[ Written By Ian Brown ]
County reserved a wholehearted 14 man work fest within one of their very best sunshine team performances of the current season, for a day that otherwise was notable only for torrents of spirit sapping rain that seemed never to stop.
At the end of the game, after the blues had given almost 250 travelling County fans, 90 odd minutes of first class effort and skill, my notes were a mushy pulp, so good luck dear reader making sense of my damp ramblings!
A team performance was it….yes indeed it was, with lots of graft going down all over the sodden Kentish turf from those decked out in blue, and it was all the more a win to cherish as it was over a full time outfit, who from first kick until last struggled to compete with JG`s men.
The 250 need mentioning too, as their support was loud and long and particularly helpful after the break when, for a while, Dover took the game to County.
County were a cut above though, and first amongst blue equals, for me, was the excellent Festus Arthur, an imperiously impassable man mountain who missed nowt all game long and might just have nicked one late on .Ash Palmer was not that far behind Festus for honours either as JG`s delicious intuition of playing the pair together paid off again with gold plated knobs on!
And then there was Frank…..so needing a goal to boost a flagging confidence, and he got a real peach to win the game for the blues- an impish goal of breath taking audacity worthy of winning the best of games!
When the teams emerged into the murkiest of afternoons, JG had opted for 4 at the back with Minihan and Garratt either side of Arthur and Palmer. Turnbull and Sam Walker provided the immediate cover for the back four, with Thomas (restored happily to the starting line up) and Tom Walker in midfield behind Rodney and Mulhern.
Hinchliffe took his place twixt the sticks as usual and…as usual…..gave a confident display of keeping that would have discouraged far better teams than Dover.
It has to be said that the early minutes proceeded at a very sedate pace, the first action of note, 5 minutes in, seeing home keeper Yusuf Mersin to the fore holding onto a free kick, lofted into the box following a foul on Thomas.
Thomas was beginning to supply some interesting crosses , and Will De Havilland did well to stop one of these from reaching the on-rushing Mulhern.
That was 8 minutes in, another 60 seconds and Mersin had to look lively again, this time saving a Minihan shot( you guessed it) from a Thomas cross.
Dover defended well enough if without inspiring that much confidence in the locals, that they had the blues sussed, but 13 minutes in Josh Passley pounced on an error by Garratt to head off for goal. Thank fully Garratt`s recovery saw him in position to concede a corner from which the now over eager Passley sprayed his shot wide.
We were beyond the 15 minute mark now, and County`s all action game was already taking its toll of the home numbers on a heavy but playable pitch, as captain Kevin Lokko had to be replaced by Tony Jeffrey.
That was just a minute before something of a major disappointment for the very supportive Blue Army, who were singing and chanting louder than ever in celebration of what , from the far distance looked to be a cracking first County goal, but it wasn`t as Turnbull`s dipping drive just didn’t quite dip enough, carrying the bar by not much at all!
County soon put that one behind them though, the pressure again mounting on our hosts via more good work from Thomas, who soon after was only just denied on the end of a lively run by Tom Walker.
Kurtis Cumberbatch wasted a half chance for Dover, after County failed to tidy up following a save by Hinchliffe, but mostly despite Rodney being off the field for attention for around 5 minutes, County still managed to maintain a certain edge on their opponents, but what looked a tasty free kick from Sam Walker was nullified when Referee Matt Russell saw `something` in the box, and penalised County.
Then from almost nothing…..well a throw in actually….the ball reached Mulhern who was surrounded by white shirts near the left touchline. In a flash he saw that the keeper was off his line….and in another the choicest of lofted drives sailed over Mersin`s now furrowed brow into the net!
Simply superb, and hopefully that will give Frank the boost he needs to revitalise his game, and with it, County`s season!
Credit to Dover though, they rallied and put some pressure on the blues after that setback, but although free kicks and corners came their way, they could not make them count.
Bully, Arthur and Palmer were absolute rocks in this period, but County rallied themselves as half time neared with Tom Walker denied by good work from Mersin.
On it went with Sam Walker inches away with a shot after Garratt and Sam had set it up with some insistent attacking play down the left.
Into 2 minutes added time we went then, with a late chance falling the way of highly regarded Inih Effiong , but being spurned as he leaned back to lift the ball into the away end.
That was the first half sorted, and very satisfactorily too- we might just need a second goal however to put down any response from Dover, a fact that no doubt JG would cover in his half time chat!
Bear in mind now that, it`s late, and I am now peering at the afore mentioned `mush`….my notes…but hear goes…
The second half saw Dover push forward, and Hinchliffe did well to hold onto a header from Effiong just 2 minutes in, but it was not long before County responded as a raid instigated by Minihan and Thomas saw Tom Walker just miss out with an effort that brought County a corner. Bigger and better things then looked on the cards from this, but with TW upended on the edge of the box, the referee looked the other way much to the chagrin of the 250!
Back came Dover, but a fantastic block by Arthur not only stopped the rot but set a blue counter attack going involving Thomas, Minihan and Mulhern . This foundered for want of a scintilla of good fortune, but JG `s men were proving well capable of winning this game. Could they add a second, match clinching goal though?
Well…..not quite yet, as Dover were putting them under pressure , as was the referee who insisted that Sam Walker left the field with County defending a free kick. Thanks to a neat save from Hinchliffe, who pushed the ball around a post, they did, and the County keeper repeated the good work being first again to the two corners that followed. All this while the County support were doing just that….loudly….and it paid off as Rodney emerged from deep in the County last third to run the ball clear!
Then the spell was broken, and County were attacking again, Minihan unlucky to only get a corner from a typically rampaging run.
Free kicks…corners followed for County and from the latter there was more ill fortune for the blues as Arthur`s header was saved bravely by Mersin.
But Festus carried on undeterred, making an immaculate block to stop Effiong as Dover carried the game to County. The ball on from this almost saw Mulhern in as the blues turned defence into determined attack.
Dover just held out from that one, and again there were narrow margins as Minihan`s run sent a wave of raw terror through the home back line who were grateful to find touch in extremis.
On it went with no let up from County as Sam Walker put a shot wide, Mersin saved from Osborne ( now on for Rodney).
And still Arthur continued, along with Palmer, to keep the back door firmly shut with some excellent composed work.
By this time Bell was on for Mulhern, and he was distinctly unlucky to not get a corner next when the ball clearly went out off the defender on the end of Nyal`s run.
Bell went again with 10 minutes left, but his link up with Osborne faded away when County`s number ten lifted his shot over the bar.
Time was running out now for County to make the win certain with a second goal, and they were trying for sure as a blizzard of attacking play confronted Mersin in the home goal. He responded brilliantly though making an impressive double save to deny Bell and TW. If that duo were disappointed, Festus looked positively mortified as his superb back post header appeared to cross the line in what seemed an unending follow up melee. The referee was unmoved and waved play on!
The referee`s myopia was now worrying me, as with a couple of minutes left a blatant push on Minihan as he surged towards the box, was ridiculously ignored by the official.
Into the last minute of normal time we went with TW and Keano gnawing away at the home side`s soft under belly- it was a neat move, but Rooney emerged as a Dover hero his last-ditch intervention keeping it at 1-0.
Four minutes added time notionally gave Dover a chance to save the game, but they could not get out of their half, and when they did, thanks to a hefty heave up the park by Mersin, they were pushed back again thanks to the liner to my left. He had had a mixed game, but this was one of his better decisions as a wave of his flag alerted the referee to the fact that Mersin had cleared the ball from outside his area( something he had been doing all afternoon).
The subsequent free kick saw Osborne step up to take it only for the ball to fly wide.
Referee and liner had been surrounded by aggrieved white shirted players for that last action, and I am guessing that Mr Russell may have been a touch happy to blow for time and head for the dressing room.
For County however, they could share the moment with their supporters, and enjoy it to the full, before another challenge on Tuesday away to table toppers Bromley.
They will need your support , which was outstanding today, and there are still seats left on the Fingerpost Flyer .
Finger 1pm/ Mercian Way 1.15
Ring Lou on 07896 536757 to book but not after 7.30 pm please.
See you there then!
Dover Athletic line up:-
Mersin, Passley, Taylor ( Rigg 44), Lokko ( Jeffrey 15), De Havilland, Reason, Effiong, Munns ( Ratti 58), Modeste, Cumberbatch, Rooney.
Subs not used : Worgan , Simpson.
Stockport County line up:-
Hinchliffe, Minihan, Arthur, Palmer, Garratt, Turnbull ( Keane 84), S Walker , Thomas, T Walker, Rodney ( Osborne 63), Mulhern ( Bell 77).
Subs not used: Ormson, Hammill.
Attendance 1154 ( 242)