County concluded their pre-season games by hosting Macclesfield Town of the Football League at Edgeley Park today, coming away with a well-merited 1-1 draw.
I say well merited, and it truly was, but they might have taken the game …had Stephenson’s drive gone in instead of almost removing the crossbar from the rest of the woodwork.
That was way into the second half, but County should have had a penalty before the break and Mulhern was involved here along with a Town hand. The referee was not moved to agree however and that was that.
Notwithstanding the above remarks, this was a fine way to end the preparations for the new season, which on the evidence of this and the preceding games, will be a good one for James Gannon’s men.
The blues were sometimes under pressure, but never…ever looked likely to crumble under it. Palmer was immense in this respect, but then so was the rest of the defensive unit.
Elsewhere Mulhern was again outstanding, as was Minihan, both so full of craft and energy, finding time to combine together to good effect more than once.
Having conceded to the Football League side fairly early on, the expectation in some quarters might have been that a rout would follow, but it was not so, indeed having taken 10 minutes to equalise, via the excellent Palmer, County could have gone in ahead had they got the penalty they deserved.
Both teams attacked after the break and both defended with determination and wit, but one aspect was both reassuring and disappointing…..the game was largely foul free but the strategically important ones were being committed by Macclesfield- JG’s men responded to pressure with their familiar discipline intact, whilst the big boys from up the road, at times chose the other route, much to the ire of a decent crowd of just under 1000.
County pretty much shaded the second half, but without the winner that this display warranted.
Mulhern and Warburton were the attacking options for County as the game kicked off, and there was a start for Sam Walker, who got 90 minutes in, as County set off with the foulest of pre-season storms erupting around SK3.
There were no trialists in the Macc starting line up, so they were definitely treating the game with some seriousness, being greeted warmly by about 150 who had made the trip up the A6.
It was relatively cagy stuff from both outfits in the early exchanges with both sides probing for an opening, without the sustenance of ever finding one.
By the ninth minute Macclesfield were beginning to stretch their legs a bit, but in response, with Palmer in immaculate form, nothing surfaced in the way of a chance.
There was pressure though, although the rather excitable Miles Welch-Hates somewhat over-egged the ` I was fouled ref’ bit by continually going to ground with the merest hint of a whiff of Scott Duxbury’s aftershave.
The free kicks that resulted from this succeeded in putting County under pressure, but if Palmer was not there to deal, then Smalley or Minihan would be and 10 minutes in it was still 0-0.
County had defending to do during this period, and whilst they were coping comfortably with this situation, the 12th minute offered a chance up for their Cheshire neighbours.
It fell to Scott Wilson who had time and space to have a go having been sent on a run to the edge of the box. A shot was on for sure, but when it came it was a poor one and failed to trouble Hinchliffe in the County goal.
No alarms or emergencies materialised in the following 6 minutes, but another 60 seconds and County looked like setting out on an uphill struggle as Macc took the lead.
It began with Kory Arthur’s run that forced County to concede a corner. This was whipped in quickly by Arthur for Harry Smith to head home from smack in front to put Town 1-0 up.
County responded spiritedly, but with Fitzpatrick and Kelleher unruffled in response…..playing the ball clear from deep, the danger promptly disappeared.
But County kept on probing and searching for that opening…… the excellent Mulhern springing the Macc offside trap brilliantly but without a scintilla of luck. Minihan joined in and his insatiable desire for possession simply compelled Town to concede a corner rather than contemplate worse.
Well….`worse` was not far away….as Walker lifted an archetypal tempter towards the back of the box where Palmer rose imperiously to head magnificently home!
It was 1-1, and that did not flatter County at all, indeed it would not have flattered them had they scored again, which they very nearly did just 4 minutes later.
Started of course by Mulhern whose scorching run cut through the Town defences as if they were not there. They were though…at least Kelleher was….and his very definite `hand to ball` moment deprived Mulhern of a scoring opportunity when within sniffing distance of Rhys Taylor`s exposed goal. Unfortunately, neither the ref or his liner spotted this obvious `no-brainer`, and instead of a penalty County had to make do with a corner.
This was taken short this time, and was much less effective than Walker’s previous one had been, and Palmer’s role this time was in cutting Miles Welch-Hates off as he sped clear on the counter.
Macclesfield pressed in the last 5 or 6 minutes of the half, mostly with little in the way of encouragement from a firmly resolute County back line, in which Palmer continued to reign supreme- a push on him by Danny Whittaker scuppering what otherwise looked to be a decent Macc move. The ref spotted that one…..but I had not forgotten!
One apiece at halftime then, and that was not a bad return against supposedly superior opposition!
When play resumed…..Connor Dimaio was on for Chris Smalley, as a repeat of the first half opening followed with both teams looking for an opening without success.
The closest Macc came to success was via a run by Wilson that took him to the by-line, His cross was perhaps over hit thankfully and the overly theatrical Welch-Hates could not get a shot in beyond the far post. And Palmer was still in prime form excelling under pressure to the delight of the Danny Stand crowd.
County’s best came from Mulhern whose dangerous run earned a corner, that Kelleher did well to head clear.
County were looking pretty perky now, with 10 minutes gone of the half, and Walker’s free-kick went close to dishing Town following one of a few Macc `indiscretions’ as County’s forward’s buzzed around like so many busy bees in the danger zone.
It was not all County of course and Keane did well to rob Wilson with a brave tackle in the box as the forward looked to shoot.
County were the better of the two sides however and Warburton was darting clear and about to emphasise this fact when he was manhandled to the ground by ex Hatter Michael Rose. The proverbial passing Martian could be forgiven for mistaking just which was the Football League outfit based on moments like this one.
The free kick kept the pressure on Town, but without anything in the way of a goal materialising.
The County back door continued to be bolted, as they attacked, which was excellent- Keane doing enough to stop Whittaker after Smith had sent him clear.
We were beyond the hour mark now and Stephenson was now on for Cowan, as Warburton’s shot missed out by inches.
Not long after this a corker from Stephenson smashed into the cross bar with keeper Rhys Taylor a bemused spectator.
Yes….County were just lacking some luck…that’s all…..oh…and some sharper decision making from the officials…instead Warburton was fouled by Kelleher only for the referee to wave play on.
With Thomas taking Warburton’s place shortly after, County continued to attack, with Duxbury agonisingly close to reaching Mulhern with a tasty cross.
On it went…… with Dimaio and Mulhern unlucky with some neat work through the middle.
Macclesfield waited their moment and responded…..and Hinchliffe did well to tip the shot from Arthur over the top. The melee that followed from the corner threatened danger, but this was snuffed out as Hinchliffe smothered the ball before sending the ball up the park.
Mulhern went off to much applause next being replaced by Bell, as County claimed a series of corners via some strong running from Minihan. Somehow Town held out…..Bell perhaps unlucky to be flagged offside midst this pressure.
Some skulduggery saw Bell on the deck next, but the referee saw nothing apparently and thus Macc surged clear. County’s defence held firm in the face of determined Macc pressure but the aforementioned skulduggery did not profit …at least at the County end where despite Hinchliffe being stranded at one point outside his area the visitors proved unable to apply a finish to moves.
Kelleher did go close with 2 minutes left, but in the end it stayed 1-1 which was a decent result really albeit I and others felt that County deserved a win.
No matter….well done County- next Saturday’s opener v FCUM should be a belter- do not be at all tempted to miss it!
[ Super snaps from the game can be found here! ]
Stockport County line up:
Hinchliffe, Cowan( Stephenson 64), Duxbury, Keane, Palmer, Smalley( Dimaio 46), Minihan, Turnbull, Mulhern( Bell 78), Warburton( Thomas 72), Walker.
Subs not used: Mantack, Ormson, Downing.
Macclesfield Town line up:
Taylor, Hodgkiss, Fitzpatrick, Kelleher, Grimes, Wilson, Smith, Welch- Hates( Blissett 64), Arthur( Marsh 64), Whittaker( Evans 70), Rose.
Subs not used: Stephens, Pearson, Lowe, Triallist.