[ Written By Ian Brown ]
Have you been there?
You are on an aircraft, and for some reason, you feel tense, a feeling that only increases when an announcement over the PA indicates that the pilot has been taken ill.
`The Copilot will sort’ you think, but no….it is not long before the cabin attendant leans over you and leads you into the cockpit where you are, in no time at all, seated in the pilot`s seat.
All is far from well, and anxious faces abound and all are looking fearfully in your direction awaiting a miracle as the plane is now losing height fast.
For some unaccountable reason you find yourself reaching for the `joy stick` giving it a downward push, and this sends the now seriously stricken aircraft into a steep dive.
Down….down it plummets….then…..within inches of the ground….. you wake…it`s all a horrible dream…a nightmare!
But for Peter Wild`s FC Halifax Town side today, at a packed Edgeley Park, there was no waking release -the nightmare was seemingly unending, as James Gannon`s supremely confident Stockport County team surged into the playoff positions with a glorious 5-1 win at their expense!
It really was glorious too, and implemented with a studded ruthlessness that augers well for other challenges ahead later in the season. Every weakness exhibited by the visitors was exploited to the fullest extent by a County team in top nick, and how the crowd of over 5500 loved it…well all bar the 530 who made the trip from Yorkshire.
Top performer, in a team full of `em, was Elliott Osborne who scored a brilliant hat-trick. Elliott took the M.O.M award, and that was a correct call in my view, but I also liked Turnbull who again refused to allow County raids to fade to nothing throughout the game. Tom Walker did well too, linking with the underrated Tyler Garratt, and Ossie to good effect at crucial times.
Having said all that, it was another all-round team performance to be proud of in which no one did not do their bit.
There were 2 changes to County`s starting line up come 3 0`clock- Adam Thomas coming in for the injured Devante Rodney, and Nyal Bell replacing Frank Mulhern.
There was an electric atmosphere abroad and this was only stoked up more as Osborne, like at Aldershot last Saturday, almost scored straight from the kickoff, latching onto Bell`s pass but seeing his shot go out off the woodwork!
Halifax replied almost immediately but without making significant inroads into blue territory. County`s backline of Minihan , Palmer, Arthur and Garratt were seemingly in their element.
Yes, things were very lively indeed, and the more lethal-looking action was coming the way of Town keeper Sam Johnson, and Garratt and TW were unlucky not to fully test him with a neat combo down the left.
Another surge from the Blues saw Bell go down in the box, but Mr Middleton was having none of it, and I guess he was correct- there was no penalty coming County`s way!
That sent Halifax on the offensive again, but Hinchliffe held onto Sam King`s shot after Tobi Sho-Silva`s driven cross had set the chance up.
The nip and tuck nature of things continued, but still with the blues looking the most likely of the two teams, Garratt`s cross going unrewarded following good work by TW.
I was irritated next by seeing Osborne latch onto TW`s pass only to be pulled up for an offence that simply escaped me. It did not dampen County`s aching desire for an opener though, a Garratt /Keane link up seeing off a raid by the visitors.
County attacked via Osborne from that last action but Johnson disappointed Ossie by beating a blistering shot from him out to safety.
Then Johnson held onto a strike by TW to increase the disappointment factor for County, which was duly increased again when Bell narrowly failed to apply enough to an Osborne cross smack in front.
We were beyond halfway in the first half now, and County`s play had merited something out of the game, thus it was to the Yorkshire side`s credit that, with 25 minutes gone, the score still stood at 0-0.
Just a couple of minutes later and the dam burst at last, set up by a neat cooperation twixt Garratt and TW. “ Handball” was the cry as TW `s shot appeared to hit a Town arm in the box. “No“, indicated Mr Middleton pointing for a corner, but it did not matter as Osborne`s corner saw Festus Arthur claim the second goal of his County career, by forcing the ball home from close in!
Back came Halifax, but Sho-Silva`s header went behind off a County defender. The corner offered hope for Pete Wild`s side but this was promptly extinguished as TW surged clear from deep to cut short any County discomfort.
Halifax were certainly trying, and County did well to charge a shot down after Chas Cooper had run at the blue backline with a disconcerting purpose.
For about 5 minutes after this, play was concentrated deep in the County half, and for a time I wondered whether they just might nick one, but I need not have worried, as Ossie latched onto the ball inside his own area, launching himself on a fantastic run that took him into Halifax territory where he promptly picked out Thomas with a neat pass. The crowd were roaring again as Thomas took it in his stride, but the moment passed with his shot drifting inches wide of Johnson`s right-hand post.
County certainly looked lethal breaking from deep, none more so than Osborne, but Johnson, in the visitors` goal, was in decent nick, and he was in position to snuff out a County surge following a free kick for a foul on TW.
Keano had a shot charged down in that exchange, but any frustration felt by County would soon be assuaged as Garratt found Osborne with his cross, almost smack on half time. It was so so this County team to score with the visitors thinking longingly of a comforting chat with Pete Wild, and Ossie did just that, turning on the ball to belt it home in emphatic style!
Two-nil almost became 3-0 pretty much. straight away, but Johnson managed to keep Osborne`s shot out.
There was time for Bell to disrupt the Halifax defensive order further, and for Halifax to reply forcing Garratt to head clear under pressure, and then the teams left the field with the score a healthy 2-0 to County.
Halifax opened the second half brightly, an early corner giving the large body of travelling fans (now directly behind me) hope, but this was dashed as Garratt ran the ball clear to safety.
Liam McAllinden had looked lively in the opening minutes of the half, twice getting crosses over that needed to be attended to.
But….gradually County imposed themselves again and Halifax had to foul TW as he darted clear in good style 8 minutes into the half.
The free-kick was cleared, only for County to put pressure on again down the left where somehow Osborne squeezed a shot in from way wide.
It was now 3-0 , and the visiting fans were now booing loudly in Pete Wild`s direction upon seeing Sam King replaced by Jack Redshaw.
They did look to still want to get back into the game though, but a free kick in an interesting position came to nought when Liam Nolan`s header flew wide.
Soon enough we were beyond the hour mark, and not long after County were 4-0 up as well, the action started by a surging run from Bell that Halifax did well to block at the cost of a corner. This was some cost however, as TW`s kick had the boos ringing out again as it bypassed all attempts to keep it out. It maybe took a deflection en-route, off a defender or even the lurking Thomas, but I did not see that and gave it to Tom!
Credit to Halifax, they were still trying, but their free-kick delivery, with 20 minutes of the half gone, was poor and County were able to clear their lines, but then they didn`t as McAllinden took advantage of slow reactions on the part of the County defence to smack a shot home off a post.
Hmm……..that was not in the script was it, and Halifax wanted more pushing County back again, but without any further reward!
Meanwhile JG had brought Frank on for Nyal as County piled the pressure on, both Turnbull and Osborne having shots charged down and Thomas inches off with a screamer.
That said….Jamie Allen had a decent dip on 71 minutes, and Halifax kept plugging away when they could, but they had to be aware that County were looking lethal on the break, and Minihan stole possession and set Osborne up with a surging run from deep. Osborne missed out this time, as did Thomas shortly after having again run the ball clear from deep.
But…any disappointment was soon put to bed, when TW picked out Osborne with a pass and he beat the keeper with a precision finish.
Ossie was soon to be replaced by Cowan( TW had previously been swapped for Sam W), as Hinchliffe had to make a save to keep Redshaw`s strikeout with just 8 minutes left of normal time.
Cowan was quickly in the mix but unlucky to see a handball by Frank spotted by Mr Middleton, as County continued to seek to punish their visitors further, but Halifax were resisting well now and looked likely to maybe hold it at 5-1.
Josh Staunton did good work to stop one of several late runs from Minihan, with 3 minutes left, and there was time for a rare blip from Palmer who lost possession putting County in peril of conceding a second goal, but Hinchliffe and Garratt closed ranks and saw the danger off and it stayed 5-1 – a good scoreline to be sure, one fit to warm the coldest of cockles on another bone numbingly cold day.
Well done County, a really good win and a suitable response to last Saturday`s mugging by the men in black at the Ebb.
Stockport County line up:-
Hinchliffe, Minihan, Palmer, Arthur, Garratt, Turnbull, Keane, Thomas, Osborne ( Coan 83), T Walker ( S Walker 77), Bell ( Mulhern 69).
Subs not used : Ormson, Leesley.
FA Halifax Town line up:-
Johnson, Duckworth, Brown, Nolan ( Williams 63), Allen, King ( Redshaw 57 ), Sho-Silva ( McCoulsky 72), Staunton, Mc Allenden, Cooper, Maher.
Subs not used : Appleyard, MacDonald.
Attendance : 5536 ( 530)