[ Written By Ian Brown ]
Stockport County made it 13 goals in 3 games today, in sweeping past a doughty Blyth Spartans side, into the 2nd Round of the FA Trophy, with a 4-2 win at Edgeley Park .
What started as possibly being viewed as a bit of a stroll for James Gannon`s side, played out as a decent cup match in the end, as Lee Clark`s team made County work hard for their victory almost until the very last gasp, on a bone-chillingly cold winters day.
County never trailed throughout a game in which JG got his subs exactly right. Substitutes Thomas and Minihan both made telling contributions with second-half goals, and County Academy star Jack Hopkins ( one of 4 Academy players on the bench for County ) showed up well too in a late cameo, having a substantial hand in County`s game-clinching fourth goal.
The Thomas for Rodney move by James was a particularly brave decision as Rodney had been a real handful for the visitors’ backline in the first half, but County`s Manager got full reward for his acumen via another none stop display from the Blues number seven and ..of course ..a goal!
All in all, with Sam Minihan nicking a `typical strikers goal` at the death, it added up to another very satisfactory performance, by County that sent their loyal fans home happy, but not before applauding their heroes off the park!
Back at 3 pm all this was to come, as the blues took the field with 2 changes in the starting line up with Cowan and Mulhern in for Minihan and Bell , only one of whom ( Minihan) was on the bench, where Academy products Jack Cooper, Jack Hopkins, Michael Rattle and Finley Stanyer also proudly sat.
County opened brightly and Mulhern was in most that was happening in the first few minutes, an initial cooperation twixt him and Rodney teeing up an early County free-kick that saw Arthur go close.
Then Frank joined Tom Walker down the left flank but this interesting link-up was ultimately blocked by attentive defending from the visitors.
But County were not finished, and Frank combined neatly with Rodney who was distinctly unlucky not to put his co- conspirator`s final ball away.
It was fully 6 minutes before a reply came from Spartans, but it was a worthy effort as Thackery went close following the visitors first corner.
Meanwhile, at the other end, corners piled up as Rodney saw a deflection keep a decent effort from him out.
This brought Zac Hemming, the Spartans keeper, centre stage for the first time, his punch out under pressure, from the corner, impressing with County on his case big time. But the ball went to Garratt and his pass sent Osborne scampering clear. It looked distinctly interesting until Osborne`s shot thudded into the boards a foot wide!
The first 10 minutes had been pretty satisfactory from County`s point of view, and the period closed with Frank narrowly missing out on the end of a fine run and cross from the right by Rodney.
So far…so very…very good I thought….and it hinted at even better things, as Rodney surged clear from a deep position picking Frank out nicely, Hemming doing brilliantly to push the subsequent shot around a post with nothing but goals on Frank`s mind.
The corner that followed brought more excellence from Hemming, as another brave punch out partially solved a problem for Spartans. I say partially as the ball was then with Rodders who again can count himself to be unlucky to see his subsequent shot fizz inches wide!
Corners continued to come County`s way, but…`thanks` to Hemmings….no goal, and he did well again to deny TW as he darted clear, midway through the first half.
A short period of pressure from the visitors came next and Hinchliffe had work to do with a near-post save following some neat football from Lee Clark`s side.
I was somewhat reassured in that Spartans did not look overly ruthless going forward, a perception perhaps aided by County`s proven propensity for defending deep and well.
And…of course…County looked a touch sharp at the other end of the park where Frank was just kept from a tantalising Keane cross at the cost of a corner. There was very nearly additional cost too as Palmer went up for the resultant corner with a clutch of defenders and County forwards. The melee that followed was anything but sedate and tranquil- the ball somehow not going in with the Cheadle End willing it over the line.
Both keepers were called on to earn their corn next- Hinchliffe holding onto Lewis Hawkins` shot, 25 minutes in, and Hemming doing well to usher a shot from Rodney around a post.
The corner was cleared but not the free-kick that followed it. TW took this, and Palmer beat Hemming to the ball to head County into the lead with 15 minutes of the half left to play.
Again…I was busy concluding that whilst Spartans were playing some neat football here and there, they were not able to get a shot off, and grist to that particular dubious mill came 34 minutes in, when given a decent scoring chance via a free-kick following a foul by Palmer on Sweet ( I think), they then failed to penetrate the County wall with it.
And…..Rodney was still giving Spartans loads to do, his run and shot seeing the ball thud into the keeper`s chest and stay out, following this up by narrowly failing to pick out TW or Osborne with a dangerous cross.
There were 8 minutes left of the half at that point and Hinchliffe had just punched clear under pressure as Spartans signalled an intent to get back in it!
Nothing really signalled this intent would turn to reality, despite some good neat play by the visitors, but you just never know do you, and the 41st minute had the 56 hardy Spartans fans on their pins as the ball moved swiftly twixt Roberts and Evans who delivered the neatest of balls into the box where Hawkins slid in to put the ball into the net for the equaliser!
That really was a bit of a shock, and Spartans played some good stuff as half time neared- Arthur doing well at one point to clear the ball off the line with pressure mounting on the blues.
TW did bring some relief for County, but Mulhern headed his cross over the bar, and of the two teams I guess County were the happier to hear the half time whistle go.
Thomas was on for Rodney when play resumed, and County looked to be going after a second goal with a series of probing attacks.
Thomas was looking mustard keen midst the action Thackray`s slider just keeping a Thomas cross from a clutch of blue shirts in the box.
Hemming emerged with the ball but went to ground having got a whiff of Festus`s aftershave, getting the County man booked. Hmm…..not Tom Parsons finest hour methinks, in fact an annoyingly soft booking!
Back came County through Keane, but a superb tackle by Oliver Scott saved his side for sure!
On it went with the County pressure building steadily, but even so, Festus had to again head clear from under the bar with Dylan McGlade`s incoming ball fizzing in just after the hour mark.
A minute later and Hawkins surfaced no doubt fancying doubling his personal tally, but the execution did not match the expectation and the ball flew off into the Cheadle End.
That was not really a chance to be fair, but it would have changed matters had it gone in, whereas from the goal kick Osborne`s run from deep almost brought County the lead, TW just unable to force the ball home.
A couple of minutes later Turnbull started the move that brought County that lead. Cowan took it on from Bully …his cross headed home by Thomas, on 67 minutes.
County looked empowered by that goal, Hemming doing well to hold Keane`s shot following Osborne`s run, and Cowan`s determination so very nearly nicked County a third, after Thomas had kept the ball in play in typical never say die fashion.
That was good…..Osborne`s run a couple of minutes later looked good too, but he was offside……………apparently !
Spartans took the game to County for a time after that last action, and County had to defend with some skill to retain their lead.
That said, County were still on the lookout for a third goal, a wish denied again by Hemming as he tipped Osborne`s goal-bound shot over the bar brilliantly, with 15 minutes (normal time) left.
Still, the Blues wanted that third goal, but Mulhern saw his shot fly wide from Thomas`s cross, but better was to follow. It did not seem that way though at first as Osborne`s shot was bravely beaten out by Hemming. When Mulhern was tripped it seemed the chance was gone, but it wasn`t as TW followed up to smash the ball home and make it 3-1.
That might have been that, but credit to Spartans…it wasn`t as Hunter`s shot took its time about going in off at least one post!
It was 3-2, and we still had a game on our hands!
Spartans were by no means done either and Garratt did well under pressure with the visitors attacking with intent.
Minihan replaced Osborne , and later young Hopkins came on for Mulhern in the first minute of added time.
The third minute saw Thackray go close with a shot from outside the box, which I thought might have clipped the woodwork, but that just might have been me hallucinating?!
I am convinced that Mr Parsons, had either lost or swallowed his whistle, as 5…6…7.. minutes and the game still continued with both teams probing for a vital opening.
Then one arrived as Jack Hopkins brought the ball clear from deep in the County half. From Hopkins the ball found its way to Thomas and his teasing cross tempted the onrushing Minihan just enough for him to slot the ball home from close in.
That was a fine strike, and pretty much put the game safe now for County, but there was time for Mr Parsons to award Spartans a late/ late free-kick, but this flew harmlessly wide and eventually….after about a gazillion minutes added time, the referee blew for the end of the game.
A decent game that….a credit to both teams and County can now look forward to a Second Round tie in the near future, a future that they can face with confidence!
Well done lads!
Stockport County line up:-
Hinchliffe, Cowan, Palmer, Arthur, Garratt, Turnbull, Keane, Osborne ( Minihan 82), Mulhern ( Hopkins 91), T Walker, Rodney (Thomas 45).
Subs not used: Ormson, Cooper, Rattle, Stanyer.
Blyth Spartans line up:-
Hemming, Evans, Scott, Mullen, Ritson ( Devitt 77), Thackray, Mc Glade ( Hutchinson 71), Hunter, Sweet, Roberts, Hawkins.
Sub not used : Mc Keown.
Attendance : 1436 ( 56)