making it 5-1- a scoreline that did not overly flatter County.
It was nip and tuck for much of the opening 10 minutes, but already it was apparent that, with Duxbury powering his way past every red shirt in sight down the left turning defence into attack, and Minihan similarly motivated on the right, that an opener would not be long coming …..and it would be from County!
At this early juncture Kurt Willoughby looked the likeliest in red to offer some resistance, but with Palmer and Keane organising a shutout behind Bully and Walker, there did not seem much down for the men in red despite the infernal noise in my right ear from the away end.
That said….the County impetus was starting to build up a head of steam and Warburton was not far away, 10 minutes in, following an untidy melee in front of goal from a County corner.
It was building for sure, and it was simply excellent to see Duxbury surge forward out of a defensive position, dismissing with a degree of contempt ( it seemed) attempted tackles en-route, before delivering a cross that was bundled out of play for a corner. Bully took this and Mulhern made no mistake…..heading home from close into the dismay of the red-shirted defenders.
Minihan threatened to double the County advantage next, with a coruscating run from deep, but the visitors held out.
Duxbury was next to add to the FCUM discomfiture, and another brilliant run from him saw Mulhern`s header on the end of it, fly just over the top.
Applause rang out for that one, and pulses were raised as Stephenson combined with Duxbury to see a shot deflected for another corner. Bully upped the tension again with the kick, but again those in red managed somehow not to concede again.
It went on…Cowan pushing the visitors back…..Duxbury likewise with Stephenson who was just wide with an effort 23 minutes in.
The 27th minute saw Bannister sneak a cheeky free kick for FCUM in a decent scoring position. I was already resigned to waiting for Referee Parsons memoirs for an explanation for that one, when Matt Dempsey made my irritation unnecessary by sending a truly awful kick straight to Duxbury, who together with Stephenson ran the ball clear and out of the notional danger zone.
Just 2 minutes on from that last action and we had a second goal, and it came from County. Bully was provider again as he powered through a forest of red shirts to spread alarm and confusion inside the box. It was not a pretty sight from an FCUM viewpoint, but County showed no compassion…Bully slipping the ball sideways to Warburton who made it 2-0 with no fuss at all.
This seemed to be a shock to the FCUM system and they made immediate attempts to rectify matters, and with Hinchliffe stranded momentarily under pressure from Willoughby, County looked in danger of shipping a goal, but the County keeper did well, getting back to keep Willoughby’s pass from Bannister. Danger over!
For a short while afterwards FCUM kept attacking, but having won a corner ex Hatter Liam Dickinson sent a poor header wide.
County did not take long to reassert their grip on proceedings however, and Minihan went close with an effort following some terrific one-touch football in the build-up from County.
Back came FCUM though through Joel Logan, but good work from him was squandered shamelessly by Dempsey whose effort failed to interest Hinchliffe.
Mainly though, with around 5 minutes to halftime, it was a case of County giving it some and looking for that third goal.
In this respect Mulhern tested the keeper with a shot…..then an effort from Stephenson just carried the bar. Stephenson was not done by any means and his next surging run laid waste a trail of bruised bodies in his wake most notably Lynch and Dempsey, but that said…..Joel Senior did not look all that good either! Still…..their consolation was that Stephenson’s shot was kept out!
Satisfaction for FCUM, from that last action, lasted approximately 2 minutes, whereupon another powerful run from Duxbury saw him unleash a peach of a cross that Warburton added a striker`s signature to…it was 3-0 to County , and not long after it was half time too.
Within 90 seconds of the re-start, it was very nearly 4-0.
It was started with Stephenson’s run and cross that tore great holes in the red back line. Mulhern was nicely positioned to receive Dazzer’s cross only for his shot to be blocked on the line by Stephen O’Halloran. The raid continued at a fair pace ended when Warburton headed over the top.
County kept pounding away at the FCUM defence, with Minihan coming more and more into the game with telling contributions. One such contributed a corner to the County cause, and when Walker picked out Duxbury with this and he headed it neatly back inside, it looked on for a County fourth until Dickinson intervened and headed the ball out for another corner.
From this….the pressure on FCUM only increased and just how it did not go 4-0 is a complete mystery – keeper Crellin stopping Mulhern’s shot on the line was the major alarm for the visitors, but there were others.
It was simply incredible…….Sam Baird doing small miracles to keep Mulhern from the ball smack in front!
It was beyond the hour mark now, and it was still pretty much all County as they gained yet another corner. Walker pinged this in, and it was a belter, but the resultant header by Mulhern thudded into the bar to keep it at 3-0.
Mulhern and Minihan combined nicely next, the latter doing well to avoid an example of Harry’s least subtlest attempted `tackle’ on the way, but the corner that followed only gave Crellin catching practise.
Some subs next….2 for FCUM which included Dicko being replaced by Jamal Crawford, whilst for the blues Bell came on for Mulhern.
Just 3 minutes later, and with little in the way of warning, 3-0 became 3-1 as Willoughby pulled one back for FCUM.
County replied but both Bell and Warburton missed out with efforts, and it was still 3-1 when JG moved to take Stephenson off ( 15 minutes left) replacing him with Kallum Mantack.
County began to reassert themselves again, but despite pressure no further goal came their way which was scant reward for some good work from Walker, Bell, Minihan and Warburton, but not long after Warby was subbed…..Connor Dimaio coming on for him.
Dimaio slotted in as neatly as he had done in pre-season, and a lovely link up with Walker saw him send Bell clear only for the near side liner to hallucinate an offside decision.
The free kick from this initiated some pressure on County, and another, deftly won by Willloughby, increased this a little but without denting what was an unremittingly solid County back line.
Bully had seen a shot hit the crossbar earlier, but his moment came with just 1 minute left of normal time.
Crawford had just raised temperatures in County’s camp with a hand to ball moment, either unseen or denied by the officials, when Bully’s moment arrived. Mantack….who was being employed in an advanced roll on this occasion, did well picking out Bell with a neat cross. Bell did his stuff next, the knockdown bouncing invitingly ahead of the advancing Turnbull!
Shades of FC Halifax and his strike there, followed as he leathered an unstoppable effort into the keeper’s bottom right-hand corner! Brilliant ….and 4-1!
That was excellent, but better followed, as Mantack darted clear drawing red shirts to him like wasps to a jam pot. Crellin headed his way too, but that was folly as Mantack hoisted a sumptuous lob over his head into the net.
It was now 5-1 and Mantack gave us one of his trademark summersaults in celebration.
That was shear magic….a great way to round off a fine performance and would maybe help to compensate Kallum for his travails the last time he was here.
To be sure, and offering a ripe contrast….Harry signed off with a nasty little hack on Bully from behind that earned him a yellow card before the end. That was sad from Harry who had progressed here under JG, but I preferred to concentrate on better things, and so did many County fans as they shared in Kallum’s joy as he sped over to the Cheadle End after the whistle.
Great stuff Kallum…..great stuff County.
Two tough encounters ahead next week against 2 full-time sides, but do not be tempted to bet against JG’s team- they have every chance!
Stockport County line up:
Hinchliffe, Cowan, Palmer, Keane, Duxbury, Turnbull, Walker, Minihan, Mulhern( Bell 69), Warburton( Dimaio 82), Stephenson( Mantack 75).
Subs not used : Ormson, Smalley.
FC United of Manchester line up:
Crellin, Senior( Tattum 69), O’Halloran, Barnes( Dempsey 6), Baird, Lynch, Bannister, Winter, Dickinson( Crawford 69), Willoughby, Logan.
Subs not used : Lichfield, Greaves.
Attendance : 4577