[ Written By Ian Brown ]
Faced by the ultimate test of a visit from in form Spennymoor Town, Stockport County responded magnificently today with a 1-0 win that sent them surging to within one point of leaders Chorley ( who nicked a late winner in their game ) – with a game in hand!
If the win lacked some of the style and a little of the irresistible attacking of others of late, County showed no lack of application, discipline and tenacity, all of which were called upon in quantity with Jason Ainsley’s side more than shading possession for large parts of the game.
When the chips are down we are told that the tough get going, and that’s just what this resilient County side did, fully ensuring that the cover stayed intact restricing the visitors shooting possibilities and with this the need for action from County’s keeper Ben Hinchliffe.
For an hour or more that was how it panned out…..Town plugged away, but with no real chances emerging thanks to the County back line that had Jamie Stott returning alongside Ash Palmer and Lewis Baines at LB in the absence of Duxbury.
Adam Thomas was also missing (replaced by Osborne, having broken down in the warm up), and County gave us a curates egg of a showing up to that point- solid at the back…. but not that great going forward where passes were apt to go astray a time or two.
Then the substitutes started appearing. Mulhern was first ( on for Bell ) and Frank started a ripple of excitement his added guile testing Town where they had not been previously. The crucial introduction though was Stephenson for Kirby and this enabled the Blues to break up attacks and launch breaks from deep themselves and it was instrumental in unsettling the visiting back line, who became more and more prone to indiscipline.
It was one such lapse, just 4 minutes after Dazzer’s introduction, that produced the break through for County. Handball just outside the box brought Sam Walker centre stage, and he wasted no time at all in taking full advantage sending his free kick, one bounce, past the keeper into the net- fantastic!
Paul Turnbull came on for Matty Warburton later and the added stability brought about by this last change saw the Hatters home to a famous victory in front of a magnificent National North record crowd of 6311.
The place was jumping well before kick off – the Danny Stand full…..the Cheadle End pretty full, and the Pop Side bulging with families with kids seemingly out to enjoy themselves and doing just that.
When the teams emerged County had changes in their line up. Some expected …others not. Stott was in, but so was Baines in place of Duxbury. Bell started instead of Mulhern, whilst Thomas, who was named in the team sheet was not even on the bench, his place going to Elliott Osborne.
The early action was all at County’s end where Palmer did well to stretch out and keep Andy Johnson’s effort out. Much of what followed on from this happened in the same half of the field were Spennymoor busied themselves in a hunt for the opening goal.
Thankfully, for County Walker was in his element covering brilliantly and combining with the equally excellent Keane to disrupt a growing number of Town attacks. Quality finishes on the end of these attacks were at a premium – was this due to their ineptitude….or some other factor maybe…County’s superbly executed defensive work?
Well…’you pays your money….’ but I rest my case by noting that Spennymoor had scored 61 league goals prior to today (2nd highest total in the division) , and are by no means the first high rolling / free scoring outfit to be unable to nick even one, home or away against us.
That said we needed to be on our guard, but instead we gave a free kick away in a fairly central position just 5 minutes in. Mark Anderson made a wakes of this, but this did not stop Town’s forward impetus – Hinchliffe calmly snuffing out a raid with some 7 minutes gone.
Whilst Hinchliffe’s kicking is not his strongest suit, it does produce a dividend sometimes, but this was not one such occasion – his long ball seeing Matt Gould, the Town keeper, nip out to thwart the advancing Bell.
Back came Spennymoor with renewed intent after this action, and Keane did well to block the strike from Johnson, after a miscue from Stott saw the visitors surge forward in numbers.
We were beyond 10 minutes now, and although Minihan was running energetically and with a purpose at the opposition, a lot of the passing from the back was not aiding the forward push over much. Sam was however mere inches from reaching Bell with his cross at the back of the box which was encouraging.
Then with 15 minutes gone, another loose pass from Stott, and a foul by Keane teed another free kick up for Town, but Hinchliffe reduced this action to a small footnote with a dismissively cool catch under pressure.
Looking for a response from County, I only saw more attacking from Spennymoor and another corner . Neat work from Keane saw this off, and Jordan set about busying himself trying to push County up the park. His efforts received a boost from a blooper by Scott Harrison who gifted County a corner from almost nothing. Warburton went close for the first time from this, but with 30 minutes gone it was still 0-0.
The game proceeded in much the same vein for the next 8 or 9 minutes…Spennymoor pressing without success….County lacking their usual incisiveness in reply, but still having a go.
Minihan was involving himself to the fullest extent and doing well, but the threat was lacking when County reached the Town last third.
Thus…Minihan earned applause with good defending, and Baines chipped in with a vital tackle with Anderson bearing down on goal at speed with half time approaching.
Palmer twice did well after this….firstly to get a block in and concede a corner , with worse threatening…..and then to get a firm header in from the resultant corner. This despatched the initial danger, and when Ramshaw’s follow up shot was charged down the threat was gone.
More corners….more pressure in the minutes that followed before the break, but County withstood it all to go in still level pegging at 0-0.
Walker won County an early corner upon the resumption, but whilst Osborne’s kick was not great Walker and Baines did enough to keep the forward push going for a while.
There was work for Hinchliffe to do when the County momentum waned, but nothing too taxing, as corners came and went for Town without the Blues feathers being unduly ruffled.
If that was comforting…at the other end things were pretty much the same as both Warburton and Osborne failed to test the keeper with efforts.
Ten minutes into the half though, and we got a glimpse of something better, and it came via Bell who pounced hungrily on a loose ball just outside the box. Spennymoor rallied to snuff out the danger from this, and the subsequent corner wrung from the visiting back line by Minihan. County just could not get a shot off, and I am crediting that to the Town defence (only County’s better on 28 conceded to Town’s 31 all season ) rather then any deficiency on the Blues part.
The 56th minute saw Hinchliffe make his first real save of the game – diving neatly to keep Steve Brogan’s shot out.
Hmm…..inspirational stuff from Ben possibly……as within seconds his clearance saw Bell burst clear setting Warburton up for a shot that Gould did really well to beat out bravely.
That was better, but within 5 minutes Bell gave way for Mulhern, who was almost immediately in the thick of the action, linking nicely with Warburton to pull another save from Gould.
Two or three minutes of concerted pressure from Spennymoor came next as County conceded a small rash of corners – crucially though without conceding anything remotely worse, and County had Hinchliffe and Baines to thank for this – the former having tipped a goal bound shot from Ramshaw over the top, and the latter for a decisive clearance under pressure.
Osborne went close, but it was time for another change for County and this was Stephenson for Kirby with 20 minutes left.
Almost immediately this change had impact on proceedings with Dazzer straight off involved breaking up visiting attacks and looking to run the ball up the park.
The added power from Stephenson’s introduction, allied with Frank’s guile, looked to be un-nerving the visitors back line and a hand to ball moment ushered in a chance for County. That said…there was still a lot to do, and Walker has had better placed kicks to deal with. Anyway Sam dealt with this immaculately ………….sending his kick ………..one bounce…..into the back of the net, giving County the lead, and sending him and his team mates heading off towards Dave Conlon and the County bench!
What a moment that was, and so typical of this County side to hold their nerve under the greatest pressure and seamlessly dispatch their opponents thereafter!
Credit to Spennymoor…they responded straight away, winning a corner, but it was less credit worthy to see someone in Town colours fall to the deck in search of an unlikely penalty. County were happy to find touch meanwhile and referee Lewis Smith was happy to ignore the theatricals.
With Turnbull on for Warburton with 13 minutes left, County faced the games dying embers with growing confidence. That’s more than can be said for Shane Henry who, faced with losing the ball to Osborne ,who was on his way clear, he promptly grabbed the ball and held onto it thereby denying County a real goal scoring opportunity. I mentally reached for a red card, but Mr Smith thought Yellow which made Henry a very lucky lad indeed.
Some of that luck then rubbed off on Henry’s colleagues, as Walker’s kick was some how kept out, as was Keane ( by a foul ) as he was about to shoot. Again Walker obliged but found Gould positioned well enough to deny him a second goal.
The pressure was now on Spennymoor – Mulhern close with an overhead effort…whilst Dazzer continued to pressurise down either flank.
Into added time we went with County still building decent attacks, but in doing so Keane was laid out comprehensively by Hall who became Town’s second yellow of the game.
Mulhern tried and failed to force Stephenson’s cross home from the resultant free kick, the duo linking again to good effect deep into added time.
Soon enough though all 4 added minutes were done and gone, and the points were County’s.
I liked that a lot- County proving ( again ) that they can play the top sides and come out on top.
That looks decidedly like promotion form to me, let’s continue to get behind them and cheer them home, starting with Boston on Tuesday.
[ Great match pictures – here! ]
Stockport County line up-
Hinchliffe, Minihan, Palmer, Stott, Baines, Keane, Walker, Osborne, Bell ( Mulhern 61), Warburton (Turnbull 77), Kirby ( Stephenson 69).
Subs not used ; Ormson, Cowan.
Spennymoor Town line up:-
Gould, Williams, Brogan ( Boyes 74), Chandler, Harrison, Curtis, Anderson ( Hall 85), Henry, Taylor, Ramshaw, Johnson( Tuton 74).
Subs not used : Thackray, Elliott.