[ Written By Ian Brown ]
One down early- County came back to take all the points, with a thrilling 3-2 win, at Edgeley Park last night against a tough as teak Barrow side.
The opening games, against full time sides, has shown us that there are not going to be any `easy games` in this division, and County will be on a swift learning curve from the off.
This game just served to emphasise that point, but also the resilience in JG`s side that just might equip them well for the battles ahead.
It was a cracking match- one in which both teams and both sets of fans gave their all, and County can be mightily proud of a showing that had the rafters ringing with acclamation from most of the 4000+ crowd by the end.
Goals from Mulhern, Keane and Thomas did the trick for County- all brilliantly executed efforts, in a see-saw match of unbearable tension at times, particularly late on when Barrow pinned County in their own half and pounded away for an equaliser that just would not come.
County defended ever deeper as the game progressed, and the pressure from the visitors mounted, and there was more than one defensive hero in blue for sure, and Hinchliffe will have been pleased with his display which with his team under the cosh at times late on, was just what was needed.
That said though, at times Barrow`s finishing was awful, as they failed to capitalise on a welter of free kicks ( apart from Rooney`s snorter that equalised it at 2-2).Some of the free kicks were carelessly given away by the blues, and thus irritatingly justified, but others were just plain mystifying , and I was disappointed in referee Rebecca Welch`s showing and the quantity of largely needless free kicks she handed out against JG`s men.
There was a big Tuesday night crowd in at kick off time, with 200 or so Barrow fans loudly in support of their team from the off, but the early minutes must have been nerve tinglers for them as County took the game to the visitors.
Joel Dixon, between the sticks for the Bluebirds, had a particularly torrid time of it, spilling the ball under pressure from Frank Mulhern, who looked up for it and more. County could not put the ball in the net though!
They continued to pile it on however, and the Blue Army were in full voice as Jackson`s shot was clung onto grimly by Dixon following a lively move involving Mulhern and Dimaio.
Then the world spun on its axis crazily as I looked right to see Barrow break clear and Scott Quigley stun County by sliding the ball under Hinchliffe into the net to give his side the lead, and send the travelling specs to my far right into paroxysms of joy!
Just 3 minutes gone, and already one down- would the blues be able to re-group and scale this vertiginous upward slope now seemingly in front of them?
Well, they gave every impression of being set to do so as a run by Minihan set up Mulhern nicely. A foul cut Frank`s run short, and from the free kick Thomas again showed what a decent, under rated striker he is by `scoring` neatly. The whistle had gone earlier however for a perceived infringement and the `goal` was ruled out.
Just a minute later, County were back again, and Dixon was once more in a fair old tizz with Frank on his case, but the referee came to his aid, penalising the County number nine for quite what I did not see.
Barrow, with 10 minutes gone, made what I assumed was an enforced change replacing left back Pat Brough with Connor Brown, who was to be one of the visitors` prime movers throughout what followed.
But ….at this point County were still looking on to equalise, Dixon appearing to carry the ball out of play under pressure, being saved by the Danny Stand liners flag that indicated a goal kick!
It was a thoroughly absorbing and exciting game, and Dixon did well to cling onto Thomas`s shot with 15 minutes gone.
County piled it on now….Sam Hird excelling for Barrow heading Jackson`s incoming cross to safety. But there was no safety, and Dixon was called on again almost immediately to beat a Turnbull drive out.
It went on…..Dixon again to the fore pushing a shot from Osborne round the post from a typically impish Dimaio pass. The keeper snaffled the corner safely to end Barrow`s immediate angst.
A reply from Barrow was a long time coming, but when it did Brad Barry`s run from deep saw Scott Quigley force a corner. The travelling specs were getting exited again at this, but the feeling was short lived as Palmer dealt with the incoming kick nicely despite the close attentions of Quigley and others in pale green.
It was another 6 or 7 minutes before anything of note surfaced again, and it was at the wrong end where the referee gave Barrow a decent scoring chance via a free kick in a choice central position. Hinchliffe sorted same, but it was another nervy moment for County supporters.
County responded fiercely to this, with an Osborne/ Thomas combo almost putting Mulhern in.
That was unlucky, but more followed as Dixon stopped but failed to hold a zinger from Osborne. Frank saw it….liked it…..but was narrowly unable to put the loose ball away!
Hinchliffe then made a routine save from Barry, but once again the major trauma`s were all at Dixon`s end where captain Josh Granite just kept Mulhern from Thomas`s through ball. It was a corner, which saw Frank down in the box, and the Cheadle End up to a man/woman!
Referee Welch was unimpressed – it was a goal kick, so it stayed 0-1.
There were flurry`s of excitement at both ends in what remained of the half, as County gave the ball away in mid field forcing Minihan to come to the rescue with Josh Kay bearing down on goal.
County replied to this winning a late corner, but Dixon got to this confidently to send his side in at the break still one up.
The half time break gave the opportunity for SCAN to make welcome presentations to Phil Carratt and Ian Holbrook .
County attacked the Railway End with renewed gusto when play resumed, as Dimaio`s shot carried the bar following an interesting cooperation twixt Mulhern and Minihan.
Minihan then ferried the ball to Thomas as County went searching for that equalising goal again, and it came in short order as Thomas`s pin-point cross saw the deftest of touches by Mulhern dispatch the ball beyond Dixon into the net!
That was a superb goal and within 3 minutes another of the same ilk followed!
Dixon had just managed to scramble a shot from Frank around the post, and substitute Lewis Hardcastle had eagerly cleared the resultant corner, when the place erupted in a wall of sound as County took the lead.
County were pushing Barrow back relentlessly now and the ball reached Keane who had ventured up the park to join in. Join in he most certainly did, sending a powerful shot into the far corner of the net, from way out, before turning in triumph towards the Pop Side!
That was some goal was that!
Credit to Barrow, they then replied putting County under pressure for a time but without ever turning diligent approach play into the gold of goals.
At the other end the blues kept searching now for a goal that would put the game to bed, but Osborne`s cross was kept from Jackson by Hird.
It went on……Minihan forcing a corner……Turnbull seeing a shot charged down, but despite winning a free kick, County just could not add that decisive third goal.
Osborne certainly continued to try, but his break from deep, just before the hour, was cut out by good work from Hardcastle.
But Barrow were beginning to enjoy more of the ball, and in County`s half- the pressure was on the blues for sure, but it looked like the Bluebirds had left their shooting boots at home as in short order Barry shot well wide when reasonably well set, and a corner , whilst putting County under pressure moments later, saw another weak finish from Barrow fail to capitalise.
By this time Kirby was on for Dimaio, who went off to a decent reception, but it was not long before Barrow thought that they had the game saved, and it came via another free kick so centrally placed as to seem un- missable. County`s wall lined up en-masse to face the challenge of Rooney`s kick, but it was to no avail as he curled a neat effort over them and into the corner of the net!
This was a game of quality goals- that one was less than welcome, for sure, but a quality finish none the less, but it was 2-2 now and that familiar upward slope beckoned once again!
But the response from County was exemplary and Thomas`s latest cross, pinged over at speed, had the Barrow back line in a tangle as Granite was forced into a horrific slice that sent the ball spiralling skyward. Then it was on the deck and County had it again through Kirby, and they had a third goal as well, as Kirby slipped the ball inside to Thomas whose precise finish brooked no arguments……it was 3-2!
Not long after Bell came on for Mulhern, who had run himself dizzy and he went off to a rousing ovation from all 3 stands!
Meanwhile Barrow looked intent on recovering their position, but a truly awful finish from Quigley made a mockery of that desire and ruined a decent bit of play from the visitors.
For sure the pressure was now steadily building on County, but they were doing OK defensively, and they still managed to relieve the pressure with sporadic attacks. Bully won a corner, with 10 minutes left, only for Dixon to hold onto Jackson`s cross with blue shirts on his case in the box, and Bell very nearly hustled the keeper into error, but it stayed 3-2, and Barrow were beginning to look distinctly menacing.
Yes, Hinchliffe would be a busy lad in what remained of the match…..out beyond his far post to make a save as Rooney threatened……then on his toes within a minute to keep a shot from Brown out, and down again at the foot of a post making another save after Barrow had played the ball about with growing menace in County`s half.
This was heroic stuff from County, but would they be able to hold out?
Well if the quality of some of Barrow`s finishing did not improve…maybe…..but Dyson gave County reason to be cheerful planting a poor header well wide after good work by Brown had set him up.
Six minutes left, became 4, but with Jackson sliding in recklessly the free kick that followed just served to stoke up the pressure on the blues. A foul by a Barrow forward when the kick pinged in, saw the pressure relieved, but not for long as Rooney`s goal bound shot brought another save from the redoubtable Hinchliffe, with just 2 minutes left.
Festus Arthur came on for Jackson, with 1 minute left, as Dyson`s long throw saw Quigley head over the bar.
There was immense pressure now on County as Barrow were pretty much now getting all the 50/50`s, there seemed no way that the blues could hold out!
But they did just that, and it was heroic stuff with Palmer, Minihan and Keane doing fantastically well at times to keep the Bluebirds out.
Then there was Hinchliffe………………..out to grab a late/late Barrow corner in added time surrounded by green shirts, but he could do nothing with the shot moments later from ex County hero Jason Taylor that clipped a post before going out.
There was time for Ben to tip another effort over the bar, and catch the resultant corner, before the game ended to a crescendo of cheering from the County following who had played their full part in what was a fine win against difficult opposition!
This really sets us up now for what is to come this season.
We were put severely to the test last night, and not found wanting!
Much still to do of course and nobody is more aware of that than James Gannon, and if upcoming matches are even remotely close to being as good as this one was- it will be well worth being a part of for County supporters!
See you at Edgeley Park for the game with Eastleigh on Saturday then, but bring the throat lozenges…….and maybe the BP pills too!
[ Photos! Get ’em here! ]
Stockport County line up:-
Hinchliffe, Minihan, Palmer, Keane, Cowan, Turnbull, Thomas, Osborne, Dimaio ( Kirby 64), Mulhern ( Bell 77), Jackson ( Arthur 89).
Subs not used: Ormson, Curran.
Barrow FC line up:-
Dixon, Brough ( Brown 10), Taylor, Granite, Hird, Rooney, Quigley, Kay ( Dyson 60), Angus, Harrison ( Hardcastle 45), Barry .
Subs not used : Hindle, Greaves.
Attendance : 4183