[ Written By Ian Brown ]
Stockport County’s majestic progress in Vanarama National League North continued apace at Edgeley Park today, where James Gannon’s men steamrollered second placed Bradford Park Avenue to a crushing 3-0 defeat in awesome style.
Avenue have not failed to score since early 2018, but to say that they never really got a sniff of doing so today, would be to totally under state reality – County’s grip on proceedings was pretty much total throughout, with 3-0 hardly flattering them.
An early goal always helps of course and Warburton obliged from Stephenson’s assist with just over 5 minutes on the clock.
Thereafter, despite ringing the personnel changes early and often, the Yorkshire side (who usually travel so well, being 4 months unbeaten away from home) just could not work County out, and as the goals continued to go in (a welcome strike from Stephenson, and another cheeky one from Frank) so the likelihood of more from the Blues loomed large.
It was particularly impressive to see County build on first half dominance and up the pace up the park whilst again organising a shut out at the other end, simultaneously covered and driven on by the excellent Turnbull and Keane who took some considerable flack from the opposition late in the game.
That element was fantastic, but it stayed at 3-0, although no one I saw coming away from the ground afterwards looked anything other than well pleased by a performance from the Hatters which takes them within a point of Bradford, and 4 of top placed Chorley.
Kick off saw just one change in County’s starting line up – Stephenson for Kirby, as the Blues’ prepared to kick off with their backs towards the Railway End.
There was early action for Palmer who headed clear from an Avenue free kick. They did not get too many of those thereafter from Referee John Matthews who I thought had a good game.
County’s response was a quick sortie up the park involving Duxbury and Stephenson, but nothing came of it, the ball being wellied clear by the Avenue defence.
That said, County were building momentum, and with Duxbury still in Yorkshire faces, Stephenson took over slipping the ball low to Warburton who lurked on the edge of the box. “Shoot” begged the Cheadle End, and Matty duly obliged sending a raking drive well beyond the reach of keeper Jack Atkinson’s groping arms, into the net.
County had an early lead, and some lovely football flowed from JG’s side, putting the visitors under cruel pressure, that culminated in another Warburton shot that, this time, Atkinson was able to keep out.
The pressure steadily increased, with Stephenson firing over the top, and Duxbury seeing his shot charged down after a dazzling bit of work from him down the left.
Thomas then shot over from a Duxbury cross, whilst Mulhern was inches away from glory as his headlong dive just failed to direct Warburton’s lethal looking cross into a goal – the ball flying just wide.
Almost 20 minutes went by before a response of any note came back from Avenue, and it came via the industrious Alex Hurst, but having glided seemingly effortlessly into the box, he then skied a poor effort into the empty Railway End.
Back to Duxbury, and somehow former Blue Mark Ross managed to keep his cross out. The pressure would not go away however, and the combined efforts of Minihan and Thomas down the right fashioned one of an almost unending stream of corners for County. There was huge applause for Duxbury from the Cheadle End as he switched flanks to take the kick, but with Stott unlucky beyond the back post, Avenue survived.
Bradford did then give their travelling fans something to get excited about next – Oli Johnson’s run to the by-line teeing Nick Clee up for a shot, which he did not take, shooting wide. Hurst followed this with a snap shot only to see Hinchliffe in position to make the stop.
Half an hour had gone by now, and already the visitors were ringing the changes bringing Nick Wroe on for Clee.
But it was not making any impression on County as Warburton saw his shot charged down on the end of a neat run and pass from Mulhern.
The pressure was on as Duxbury won another corner, then off briefly, as one of a line of harassed defenders hacked the ball clear… then on again via Keane who lifted a peach of a ball back into the box. Twice during this spell, Atkinson shone brightly making important saves…keeping the score at 1-0.
Then, after Beesley had cleared the bar with a less than wonderful effort for BPA, County replied brilliantly as the excellent Mulhern picked out Thomas just outside the box. Thomas wasted no time in lashing an unstoppable effort into the net for the second goal. Except, hang on, the liner’s flag was up, Mulhern’s after shave again undid him, and it stayed 1-0!
Was County’s light at all dimmed by that last action?
Not that I could see, in fact they were a fag papers width (and a liner’s flag) away from 2-0, or a penalty, as Keane’s run and terrific final ball saw Warburton surging on inside the box a couple of yards out. This really did look good, and then it did not as a nudge on Warby by Lowe parted him from the ball, and the chance was gone. No penalty either!
Three minutes added time saw Thomas’s speed stretch Bradford almost to bursting, and Hurst waste good work by Branson by blasting a snatched effort high and wide. Ben McKenna was on for Johnson for Bradford, as the second half got underway with County on the attack.
The Blues were seemingly in no mood to rest on that 1 goal lead, Atkinson saving twice with his legs preventing Warburton and then Stephenson from doubling the blue advantage. Corners followed – Palmer disappointing by putting a free header wide.
County were all over the visitors now, but without yet nicking another goal.
Thomas’s brave run drew a foul, and from the free kick Turnbull then Keane drove the Blues on, Lowe doing well to clear Warburton’s shot away off the line at one point.
On it went, Palmer unlucky at the back post from yet another corner, and Thomas so close with a near post flick on from a further flag kick nicked impudently by Mulhern
It was 100% County now, as Atkinson again did well to deny Warburton as he latched onto Mulhern’s pass.
Keane needed treatment just past the hour, as Avenue warmed to the task of laying into him, but he was back in the action quickly lifting another belting ball into the box where Turnbull and Thomas took turns in trying to nick a second goal.
Nowakowski had been on the park for all of 2 minutes when he launched himself at and through Keane. That simply reeked of ‘orders from above’ and his yellow was well earned (one for Mark Bower might just have been in order too methinks).
The sky was darkening now, and with 67 minutes gone, Bully had the ball, looking up before pinging it across the park to where Stephenson lurked. It wasn’t a chance really, but Dazzer made it one as his firmly struck shot smacked into the back of the net to the keeper’s left.
There was great joy from the County players at this – a goal that might just encourage an underrated player to change a few minds, and Dazzer’s game is not all about scoring goals…just 3 minutes earlier I had watched as Knight surge past Duxbury only to find that Stephenson was in position nicely to force him wide and make Hinchliffe’s job in making a save that much easier.
Atkinson did well after this, saving from Warburton after he and Dazzer had pushed Avenue onto the back foot.
With Osborne on for Turnbull, with just under 20 minutes left, County pushed on for that third goal – Keane settling into a more defensive position in Bully’s absence.
Stott went close, being thwarted by Atkinson, who then repeated the feat denying Palmer from the follow up, and then Osborne to add insult to injury.
Avenue were relieved no doubt by the heroics of their keeper, but it did not last, indeed Atkinson became the latest victim of Mulhern’s habit of nicking unlikely goals from, well… err… absolutely nothing, and that how it was as Frank had the ball from the keeper in the proverbial wink of an eye, to plant it into the net ala Yeovil.
A late double switch by JG, with the Blues now 3-0 up, saw Dimaio and Bell on in place of Warburton and Mulhern, but there was no decrease in County’s control of events or work rate.
The incisiveness was perhaps not as sharp as earlier though, Osborne lifting one over the bar, and then sending a free kick right down the keeper’s throat after Dimaio had been fouled.
Late pressure saw Minihan’s shot charged down, and an Osborne / Dimaio link up miss out when the latter shot wide.
Dimaio did try to make amends, but his shot thudded into the hoardings a foot wide from Bell’s neat lay off.
There was time still for a great run by Stott to liven added time, and for Dimaio to see a decent shot kept out nicely by Atkinson, and that was another fine County performance sorted, and 3 more vital points secured!
That was another massively good performance that is testimony to the ever increasing confidence and cohesive brilliance of this County side who are truly buying into the James Gannon way of working and winning!
Great stuff !
[ Photos ? Yep… see here ]
Stockport County line up:-
Hinchliffe, Minihan, Palmer, Stott, Duxbury, Keane, Turnbull ( Osborne 71), Thomas, Mulhern ( Bell 79), Warburton ( Dimaio 80), Stephenson.
Subs not used: Ormson, Cowan.
Bradford Park Avenue line up:-
Atkinson, Toulson, Lowe, Hurst ( Nowakowski 64), Killock, Ross, Knight, Branson, Beesley, Johnson ( Mc Kenna 45), Clee ( Wroe 30).
Subs not used ; Drench, Spencer.