[ Written By Ian Brown ]
Over 4500 turned out at Edgeley Park today to cheer County home to another valuable victory against promotion rivals Altrincham, and into fourth place in the division,via a goal each from my M.O.M Jamie Stott, and Frank Mulhern.
The goals came one in each half but before and after same County gave a performance, the maturity and sheer excellence of which was truly astonishing at times.
Altrincham did what you would expect a team pushing for promotion to do, they got forward, attacked, and played the ball about nicely at times, but with County in their current form this was just not enough. Each determined Alty attack was met with resolute defence that always allowed the visitors time on the ball, but also added threat on the break to deeply thoughtful defending.
To get another clean sheet against a side with the free scoring reputation that Altrincham have is superb work.
In this respect if Stott was inspirational from start to finish, no one in blue shirked a shift, and despite defending for long periods, County never gave the impression that they were about to ship a goal.
Minihan for Cowan was the only change in County’s line up as the game kicked off with Jordan Keane rounding off one of a number of opening County raids with a shot that warmed visiting keeper Anthony Thompson’s hands for sure.
In response, Altrincham busied themselves well enough playing the ball across the park nicely but without ever looking likely to penetrate the County cover, Hemmings and ex Hatter Connor Hampson trying manfully in combination to find a way beyond Minihan without success.
All that said though Hemmings did clip the outside of a post with a shot 6 minutes in, but Hinchliffe did not dive for it, and he would have had the need been there!
It was a decent game already and got even more so as Keane’s barnstorming run from the back took him inside the Robin`s box where his shot was kept out via a diving save from Thompson, who was alert enough to react and ensure the onrushing Warburton did not get to the loose ball from his parry.
County were definitely searching for a goal, but their luck was out as several one-two’s twixt Warburton and Minihan put the skids under Alty, who were happy to see
Mulhern slide in inches from the ball on the end of it all.
Both sides were having a go, in what was an open game for sure, and Stott did brilliantly to snuff out a break from John Johnston on an explosive run! That was to be a recurring feature of Jamie’s game throughout the afternoon!
The attacking attention then switched ends again, as Warburton`s deflected shot almost crept in- Thompson in overdrive ensuring it went the right (for him) side of the bar.
Hancock fouled Minihan from the subsequent corner ushering in an early chance from what was a fairly centrally placed County free kick, but when Turnbull took it Thompson was able to deal with it with little bother.
Johnston and Hancock both had efforts shortly after but neither tested Hinchliffe at all, again the major alarms coming at the other end where a spill by Thompson, from Duxbury`s neat cross, gave County real chances. It really did and Thomas thought his follow up shot was in, until Hannigan met it on the line somehow clearing the danger.
That was a let off for Alty, but good defending also, after the keeper’s error, but County were in no mood to go away and less than a minute later took the lead as a corner from the right was flicked on by Kirby to where Stott ushered it home from close in!
A series of determined County attacks followed the goal, as did a clutch of free kicks as , in turn, Minihan, Duxbury and Mulhern were fouled when looking to cause mayhem. None of the free kicks came to anything which was disappointing and something that County could look to put right.
On it went…Keane shooting over the top ,after good work by Mulhern and Warburton who were sent clear by Thomas.
And on, as Stott did more excellent work to bring the ball calmly out of defence before sending Duxbury on the charge. There might just have been something to show for this most excellent move, with just half a smile from Lady Luck, but she was scowling in Frank’s direction and his side footed effort went a foot or so wide.
Mulhern saw another effort narrowly miss out in the minutes that remained of the half, and Thomas did good work tracking back to block Johnston who threatened on the break, and that was the first half sorted!
The second half saw the Robins open brightly, but despite winning an early corner they were at once thwarted by fantastic defending, and then in hasty headlong retreat, as Minihan sent Duxbury clear. Scott made it to the Alty box where Thompson did just enough to block the Dux thrust. But the ball had run loose and headed back towards goal where Hampson was able to hack the ball clear in the nick of time!
Back came Alty, but Hemmings leant back sending a poor effort high and wide, and following more attacking from the visitors they were wading thigh deep in the brown stuff as Turnbull slung a terrific long ball from way back into the path of Mulhern who was already in his stride and heading for goal. Thompson might have stopped him, tried for sure, but Frank was altogether to wily for him, rounding the Alty number one before slotting County`s second home to scenes of much celebration in the Cheadle End!
Credit to Altrincham, they were not overly cowed and kept pushing forward, Harrop bringing a decent save out of Hinchliffe.
Mulhern and Duxbury probed Thompson`s defences next, to no reward, but Hinchliffe had to make a couple of routine saves also as Alty looked determined to keep making a game of it!
But there was no way through for our Cheshire neighbours, especially with Stott and Duxbury in such fine form, and when there was Hinchliffe was invariably on hand to deal.
Stephenson for Kirby, Walker for Warburton were the changes that JG opted for between 66 and 73 minutes, as Alty continued to press without looking likely to nick one back.
The contrast at the other end could not have been starker, as Stephenson went close from a Duxbury free kick, and Palmer even closer, his header just missing out with 10 minutes or so left to play.
Bell for Mulhern was County’s last change and Nyal was inches from getting to a Stephenson cross not long after coming on.
The quality of County’s defending was awesome at times, but not so Hinchliffe’s kicking and the pressure was back on from one such wayward clearance. Hancock sent his header flying over the bar from this, but, there was no let up in the attempts by Alty to get something from the game, but County were simply unmoveable in reply, Stott and Turnbull both doing brilliant work under pressure.
Into added time we went with Stott heading clear, with Alty continuing to press. But the quality from them in the last third was not good enough to make an impression on JG’s well drilled back line, and the large contingent in the Away Blocks of the Pop Side must have been aghast to see Chris Song blast a late/late effort well wide.
There was just time for Stott to treat us to more excellence as he latched onto the ball in a defensive position before breaking up the park in impressive style. The final cross from him was full of danger, but there was no one in blue on hand to apply a finish before Jones hooked the ball clear.
Game over – 3 points won, in impressive style!
County are really moving now and thoroughly deserving of our support.
Next up is Kidderminster Harriers this Saturday – do not be at all tempted to miss that one!
Stockport County line up:-
Hinchliffe, Minihan, Palmer , Stott, Duxbury, Keane, Turnbull, Thomas, Mulhern ( Bell 80), Warburton ( Walker 73), Kirby ( Stephenson 66).
Subs not used: Ormson, Osborne.
Altrincham line up:-
Thompson, Densnore, Hampson ( Richmon 73), Jones, Hannigan, Moult, Johnston, Williams, Hancock, Harrop ( Song 73), Hemmings.
Subs not used : Mantack, Harrison, Wynne.
Attendance : 4549