[ Written By Ian Brown ]
Half a league, half a league,
Half a league onward,
All in the valley of death,
Rode the six hundred,
“Forward the Light Brigade!
Charge the guns!” he said,
Into the Valley of Death,
Rode the six hundred.
OK …a slight exaggeration …..perhaps, and for 600 read 350 ( the number who made the trip south to support County) ………., but the big County following making the perilous trip to darkest Berkshire, were buoyed by the knowledge that the suits at the National League were behind them ….. rather further behind them I suspect than the 35 miles Blackadder correctly assessed Melchett and his ilk would be in relation Baldrick and company in WW1, each suit content to a man in glorious self-isolation.
Thankfully this brilliant show of support was suitably rewarded by a sterling performance from James Gannon`s side who pulled themselves up by the bootstraps from 1-0 down to send their supporters home deliriously happy by dent of two superb second-half goals that won the game… sending them into the playoff positions.
Whether this or anything else in this league or any other means anything in actuality with everything else going on and being dictated by obvious and understandable health considerations remains to be seen, but JG`s men have done all they can for sure.
It was a fine win to be sure, but one that did not look that certain early doors as following a first-half the saw both sides putting the foot through the ball rather oftener than not.
For their part, County, with new man Richard Bennet on for a debut, tried to open their account coming close when an effort from Hogan struck the woodwork and came out, but by then United had already snatched themselves the lead making the blues chase the game from that moment on.
In this respect, they did well to ensure that Hinchliffe had the minimum of alarms to deal with, and for this the whole back 4 deserves massive credit, although I feel compelled to single out both Palmer and Hogan for stupendously awesome performances that saw the duo in outstanding form at both ends of the park. Add Turnbull and Walker to the honours list and you are nearing an idea as to how County hopes were revived, and their opponents ultimately vanquished.
County were 1-0 down at the break, and if people were thinking that maybe something needed to be done to turn our fortunes around, JG had the matter sorted replacing Lloyd and Dimaio with McAllinden and Osborne for the re-start.
This had an instant and noticeable impact with Mc Alinden and Bennett looking a most lively option as the blues attacked their opponents.
There was an altogether better look about the blues play following the changes, and the goals soon came County`s way….a header from Palmer almost on the hour, and a superb strike from Mc Alinden 13 minutes from the end of normal time.
Referee Matthew Russell found 5 minutes added time, that stretched to 6 and a half, but County`s defending was up to the challenge and Mr Russell was a decent Referee if truth be known- excellent in fact!
Back to 3 o`clock and it was good to see a big County following filling two terraces and around half the main stand as the teams came out.
It was less good to see both sides welling the pill as far as they could and often.
The result was that both defences were able to cope well enough with all that came their respective ways.
The nearest either side came to an opener were really not very close at all, Danny Whitehall wasting a half chance for United spraying his effort wide, whilst Bennett`s first sortie in blue saw the home keeper snaffle his strike with ease.
United stepped the ante up a touch next and Cowan did terrific work to deny Sheckleford in full flight for goal.
Alfa then saw a shot deflected for a corner, but United could not penetrate the blue cover from this and that rather typified what would be one of the game`s recurring themes.
Smile then got behind the blue defences, to find not a single black/white striped shirt on the end of his cross when it materialised.
The home specs were quiet eerily so, and I was beginning to see why.
Then County set about putting their hosts to the test and it started with a Bennett run from deep. He was fouled just beyond the halfway mark, but Mr Russell gave his first impressive decision of the game which was to wave play on with Lloyd darting for goal. Lloyd was then fouled by Sheckleford and the referee did not hesitate to give County a free-kick, that saw County go as close as they had thus far as Hogan`s effort struck a post with the home defence in tatters. A corner followed which saw keeper Ashby- Hammond flapping prodigiously at the arriving pill. But….United survived, and it was still 0-0.
County were beginning to warm to their task- Bennett putting the keeper under pressure after good work, and a fine cross from Thomas.
I was not at all despondent….the County attacks continued, as did the free kicks as Maidenhead struggled to contain them, but we needed to capitalise on the set pieces and the 27 th minute saw us pay for not doing so, as a quick break by Asonganyi saw his deft flick-on set Alfa up to volley home to the obvious delight of the home specs.
County responded…. But Bennett shot straight at the keeper…..corners came…went without reward as did a free-kick, the best effort coming from the ever-lively Hogan whose shot missed out narrowly after Bully`s shot had been charged down.
County tried hard in what remained of the first half, Ashby- Hammond doing well under pressure as corner after County corner came his way.
Bennett was thwarted by Ashby- Hammond with half time almost on us, and the half ended with Hogan heading over from yet another blue free-kick.
The re-start saw action from Jim as he replaced Lloyd and Dimaio with Mc Alinden and Osborne, and it showed instant impact as McAlinden and Bennett looked to be on the same wavelength from the off, and the result was pressure on the home team who were forced to concede a corner with Hogan relentlessly on their case.
That said…..County`s back door needed to be kept shut, and Hinchliffe did well to deny Whitehall on the break, 56 minutes in.
That was a clear warning, but County were issuing warning notices of their own as a foul by a harassed home defender saw the free-kick converted to a corner …and then an equalising goal as Palmer met the incoming ball heading it home in imperious style!
Cue heartfelt celebrations as County and their supporters enjoyed the joy of the moment to the full!
County pied it on from this, the impressive Mc Alinden seeing a shot charged down after Thomas had won a corner with tenacious play down the right.
It was not all County though….Whitehall headed one effort wide, and another shot by Asonganyi went well wide, but the force was with County now as the momentum built steadily.
Hogan was in the van of much of this his throws particularly useful and penetrative, Walker`s drive delt with well by the home keeper from one such.
Back came Maidenhead, through Whitehall, ut Palmer was in majestic form doing just enough to put the forward off his stroke as he lined a shot up.
Not long after we saw the incident that caused the added time, as a thunderous drive from Smile crashed into Hogan poleaxing him.
County had to defend the corner minus Hogan, but they did so, and the second flag-kick that rapidly followed.
From this, County almost caught United unawares but when Osborne dinked Hinchliffe`s neat clearance McAlinden`s way, he…and at least 350 in this corner of Berkshire were mortified to see the liners flag Liam offside. That looked iffy at best!
County pressed on undeterred though with Bennett, McAlinden and Osborne, expertly backed up by Turnbull and Walker, put our hosts to the test.
Hogan then turned defence into lively attack again, and it looked encouraging as the ball reached Osborne. From Ossie it went inside to McAlinden and in the blink of an eye it was 2-1 as a left-footed rocket from him curled and fizzed its way past the keeper into the net!
More celebrations followed, and well deserved too!
Credit to Maidenhead, they still wanted something from the game, but in response Palmer was still allowing nothing through, a couple of excellent blocks earning applause from the away end.
The last few minutes of normal time saw United pressing….trying still…but lacking accuracy on the rare occasions they were able to get a shot off.
In truth much of their work relied upon a supply of long high and hopeful balls delivered from distance, and County could deal with those with little difficulty.
Five minutes added time soon came….turning into 6 and a half….without any dent in County`s winning lead being made, despite a concerted appeal for a penalty from the home team and specs late on. The referee wasn`t influenced and waved the appeals away- I loved that!
The end saw more celebrations involving players and travelling County fans, after what was a well-earned victory.
Massive credit to the players used today, but a big shout out for Manager James Gannon who yet again, faced with a situation at the break, did not dither…acted…decisively and to good effect – 3 points and a playoff spot the product!
Maidenhead United line up:-
Ashby-Hammond, Clorina, Ellul, Whitehall, Twumasi ( Acquah 79), Sheckleford, Alfa (Akntunde 88), Massey, Asonganyi, Mundle- Smith, Smile ( Kelly 75).
Subs not used : Dunn, Steer.
Stockport County line up:-
Hinchliffe, Minihan, Palmer, Hogan, Cowan, Turnbull, Walker, Thomas, Dimaio ( Osborne 45), Bennett ( Arthur 89), Lloyd ( McAlinden 45)
Subs not used : Ormson, Bell.
Attendance: 1662 ( 350)