[Written by Ian Brown]
Now then….the world is awash with stories about ‘great escapes’.
You will know about most of them and perhaps have a personal favourite whether it be Pat Reid and Airey Neave’s escape from Colditz in WW2, or Frank Morris and the Anglin Brothers who made light work it seems of getting away from the escape proof Alcatraz prison.
Maybe none of these….perhaps one of Houdini’s catalogue does it for you or dear old Ronnie Briggs and his mates, but you can shelve all those as County performed a classic today when faced with the seemingly unbreachable defences of a tough as teak Brackley Town side at an uncharacteristically sun drenched Edgeley Park.
Anyone expecting a repeat of last Saturday’s heroics against Yeovil from County, just did not know the history twixt these two sides, and they certainly had not factored in just how relentlessly cussed the Northamptonshire side can be.
Sure…I was hoping for a buccaneering County victory (we owed Brackers one or two did we not !), but after the blues initial burst of energy had subsided, Kevin Wilkin’s side gradually took command and for long periods did not look at all likely to relinquish same.
Their goal, by Lee Ndluvo on the hour was not a great surprise, and for long periods after this County continued to struggle to make any impression on the visitors.
Loose balls and hurried passes worked to increase County’s discomfiture, as for long periods in the second half the flow of attacks going Hinchliffe`s way showed no sign of abating.
One nil to Town looked about the way it was to be, as County continued to push forward late on , but without ever really troubling Saints keeper Danny Lewis despite a growing and perhaps uncharacteristic lapse in discipline on Town’s part.
Then came the 94th minute……a Keane cross…a Duxbury corner….a Frankly excellent header from Mulhern, and it was 1-1 and County’s great escape was complete, and they had clocked up a not unimpressive 12 game unbeaten run to boot!
Add to this the fact that a couple of hundred kids and their families went home buzzing after seeing the late drama and any disappointment at `only` getting a point….diminishes rapidly.
Any time……..any season…..Brackley Town are hard to beat…..so credit to County’s resolve and determination to hang on in there, that eventually saw them gain a valuable point! How many sides this season will do similar ?
Hmm……..not many I am guessing, so its off to Blyth Spartans on Tuesday to make it 13 in a row!
Back at 12 o’clock there was another example of how County do stuff well, as the Club and SCAN honoured those County players who were killed in WW1. Marcus Heap was in superlative form doing the situation full justice, and with 103 y.o County Legend George Haigh on hand to cut the ceremonial tape, a magnificent County occasion was complete.
More excellence followed with a beautifully choreographed and observed minutes silence on the pitch, before it was ready for the on field action to start.
Unsurprisingly County were unchanged following last Saturday’s FA Cup triumph, and it was the blues making the early running as Thomas stretched his legs to good effect down the right.
The first 3 minutes however passed without either keeper being unduly troubled. The fifth minute did see Osborne ping a ball over into Warburton’s path, but the Pop Side liner did for Matty’s run with a wave of his flag.
Brackley had gone about their business much as you would expect in these early minutes and it was 8 minutes in before anything resembling a chance showed itself from them, and when it did Palmer was brilliantly positioned to see off Adam Walker’s run with the soundest of blocks.
County kept plugging away, and Gareth Dean was glad to concede a corner , after 11 minutes, after another Thomas run had put Town in difficulties. Bell put his shot wide when the flag kick came over to keep it at 0-0.
It was another 8 minutes before anything of note occurred, and Palmer was a touch unlucky with his header after Warburton had forced a corner.
Warburton, Thomas and Duxbury kept the pressure on Town but without managing to nick that crucial first goal.
Warburton was close ,from another corner, 5 minutes later, but this moment was quickly forgotten as Cowan had to look lively to snuff out a break by Ndlovu following the Warby raid.
That was a definite warning across County’s bows, and another followed , on the half hour, when Hinchliffe had to made a decent save to deny James Armson, who sought to capitalise on a spate of loose balls from the blues.
It was time for a response from County and within a minute we had one, but keeper Danny Lewis was on hand to nullify it keeping Warby’s slightly under hit shot out, after Osborne had set the chance up.
Lewis repeated the feat faced with the same striker shortly after, but almost immediately a chance fell Brackley’s way as they hit County on the break.
Ndluvo and Armson were both involved and their work probably deserved a better reward, but instead the ball flashed across the face of the County goal, with Glenn Walker unable to get a touch smack in front of goal.
Hmm…..that was slightly alarming, but what was more so was the fact that County were being forced into making errors by a highly organised and motivated Brackley outfit.
The visitors continued to put County under the cosh, and Keane, who I thought was one of the blues top men today along with Palmer, did well to block a decent effort from the ever dangerous Armson.
County did have their moments with half time approaching- most notably a neat move involving Warburton, Osborne and Thomas, and a narrow squeak that saw Bell inches from getting to Osborne’s cross in sight of goal.
The half ended with a one/two twixt Warburton and the County Walker, and a shot from the latter, but this was a foot or so wide so the teams went in with the score still 0-0.
It was clear that this was very much an archetypal Brackley performance, and if County were going to counter it affectively, they would have to be a touch sharper and the loose play would have to be cut out.
But the re-start saw Brackley step up their efforts and the first 10 minutes or so they had County in a vice like grip, JG’s side unable to fashion a reply- Hinchliffe making a good save to deny Ndluvo at one point, and Palmer illuminating another with a seriously vital clearance off the line.
Loose balls were causing much of County`s difficulties still , and the concession of free kicks did not help either, and it was not a great surprise when the blues went one down almost on the hour, as the predatory Ndluvo headed Franklin`s cross from the left past Hinchliffe into the net, to give the Saints a 1-0 lead.
Mulhern was on for Osborne within a minute of the goal, but the pattern continued as before with Hinchliffe called on to make an important save to stop Ndluvo, 66 minutes in.
County then had Dimaio and Stephenson on for Walker and Bell, and in short order indeed Lewis was in action pulling of a good save to deny Warburton.
Mind, the warning shots were still being fired across County’s bows, as Palmer cleared off the line with County’s back line stretched to the limit.
Unfortunately there seemed no escape….pressure from Brackley would be briefly relieved, but then back on again via a loose pass from someone in blue. Corners came and went for Town , but thankfully without further addition to the score- it was not pretty to watch, but then whenever is it when the Saints are involved?
Kevin Wilkin would probably opine that beauty is in the eye of the beholder, and that ..beauteous or not…..their methods were effective! They certainly were…….as a foul on Stephenson halted his progress as he made headway through the middle.
The free kick was cleared, and a subsequent Keane/ Duxbury move only just missed out when Lewis held onto Duxbury’s strike. That was 7 minutes off the end of normal time, and I felt that if we had a chance it was Duxbury who might deliver it. But instead , with 6 minutes left, he was back making a vital clearance as Adam Walker `s run from deep pushed County back.
Play was interrupted next as a County free kick was delayed by a fracas involving both benches. It finished up with JG being sent to the stand, play eventually resuming with Brackley in something of a tizz conceding free kicks that earlier they might not have conceded. Shane Bryce was positioned perfectly to head clear from the latest free kick after Minihan had been mugged, by Ndluvo, on the charge down the right.
We were into the last 2 minutes now, as Mulhern spread play wide to Duxbury, but the final ball was cleared, and it was ‘hearts in mouths’ time almost immediately as County were hit on the break – Hinchiffe doing terrifically well to save the day by tipping Ndluvo’s shot over the bar at the last gasp!
That was a crucial save….no doubting that at all….and Brackley were not done by any manner of means , forcing County to defend a late/late free kick, which fortunately they did. They were aided by a free kick of their own, which Hinchliffe lifted deep into opposition territory, but not by Lady Luck who swung her fashion accessory ensuring the eventual shot carried the bar.
We were deep in added time now, and surely done for…surely…. but no one mentioned this to Jordan Keane whose cross was headed behind for a corner by a defender. Duxbury crossed from left to right to take the kick, and it was a belter, as was Mulhern’s response as he met it with the most excellent of glancing headers that simply flew beyond Lewis into the net.
It was 1-1, and within seconds it was game’s end, and County had battled their way to a good point, against a side who are just a beast to encounter home or away!
Add Hinchliffe to my list of ‘top men’ and look for the blues to be back to their best on Tuesday against Blyth Spartans!
See you there !
Stockport County line up:
Hinchliffe, Minihan, Palmer, Cowan, Duxbury, Keane, Walker ( Dimaio 68), Thomas, Bell( Stephenson 68), Osborne ( Mulhern 61), Warburton.
Subs not used : Ormson, Turnbull.
Brackley Town line up:
Lewis, Myles, Franklin, Bryce, Hall, Dean, Walker G, Armson, Ndluvo, Lowe, Walker A (Murombedzi 91).
Subs not used; Fairlamb, Nti, Jeffers, Noon.
Attendance : 3449