[ Written By Ian Brown ]
An off-colour County side`s superior fitness saw them, to mix in a boxing term, haul themselves off the canvass to snatch a late/late point from Ebbsfleet United who had led 1-0 until the 93rd of 94 minutes at Edgeley Park today.
Having said that Ebbsfleet led, for long periods it was almost impossible to work out just how they had managed it, although a certain lack of penetration from County`s forwards might have been part of the answer.
Fleet scored with just about their first attack of any real note, but other than that seemed intent on wasting as much time as possible, spending copious amounts of that precious commodity on the deck, for no apparent reason mostly. They had other classic ruses to work through, and bore us with as well, but the lying down bit was their `go-to` ploy of choice.
I was going to suggest that the bed and sofa might be an appropriate replacement for the football and ship on their club crest, until….. frivolous ideas of that ilk were quickly dispensed with and justice prevailed, after a veritable blizzard of attacking play from County, and one Fleet foul too many, saw Sam Walker plant one of his trademark free-kicks beyond the flailing arms of the visiting keeper into the net – sweet……. sweet irony!
Elliott Osborne deservedly took the M.O.M award for a superb display of industry that saw him covering just about every blade of grass available to him, his defensive work every bit as timely and effective as that in the last third at the other end. Other than that, there was some good link-up play twixt Tom Walker and Ben Jackson, but until Sam Walker joined the fray County`s cutting edge was largely missing. Sam`s urgency on and off the ball proved an essential ingredient in the team`s late resurgence, and he may get a start on Tuesday with JG looking to possibly rest one or two with some important games coming up.
Another bumper crowd of over 4000 greeted the two teams to a bone numbingly chilly Edgeley Park for the game`s start, and it was County first to show with Jackson and Tom Walker in the van of much of the early action, but Walker`s progress was halted by Frank Sutherland after Rodney had spread play with an inviting cross-field ball.
Soon enough 6 or 7 minutes had gone, and the blues had been attacking for most of that time, if without thus far giving visiting keeper Harry Palmer cause for alarm.
Tom Walker and Jackson were looking lively in this early period, some of Jacko`s play causing indecision and worse in the Fleet backline that saw King swing a boot and send the ball squirting off out of play at one point. County could not make the subsequent throw-in count.
That was disappointing, but the sight of Mulhern joining with Walker and Jackson to fashion some mayhem for Fleet, raised the spirits a touch. Jackson`s shot took a deflection off a defender, but from the corner, Harry Palmer did well to punch out under much pressure. The punch was good, but the ball came back again via Minihan, only for Rodney to put his shot wide.
That was 12 minutes in, another 60 seconds and the Fleet Palmer had real work to do ensuring that Walker`s neat through ball was not latched onto by Jackson!
I was already liking what Osborne was doing, all industry all over the park, and Walker was looking good too at this point linking defence to attack nicely using Jackson as a willing conduit.
In seemingly no time 20 minutes had gone, and it was already noticeable how easily the visitors took a lie down, Grimes was the latest to indulge himself, and referee Gazzer Rhodes bought it, giving Kevin Watson`s team a tasty free-kick not that far out.
An indiscretion by a Fleet forward, in the subsequent melee inside the County box, then allowed Mr R to put matters partially to rights, and matters might have been even better served had the Fleet keeper not then saved Jackson`s shot with his legs as County broke from Hinchliffe`s free-kick.
Just 2 minutes on from this and it was déjà vu as again Jackson was clear and again Harry Palmer kept his shot out at the last gasp.
The 27th minute saw Ebbsfleet at last stir themselves, but Hinchliffe was on top of the job and made short work of a save.
That was but the briefest of aberrations, I told myself, and Frank underlined this by tying Harry Palmer in knots, but after drawing the keeper to the edge of his box and laying the ball back to Jackson, the young County forward lifted a disappointing effort over the bar.
The next action saw Minihan turn defence into attack sending Rodney away down the right, but he was fouled by Stephen Obileye.
The kick saw Frank wanting it, but out of luck.
The next minutes also saw some more `falling down stuff` that had the EP faithful in a lather. What got me in a similar state was the sight of King in the referee’s ear (and face) clearly up to no good.
This continual break up in play was annoying to watch as it was disruptive to those intent on playing some football, but it got Ebbsfleet onto the front foot, and amazingly in front. It started with Weston who sent Ugwu clear. From the by-line Ugwu`s pull back teed Adeloye up with a simple chance to open the scoring which he duly did.
One-nil might just have then been 2-0 as within a minute County were hit again by Adeloye whose pass to Ugwu ended with him dragging a poor effort wide!
Hmm……that was a let-off for sure, and more scruffy defending from the blues almost saw them leak one again- Blackman seeing his effort cleared after a disconcerting melee in front of Hinchliffe`s goal.
Hmm again….but I was pleased to see County shape up not long after those trauma`s – Mulhern, Osborne and Rodney combining to push their opponents into their last third. It began to have all the hallmarks of a raid that just might result in a goal, but instead …somehow…Frank`s header came back out off the woodwork.
County were getting back into shape thankfully, but their luck was still out as Jackson`s shot/cross fizzed across the face of Harry Palmer`s goal before flying out of play.
Have I said that Ebbsfleet like a rest? Well, they do and Adeloye just loves one, taking time out, with County attacking and half time not far off, to indulge himself to the ire of the Blue Army.
No foul…..no tackle was involved…simply a loathsome tactic adopted to disrupt County`s rhythm. So far it had worked, and when it didn`t the visitors had Harry to turn to, and he did the biz again to keep a Walker strike out smack on 45 minutes.
Into added time, County kept pegging away, Hinchliffe`s long ball causing Fleet issues. Rodney`s cross did not help the visitors either but a foul on TW sorted the problem temporarily, King beating the County Palmer to the subsequent free-kick to complete the escape, and send his team in, still 1-0 up at the break.
Almost immediately from the re-start County appeared in the mood to put matters right, as Tom Walker and Jackson combined seeing the latter`s shot fizz inches wide of the visitor’s goal.
Cue Frank….and he joined in again missing out by mere inches!
It continued apace, with Rodney now leading a County charge, but County`s luck was still out, Rodders` cross being put behind by Weston, and Frank putting his shot wide from the flag-kick.
With the blues pressing in numbers, inevitably Ebbsfleet would get a chance or two to reply, and just before the hour mark, Hinchliffe had to look sharp to block a run by Blackman. More problems came County`s way almost straight off as Weston scooted clear sending a cross in that took all County`s best work to clear.
Around the hour, JG acted bringing Sam Walker on for Tom, and Bell for Garratt – Bell narrowly failing to apply a finish to a free-kick beyond the back post.
The pressure was building now from County, Minihan winning a corner and Jackson so so close with a cross from the right flank.
Then it was Osborne in action forcing a corner, that the keeper bravely punched clear under big pressure.
On it went with the blues pushing on, but now thwarted ( much to the ire of the Cheadle End) by Obileye.
Eventually Ebbsfleet were able to break clear but Sutherland`s shot was nicely held by Hinchliffe.
But this did not last long before Harry Palmer was called to action again to deny first Rodney then Osborne with decent saves.
Rodney soon gave way to Thomas as the wave of blue attacks kept coming Harry Palmer`s way, his teammates responding well to the challenge- King and Cordner keeping strikes from Keane and Osborne out.
Bell looked to be in at one point, but having reached the byline inside the box, he failed to test the keeper with a poor shot, which was disappointing because old Harry looked under the cosh and vulnerable.
On…on…it went…Frank going close……Cordner doing well to send the ball up the park to Adeloye, but his worst instincts again took over – his fall to earth failing to gain him the free-kick that no-one bar himself felt he deserved.
A free-kick saw County up the park with intent, and apparently on level terms as Bell`s run to the by-line and pull back enabled Osborne to shoot home. But……..the County joy was short-lived as the effort was ruled out for possibly offside or maybe not…the upshot being that it was still 0-1.
More heroics followed from Harry Palmer to stop Mulhern from getting that equaliser, the save with 3 minutes left one of the keepers best of the afternoon!
Almost on 90 minutes, it was irritating to see Adeloye in rest mode once more, and only slightly better to see him join Blackman in the ref`s book for time-wasting.
Again Ebbsfleet`s tactic, irritating as it was, looked to be declaring a nefarious dividend, and then it got its fulsome comeuppance, as Osborne`s run towards the box was halted by a foul.
It was way out towards the Danny Stand, almost under its roof, but I found myself scribbling `right in Walker territory`. And it was ….. no one else would go for it, but Sam had done the deed a couple of times from almost the exact spot, and he was shaping up to do just that again!
It is ridiculous to say that there was an air of inevitability about it as Walker took the kick, but there was…and the most beautifully curling effort left the unfortunate keeper a floundering, if heroic, figure. The ball was in the net…the match was levelled and Ebbsfleet had got what their tactics had deserved- the loss of 2 points at the death!
County`s never say die determination and superior fitness sent the big crowd home happy, and JG similarly minded I guess, his team having managed 7 points from 3 testing games.
See you Tuesday then!
Stockport County line up:-
Hinchliffe, Minihan, Palmer, Arthur, Garratt ( Bell 58), Keane, Osborne, T Walker (S Walker 58), Mulhern, Rodney ( Thomas 72), Jackson.
Subs not used : Ormson, Turnbull.
Ebbsfeet United line up:-
Palmer, King, Obileye, Ugwu, Weston, Grimes ( Blackman 21), Sutherland, Ekpiteta ( Cordner 45), Reid ( Egan 68), Payne, Adeloye.
Subs not used : Wilson, Holmes.
Attendance : 4167 ( 97)