[ Written by Ian Brown ]
County progressed to the First Round Proper of the FA Cup with a workmanlike 2-0 win at Edgeley Park today against a trouble some but basically toothless Altrincham side.
I say troublesome because they pushed County back right from the off, enjoying masses of possession in the first 45 minutes, which had the loud Alty following somewhat excited. But that is where the ‘toothless’ bit comes in as all the possession amounted to nought with little in the way of strike power on the end of it.
Even in the visitors best spell (early on) they couldn’t muster anything to cause Hinchliffe, in the County goal, even the slightest anxiety.
The result was with pretty much County’s first attack of any note they scored and the dye was cast!
Credit must be given to Alty ….they kept working at it and kept County on the back foot fairly often after the break, but once the blues had notched a second goal, that was pretty much that, and with James Gannon’s side upping the tempo significantly in the last 20 minutes or so a third, and more looked a definite possibility, indeed I was not alone in thinking that they had got one, via Jamie Stott with just over 15 minutes left only to be denied by one of Referee Sam Mulhall’s less inspired decisions!
No matter….. County won without undue angst an route banking £25000 in the process, we just need to hope that Nuneaton are able to show next Saturday as we strive to keep a decent unbeaten run going.
There were stars on and off the field today, with top band ‘Blossoms’ sponsoring the game and present also following the announcement of their sell out Edgeley Park gig earmarked for June .
They also proved they know a good footballer when they see one, picking Scott Duxbury as the M.O.M, but Jamie Stott could not have been far behind for honours, he stood out when Alty were doing their best to make things as hot as possible for the blues…’scored’ a decent ‘goal’….and looked the part consistently. So did Scott though, so I am not grumbling.
For Alty I thought wing backs Andrew White and ex Hatter Connor Hampson were outstanding , Hampson was particularly prominent in the first half when he got forward frequently to put County under pressure, whilst White did similar work down the right flank. All without anything on the end of it of course…and thereby hangs this tail really.
All that said…..there were 2 sides on the pitch and the paucity of chances racking up for Alty is not entirely unrelated to the way that County defended. The blues may have been a tad ineffective going forward, until the first goal, but they defended soundly throughout, and we can build on that!
There was just one change in the County line up when the game got underway, Minihan coming in for Cowan, who just may feel a touch miffed after playing no less well this, as last season.
The early exchanges were largely enacted in the County half of the field, as Alty surged forward urged on by a large away following. Owen Dale was first to show for the visitors but his shot failed to trouble Hinchliffe in the County goal.
Stephenson won a corner, 5 minutes in, to ease the pressure, but this was back on again when nothing came of the kick.
Alty continued apace but Max Harrop was no better than Owen with his shot not even hitting the target. Ex County man Connor Hampson, who always impressed me when here in County colours, meanwhile was in prime form and must have been well put out to see not one red/white striped shirt on the end of what was a decent cross into the box from him.
That was 10 minutes gone….another 4 and Hampson was at us again, the ball once more flashing across the face of the County goal without a response from his colleagues.
Add a decent block from Hinchliffe to deny White, and a less demanding save that saw him thwart Sean Williams, and we had reached the 20 minute mark, without County having looked remotely like spoiling Alty keeper Tony Thompsons day.
And…..when Stephenson looked in with a lively run, he found Hampson there to stop the rot for his side with a fine saving tackle.
The 24th minute did see Thompson get some work to do- stopping a header from Duxbury, from Thomas`s cross, but generally County looked second best going forward at this point, Alty first to more or less everything, and looking intent on winning this one.
Just 2 minutes later and I looked round to see Walker usher the ball off the line after Hampson had combined with Jordan Hulme to put County under the cosh.
Duxbury joined Alty’s Harrop in Referee Mulhall’s book, and thereafter spent the game listening to the away end baying for a second yellow each time he ventured near the ball. Mulhern was another in blue receiving this treatment which I am guessing both would have taken as a compliment!
Mulhern went close, with 10 minutes remaining of the half, seeing Thompson out to deny him as Osborne threaded a neat ball goal ward.
Mainly though it was Alty on the front foot- Hampson blotting his copy book by lofting a poor effort into the Cheadle End after Hulme had forced Stott to concede a corner. Hampson was not for going away however and it took a fine block from Stott to stop his next run, on 37 minutes.
Just 4 minutes later and the game took a turn, and it was in County’s direction, as Palmer rose to head the incoming cross down towards goal where Mulhern ensured it went in with his usual aplomb!
That was more or less the last meaningful action of the half, County had sorted a 1-0 lead and now needed to build on it, and put the visitors under a touch more pressure than they had in the first half.
Duxbury was out of the blocks first when the game re-started- Hannigan doing well to hook the ball clear from just one of Scott’s teasers.
Walker and Warburton both had shots charged down, as Thompson ended the Alty angst with a good catch from yet another Duxbury cross.
It was nip and tuck for a time after this….Minihan probing at one end whilst an Alty free kick at the other threatened to cause the blues issues. It didn’t…..Hinchliffe saw to that, but we could do with a sustained response from County…instead we saw an underpowered shot from Harrop ricochet obligingly into Hinchliffe’s arms, and Stott on hand to clear the ball off the line not long after .
Perhaps at this point JG sensed that Alty were getting a tad too ambitious, even if the ambition was not accompanied as yet by any proficiency when it came to finishing…they just might get lucky. The result was that Keane came on for Stephenson who left to a good reception.
Was there an immediate response from County? Well…from Duxbury who was positioned perfectly to charge down White’s shot.
Substitute Tom Peers looked about to sort matters for the visitors as he glided silkily past 2 blue shirts to the edge of the box. A decent chance beckoned, but he then lifted his effort high into the empty Railway End.
Was that a turning point? Maybe…maybe not……but within 4 minutes County had doubled their advantage as a brilliantly incisive run from Warburton saw him cut inside…draw the keeper…and slam the ball home!
That was excellent, and with 20 minutes left was almost certainly decisive!
There was a noticeable upping of tempo from County after the second goal, and Mulhern was unlucky having surged into the box onto Walker’s through ball after Sam had done a master class in defending seconds previously.
It went on…Warburton and Duxbury just kept out.
That was unlucky…but not half as much as what came next …..
It started with a foul by Alty..and a free kick that Osborne sent where it hurts most. The mother of melee’s ensued in front of Thompson’s goal then, the keeper did wonders to claw Palmer’s shot out in the crowded box. The ball was loose however and Stott was onto it forcing it home with some assurance.
The celebrations that followed were cut short by the referee indicating that the goal had been ruled out. Hmm…….a likely story……which was it ? Stott’s after shave…..the hair do…what was it?
No matter it was 2-0 and that was that!
Did this give Alty a late boost? Well…maybe because Hampson sent a peach of a cross in from the left just 60 seconds later, to where substitute James Poole lurked in front of goal. Now Poole enjoys a decent reputation as a forward but he completely missed the ball and any chance was gone.
White and Johnston found Duxbury a tough cookie to get by….a fact that suitably infuriated the easily infuriated away end.
Not long after JG swapped Duxbury for Cowan which sorted the fury aspect with Minihan taking over at left wing back.
County wanted a third goal for sure, none more than Stott who then gave us a fantastic dribble that took him to the edge of the box where he picked out Warburton with the neatest of passes. Warby was in…but he was unlucky too Thompson doing enough to see the danger off.
Pressure was building now from County and an Osborne / Warburton combination succeeded in pushing Alty back on their heels. Mulhern joined in and a ‘coming together’ twixt him and the keeper had the Cheadle End up in arms claiming certainly a penalty probably a red card…..
Neither materialised, instead a corner…which Thompson managed to clear.
That was frustrating, and so was this….as Cowan prevented the breakdown of a County raid with a fine tackle on Hannigan. It was a belter , but not in the referee’s eyes, thus a free kick sorted the Alty angst , but not mine!
Mulhern went close next, almost making something out of absolutely nothing, cutting in from the right and only just missing out.
On it went with Osborne’s run ushering in another half chance for Warburton, denied by good work from Thompson.
Alty, to their credit, kept plugging away…trying for something out of the game, but County continued to defend well and deny them.
Osborne went close deep in added time, but it did not matter, County were in the next round of the FA Cup looking for a big name in Monday’s draw, at home please.
Not the greatest of games I suppose, but a solid showing from County, one that deserved the victory and the spoils.
I really do hope that Nuneaton surmount their current troubles and are able to field a team at EP next Saturday.
If they do…like me…I suspect you will be there to watch, and support the Blues!
Stockport County line up:-
Hinchliffe, Minihan, Palmer, Stott, Duxbury( Cowan 80), Osborne, Thomas, Walker, Mulhern, Warburton( Dimaio 90), Stephenson( Keane 62).
Subs not used : Ormson, Bell, Smalley, Mantack.
Altrincham line up:-
Thompson, White, Hampson, Jones, Hannigan, Moult, Johnston, Williams( Poole 44), Hulme, Harrop( Richman 77) , Dale( Peers 57).
Subs not used: Hancock, Densmore, Goulding, Wynne.
Attendance : 2981