[ Written by Ian Brown ]
County`s encouraging run of pre-season form took a knock today at Nethermoor Park where an impressive Guiseley side came back from 2-0 down to level matters, coming a whiskers width from adding a surprise winner at the death.
Not many County fans fancied a trip to this particular spot, after last seasons manufactured palaver, but it very soon became apparent just why JG had plumped for this fixture against these opponents. The Lions are always combative, tight at the back, and very hard to beat, but there was much more in Russ O`Neil and Marcus Bignot`s side this time around- they had added a willingness and ability to get forward and put pressure on their opponents, and in this ex Hatter Kaine Felix excelled!
Behind Felix there was solid defence playing as a unit, in front of which Jamie Spencer played link man, and Dylan Barkers provided the energy and a fair bit besides.
All that said…..with 15 minutes left, I had just scribbled ‘An Impressive Win , against a decent side’ when our opponents punished me for the poor judgement, nicking 2 goals in good order and not being far away from taking the win . They didn’t largely because County’s back line stood up to the task, albeit at least one of the Guiseley goals ( the second)might have been saved with better reactions from some in blue.
In this regard I had Cowan as the standout County performer- weighing in with countless blocks- almost all vital to the Blues survival. The presence of Matt Taylor ( from Oxford United) on the bench may well have spurred Dan on a touch , but the 30 minutes Taylor got on the park ,were inconclusive for firm opinions to be formed on him, in my view.
Guiseley did a pretty thorough job of keeping what had been a free scoring County forward line in check. Goals for the Blues came via Mulhern and Kirby, and Thomas had another disallowed, but really we can have few grumbles in having to settle for a draw today.
There was not a great deal of enjoyment in the journey through Leeds to Guiseley, but it was a pleasant surprise to note that the forecast rain was absent ( game long!)
County fielded much the same starting 11 with one exception namely that Osborne was on Number ten duty in place of Dimaio.
Early attacking flurries from the Lions, were followed by similar from the Blues.
County supporters made up 50%+ of the 336 crowd, and they enjoyed Minihan’s work next that won the Blues an early corner. If the faithful were waiting for a Palmer special from Walker`s kick, they were disappointed as new signing Aaron Martin tracked back for Guiseley to thwart Frank`s attempts to convert the kick.
Barkers did well under pressure not long after, and Guiseley were not content to defend… with Spencer in the van…..they hit us on the break. Kaine Felix looked in top nick already, but he hit the side netting with his shot, with Hinchliffe exposed and struggling.
Felix popped up down the left next and Cowan did good work to snuff the threat out.
The first ten minutes passed with Johnson and Cantrill combining to stop Sam Minihan`s run, and whilst it was not the most exciting 10 minutes play I have ever witnessed….it was definitely interesting , and certainly competitive!
The 13 th minute brought the smallest frisson of excitement to pierce the afternoon air, as Adam Thomas shaped to shoot, but the moment passed as the ball went a yard wide.
This ushered in a stepping up of the blue effort, and the Yorkshire side did well to withstand the pressure. It was not greatly stylish ( a nit picker might opine) but it was affective- Johnson finding touch with firm resolve after Cantrill had blocked a shot on the line. The ball came back over from Walker of course, but this time Barkers intervened decisively to keep it from Mulhern`s hungry grasp.
It went on in similar vein, except on the end of much home pain, Spencer contrived to turn it into lively resistance- picking Kaine out with a precision pass. He was clear……but Cowan was on hand and shepherded him out of the danger zone, winning a goal kick to boot!
There was a short hold up next as both Kirby and Bencherif had treatment as the latter blocked the former`s run just inside the box, but at cost to both, although the duo were soon back in action.
We were beyond the half hour now, and still County did not have a goal to show for their efforts, added to which their opponents were proving to be not all dour defensive play- they had something to offer up front too, and with frustration probably building for JG `s men, Jordan Keane got a word from referee David Richardson following his `rib tickler` on one of the home defenders.
More frustration followed as Hinchliffe had to look sharp to stop Reiss McNally`s run into the box, and Cowan was called on for more heroics with Felix, Johnson and Martin all sniffing for scraps.
I had just noted that last action, when Cowan`s head went above the parapet once again, as some excellent work from him comprehensively halted Martin as he sped onto a neat through ball from Barkers.
Barkers one minute…..Johnson and Felix the next , and it would not have been all that much of a surprise had the home side nicked a goal, but the home specs doleful anecdote to the effect that ` we just cannot score` was maybe going to be proved to be true?
County did come up with a neat reply but found Bencherif positioned perfectly to stop Mulhern as he chased a long ball from the back.
Once again though, Guiseley, through Barkers, fashioned something from nothing. Barkers did well initially to stem a period of blue pressure, capping that by surging up the park with the ball. Unfortunately, despite the good work, no one was on hand to apply a finish as the ball pinged over from Barkers, and a foul by Johnson ended any hope the home forwards had of glory.
County worked hard in the remaining minutes of the half to square the circle…. Osborne twisting and turning menacingly on the fringe of the danger zone, but to no avail!
And Thomas fared no better. Things looked OK as Cantrill had to concede a corner as a Thomas cross headed over at speed, but blue hopes crumbled to dust as Bencherif kept the County wide man away from Walker`s corner.
No score at half time was a slight surprise I suppose, but we had another 45 minutes upcoming in which to put matters right!
The second half opened with County re-doubling their efforts seeking that vital opening goal- Osborne unlucky to find Garner on his case as he shaped to forge an opening.
Barkers was still to the fore too, and he blocked Mulhern`s run nicely just 2 minutes into the half.
That was encouraging for the County following, but the home specs got some too, as Barkers fizzed and battled his way up the park, only being stopped by an epic challenge from Keane on the edge of the box!
Hmm…..it was still a competitive game for sure…..or was it?
Well…..it began to look as though County`s luck was changing as the triallist keeper made a classic wakes of dealing with what looked to be a simple catch. Instead of catching the ball….a fumble followed ( not recommended at all with Frank in sniffing distance!), and a goal as County`s number nine pounced to strike the ball imperiously into the empty net!
Just 5 second half minutes gone……and it was 1-0 to County. Would the floodgates now open?
I did wondered……..and the spark slightly missing in the first half was showing signs now……..Thomas heading over after more trickery from Mulhern had crocheted a corner.
Then the keeper made amends with a nice save to prevent the rampaging Kirby from making it 2-0, on the end of Thomas`s cross, and much good work by Osborne.
County made a double personnel change at this point swapping Dimaio for Osborne, and Taylor for Minihan- Taylor taking up a wing back position in front of Cowan, with Thomas fitting in at notional RB.
The corners piled up for County, but without further success, as Guiseley simply tracked back in numbers and defended like they meant it!
Then I checked for the BP pills as Barkers slipped clear again, his marauding run sending the home specs into an excited vapour. It was a good run for sure, and his pass found Martin and only the best of blocking tackles by Cowan ended the angst for County.
That was disconcerting, but Guiseley fans would have been disappointed shortly after to see Martin shoot straight at Hinchliffe having been sent clear down the left.
There were just over 20 minutes left now, and both sides clearly still ` wanted it`- the home keeper doing particularly well to advance and snatch the pill off Taylor`s toes at the extreme edge of his area.
I was briefly in one next though as the myopic liner to my left allowed the ball to go a yard out of play before coming back in. Guiseley were attacking and it took more `over and above` stuff from Keane and Cowan to sort as white shirted forward swarmed inside the box like bees on uppers.
Play swung ends again after that, and a Taylor cross took an intriguing detour in the wind above our heads, and the keeper made a horrible fumble again! The ball was cleared this time to save his blushes, but he had no time to recover when it was 2-0!
He was involved in the action as well, but always looked pretty good to bet against as a brilliant through ball from Dimaio sent Kirby on one of his runs. He made no mistake….looking up…before planting a firm strike into the net!
Cue inane scribbling on my part…followed by a goal for Guiseley!
Cowan had just stopped Felix ( one of a clutch of white shirts queuing for a shot), when County had to concede a corner in the next attack. Johnson delivered it to the back of the box, where Garner`s head did the rest!
It was now 2-1, and County had a real game on their hands now!
That said…..County were well able to hold on to what they had.
But Mulhern headed over from a corner won by Kirby……and…worse….County had the ball in the net as another Taylor swirler saw the keeper embarrass himself again. Frank and Thomas wanted it…Thomas was closest, and put it in the net to make it 3-1, except it wasn`t as the referee gave Guiseley a free kick for….err……
With Czubik on for Kirby County set about forgetting that disallowed `goal` but their opponents just would not lie down and oblige, instead they attacked via Spencer down the right. I thought that Taylor might have intervened and prevented the cross coming over, but he didn`t and over it went for Johnson to slide in and level the scores!
Arthur replaced Mulhern with 4 minutes left, with Guiseley fancying their chances of snatching the game from County. Johnson was a prime mover in that respect and looked aghast to see Keane on his case and able to stop the rot for County.
The blues were back in numbers now and Dimaio was possibly fortunate to get a yellow for a poor challenge on Johnson whose late minutes in this game were priceless for his team.
There was time for a late/ late County free kick (saved confidently by the keeper) and another even later Guiseley raid , this time involving Starchenko -just kept out by a brave block from Arthur !
Game over……a draw was not the result we expected or wanted, but, in the event, it was a good return really against a good side that really wanted it. It was also certainly a very good work out…no ninety odd minutes of meaningless nothing ……a real contest.
Altrincham next on Tuesday, and they usually give us a game do they not!
See you there then!
[ Great pictures from the game – get ’em here! ]
Guiseley AFC line up:-
Trialist, Mc Nally, Cantrill, Barkers ( Smith 78), Bencherif, Garner, Felix ( Starcenko 86), Spencer, Martin, Soleman , Johnson.
Subs not used : Newall, Thornton, Smith, Hussain, Digie.
Stockport County line up:-
Hinchliffe, Minihan ( Taylor 61), Palmer, Keane, Cowan, Turnbull, Walker, Thomas, Mulhern ( Arthur 86), Osborne ( Dimaio 61), Kirby ( Czubik 80).
Subs not used : Ormson, Downing.