[ Written by Ian Brown ]
Now…..how does County’s newly adopted anthem go……ah yes……”We’re on our way……We’re on our way”, and after this, most excellent of victories against a truly awkward Kidderminster Harriers team, that is exactly what James Gannon’s superb Stockport County team are, and the words of said ditty were still ringing out around SK3 long after the game had finished, such was the sense of pride the win instilled in County’s long suffering following!
An 87th minute goal from Sam Minihan did the trick for County – his glancing header flying into the far corner of the net, defeating a tough as teak Harriers side, sending the Blues into third place in the division.
Seeing off yet another promotion rival was an impressive performance from County, who had their midfield shorn of the important presence of Jordan Keane and Jake Kirby before a ball was kicked. With Sam Walker in to part fill this gap, we thought matters were notionally sorted until Sam went off within 8 minutes of the start causing JG big problems. He initially addressed the situation by bringing Stephenson on – not ‘like for like’ but it worked, as a pulsating end to end encounter saw both sides going for the proverbial jugular.
In this respect from 1st to 94th minute, County always looked to have more lethality about their work in the oppositions half, but with time running out it was still 0-0.
With barely 10 minutes left JG made a decisive move, a double subbing seeing Bell and Cowan on for Mulhern and Thomas. Bell’s fresh legs had an immediate impact and with Cowan’s presence allowing Minihan more scope to get into the last third, the basis was there for a last push for the points, and Sam was the man in this respect with a finish that brooked no argument whatsoever.
Kiddy impressively kept working at getting that equaliser in what remained of the match, but with County’s defence again in immaculate nick, and Stott and Duxbury again shining like shoreline beacons in a storm, the points were ours!
Back at kick off time, County’s flu’ ravaged side emerged to a great reception from a crowd not far short of 4000. There was a slightly unfamiliar look about the 11 in blue as there was no Keane at the heart of midfield (where he had shone brightly of late) and no Kirby out wide. Both would be missed as would potential replacement Connor Dimaio, who also had the flu’, but Sam Walker was in the starting line up with Osborne taking the Kirby spot.
So, we would see just how resilient this ever improving County side were against a Kidderminster side that always give us trouble.
County’s captain Paul Turnbull racked up a magnificent 200 games for the Club today, and he rather more than most would remember our encounter at Aggborough earlier in the season when a tackle from behind saw him hospitalised and injured for some months.
Still, we are where we are, and since then County have improved immeasurably, and a win today, whilst difficult, might not be too big an ask of them.
It started with both sides looking for an opening, and Palmer conceding an early corner. This was easily dealt with by the County rear guard, but a cross from the far right, 7 minutes in, looked another story as the ball dropped invitingly for Dan Bradley smack in front. Bradley however had company, and between Stott, Duxbury and Palmer, what seemed a decent chance for the visitors number 10, melted away like snow on a hot griddle.
Another minute and things took a turn for the worse for the Blues as Walker had to be replaced by Stephenson, further increasing the burden on Bully and the defence.
That was potentially dispiriting, but no one told Palmer who went close after Thomas had won a corner.
This signalled a plethora of attacking moves from the Blues, a series of corners saw County go close twice before the ball was hooked clear by Bradley, after Warburton had seen his shot cleared off the line.
This was promising stuff, and it went on with Osborne not that far away with a rasper from just outside the box.
It continued, but with both sides having their moments… Brandon Hall, the Harriers keeper briefly exposed and stranded with Stephenson out wide, the moment passed, and Warburton was inches from a Duxbury cross in the box, after some brilliant work, carrying the ball from deep into Harriers territory.
This was not bad at all from County, although Warburton might have just been a tad miffed to see Horsfall in his way and able to stop the rot as the County man darted into the box in lively fashion.
By this time just over 20 minutes had gone, and the crosses were still being pinged in from the right, and the latest one saw Hinchliffe in fine nick ensuring that Richards header did not hinder the County push for another clean sheet.
A cheep free kick to Harriers put County back under pressure, but Palmer was a rock in the centre of the blue back line and did the biz to see the danger off with a perfectly timed header.
County were looking for that opener also and Hall did well to deny Thomas on the end of a flick on by Stephenson.
Stephenson went close again a minute later, whilst at the other end Hinchliffe pulled off a decent save to stop Richards claiming that first goal with a snap shot.
But I still felt that, although Harriers looked typically lively, it was County who seemed to hold the sharper attacking options, and the 3 or so minutes that followed did nothing to dim that view.
A foul on Stephenson started things off, and the free kick took a deflection giving County a corner. County queued for a pot at goal from this, but with no reward … nothing… and when Richards carted Minihan, as County strove to keep the pressure on, there was nothing down for us again as the referee looked the other way!
The Blues determination ensured that, despite no free kick, the pressure stayed on Harriers, and it was disappointing to see Warburton’s shot that rounded the raids off, narrowly miss out.
It was not all County though, Minihan doing really well at one point to make a good block to keep Bradley out, but it mainly was… Mulhern’s header being deflected wide as Thomas fed on a long ball by Hinchliffe.
Then with just 3 minutes before half time, it seemed that County had that much prized opening goal, and it looked a neat one from my vantage spot. Stephenson’s low cross won a corner, which Palmer headed on from the near post for Mulhern to force the ball home. Quickly however, deep joy morphed into sullen discontent as the referee, responding to the liner’s upraised flag, and cancelled the goal out!
It was still 0-0, and with County still pressing it was soon half time also, and time to head off pitch side to do the photos for the SCAN presentations to Keith Briggs and Paul Williams.
County opened the second half well, Stephenson and Mulhern probing for an opening down the right.
Nothing came of that, and Harriers mounted the first of several sorties up the park in response, only for their efforts to founder on the rock of County’s top notch defending, that saw Warburton scooting clear. It was not long before Warburton’s legs were taken, and I felt that Johnson was fortunate to come away with a yellow for this crude assault.
The free kick was too deep to be chance creating, and Harriers came back at the Blues bringing some excellent work from Duxbury to deny them! As almost always with Duxbury, he adds penetrating attacking play to the defensive stuff, and he did just that…being kept at bay…but only courtesy of Mr Aspinall’s curious ruling that he had fouled his man on his way into the box!
Bookings for Osborne and Richards followed as the pace got ever more frenetic.
It was still 0-0, and beginning to look a touch like staying so, although Hinchliffe was not thinking thus, sending another long one to Mulhern who ushered it on to Warburton whose shot again took a deflection, the corner coming to nothing as Mr Aspinall ‘ saw something’ once more.
Did I say it was end to end?
Well it was, Thomas seeing no takers as he pinged one over from the right, Hinchliffe quickly off his line to stop a break by Chambers, and Hinchliffe again not long after, emerging from a mighty melee in the box with the ball to a loud ovation.
It was not over either, it went on…Mulhern’s shot thudding into a defender as it sped goalward – the archetypal taking one for the team’ …. Osborne inches from reaching Mulhern with a tasty cross.
And, there’s more, as Warburton saw his shot crash into a defender ala Mulhern, Duxbury again looking in anguish at the referee who stopped another neat run from him with another inexplicable call.
There were 20 minutes left now, and both sides showed no sign of looking for a respite.
A push by Horsfall on Mulhern ushered in thoughts of a goal, 2 minutes later, but these dissipated when Stott’s close range effort went wide.
And Warburton… he was still beavering away like two men, a coruscating run from him cleaving the visiting defence almost in two… a goal was on…but the shot went narrowly wide and then it wasn’t.
The pattern of play continued as before, both teams having a go, and with just over 10 minutes left JG made his final changes bringing Bell on for the hard working Mulhern, and Cowan for Thomas.
With Bell now in Kiddy’s faces and Minihan now able to push on with the insurance of Cowan to his rear, there was still room to hope, to dream…and the Cheadle End were all dreamers, still belting out the popular ‘We’re on our way’ as loud now as at any stage – great stuff!
That sort of support always deserves a reward, but the real world oft times dictates it not to be so, but today… perhaps today…
Well Stephenson had a go, with 10 minutes left – his shot whizzing across the face of goal and out.
And Minihan did not forget the defensive duties, finding touch nicely as Harriers pressed for that vital goal. The pressure on County was pretty heavy, but they were responding well, and the visitors cause was not helped by a foul on Warburton by Weeks that saw the pressure relieved.
That was the 86th minute, the 87th saw County win another corner, and pandemonium break loose as the ball was swung over to the near post where Minihan met it, heading the ball into the far corner of the net!
No pitch invasion, no flares, just joyful acclaim followed and it was a great moment to share with fellow County fans, and there were a lot of youngsters in the Pop Side, some for the first time, and they looked to be thoroughly enjoying the moment too!
Into added time we went with a Stephenson run halted by a foul, as the strains of ‘We’re on the Way’ continued to my left.
Four minutes of added time seemed an eternity, with Harriers still inclined to seek the ‘party pooper’ role with some irritating attacks.
Much of their efforts came via balls lifted high and hopefully from distance and thus caused Hinchliffe no issues at all. In short the visitors finishing was poor also, but County still had to be on their toes, and it helped that Bell could relieve pressure with his energetic bursts of speed.
Credit Harriers, they kept at it, but they had Stott, and Duxbury to face (and others) and both did particularly well under pressure with time almost up.
Eventually Mr Aspinall blew for time and a fine,vital, well earned and deserved victory was County’s as were the points and third place.
Excellent work County, and from the supporters, let’s have more of the same against Alty in the new year!
See you all there!
[ Pictures from there game… just click here! ]
Stockport County line up:
Hinchliffe, Minihan, Palmer, Stott, Duxbury, Turnbull, Walker ( Stephenson 8), Thomas ( Cowan 79), Mulhern ( Bell 79), Osborne, Warburton.
Subs not used: Ormson, Jackson.
Kidderminster Harriers line up:
Hall, Vaughan, Austin, Pear, Horsfall, Johnson, Weeks, Baxendale, Chambers, Bradley, Richards ( Waring 57).
Subs not used ; O’Connor, Phillips, White, Palmer.