[ Written By Ian Brown ]
What a pleasure……what an absolute pleasure!
Not only did County score late on and head off into a playoff position via another Ash Palmer cranial whiz-bang, but…at last…at long…long last, we had witnessed a game in which the referee did not use it as a platform for the exorcism of his own personal demons ( my take on what goes down with most of them).
Yes…………. the game was refereed immaculately today by Lloyd Wood who was spot on throughout!
This allowed County to do their work unhindered by unnecessary distractions, and with their backline marshalled to perfection by Palmer and Hogan, and the midfield engine well taken care of by Keano and Sam Walker who played particularly well, I thought, in this his 100th game in a County shirt, their energy and determination received the reward it deserved when Palmer`s header caressed the wet netting behind keeper Jordan Holmes` back!
Elsewhere for County, Lloyd again shone on the coldest of Kentish afternoons, once more deserving of rather more from the game than he got- no worries Danny will nick a good few and make a few more, and you all know it! Everyone else in white put in a shift too!
There were over 1000 inside the Kuflink Stadium which was looking a picture as the sun pretended to show an interest in proceedings as we arrived.
I had heard that the stadium had had a refurb and it had. The old main stand was still there, and pretty full, but a spanking new stand now stood opposite it.
What was immediately appealing was the fact that Ebbsfleet had elected to not segregate the crowd, a move I applaud loudly- I hope that their cash tills did good business – they deserve it, and it was simply terrific to glance to my right in the first half to see and hear two sets of fans, one County one Fleet loudly supporting their teams….under the same roof within inches of each other!
Let`s have more of this from clubs please- well done Ebbsfleet!
Jackson for Thomas was the only County change as the saintly Mr Wood set the game in motion with Fleet on the attack. John Goddard was prominent early on for our hosts, but despite getting forward and winning an early corner, Fleet could do no better.
It was not long before County replied, McAlinden seeing a shot blocked after much good work by Minihan and Osborne in the build-up.
Danny Lloyd showed next forcing a corner off Jack King, but this came to nothing allowing Jermain McGlashan to run the ball up the park. Unfortunately for County`s opponents he then ran out of ideas and the moment was gone- something of a recurring theme thereafter for Fleet.
If the weather was cold, the game was shaping up nicely and County underlined the `end to end` nature of it as Jackson`s forward run ended with Holmes beating out the shot that followed.
Beyond 10 minutes it went with Hinchliffe in action holding onto a routine effort from Goddard, who was to shoot wide within a minute of this- an indication that County had a game on their hands.
Meanwhile under the roof of the covered terrace behind me, I could hear both sets of supporters giving their best, and it really was very good stuff!
Things got a tad less agreeable next as Walker got a word or two from Referee Wood for a perceived indiscretion, that I did not clock. Ebbsfleet got a free-kick, and a modicum of encouragement as Josh Paine had a shot charged down by Hogan, and Gozie Ugwu saw his effort deflected for a corner.
Fleet flattered to deceive from this, Cowan eventually clearing his lines after Hinchliffe had punched out under pressure.
We were 20 minutes into the game now, and Fleet probably were shading the attacking, and during one such foray Ugwu went down in the box under pressure. I have seen referees react badly in similar circumstances, and the locals were on Mr Wood`s case loudly, but he waved penalty appeals away with reassuring assurance- fine refereeing!
Jackson and Lloyd then set about pressurizing the home defence, doing well, but Ben`s shot on the end of it was headed out by Lawrie Wilson.
Ugwu successfully won a free kick next, but again the delivery by Goddard had nothing threatening about it, and Osborne was able to work the ball clear without issue.
From this, County were able to put Fleet under some consistent pressure, Lloyd`s trickery particularly helpful in this respect. Keano was in there too insisting on keeping the attack going, the wave of attacks ending when Holmes clung onto Minihan`s shot firmly.
Again the game swung, with Josh Umerah in behind the County backline. But…..having done the hard bit, it all went a bit awry and Cowan was in there to clear as a result.
But ….the pressure came back on the white-shirted Blues, and Keane did really well to block Ugwu, denying him the room to get a shot off when it counted!
There then followed a period of County pressure that would not have been flattered by at least one goal.
Walker certainly deserved one, on 36 minutes, but his shot was pushed around the post by the diving keeper – County raining in shot after shot from the resultant corner with not one scintilla of good fortune!
It was still 0-0!
The County surge continued though- McAlinden unfortunate to see his shot charged down, and Walker more so as another screamer from him thundered into the crossbar with Holmes beaten. Multiple shots went close but not close enough, before the siege ended when Lloyd`s shot on the turn carried the bar.
Lloyd was then just kept from McAlinden`s pass in front of goal for County, Hogan doing the necessary at the other end to deny Ugwu underlining how even the game was still.
Ugwu went close shortly after, his angst continuing as he headed over from close in.
So….Fleet could have…..possibly should have done better but could County punish them for that?
We would see, but meanwhile, in what remained of the first half Osborne saw Holmes see a shot of his off confidently, and another Exocet from Walker was urgently hurried over the bar by the same player.
It was half time, and( cliché alert) there was all to play for in the next 45 minutes.
The game re-started with Jackson`s run and pass to Osborne, and a good parry by the keeper to keep the shot out, prior to it being run clear by Mc Glashan.
Hinchliffe had work to do not long after doing good work to deny Umerah.
The 48th minute saw Walker in with a shooting chance, but this one was caught by an impish wind and lifted over the bar.
Both sides had their moments following this, Walker and Lloyd the prime movers in much that emanated from County, but luck was in short supply.
Hurricane Herbert was now supplemented by some disagreeably unfathomable wet stuff ….was it rain…sleet….probably a mix of the two and it was being hurled down upon a resolute band of County supporters who remained on the open terrace, singing loudly and heroically!
I could just see through the gloom etc, that Hinchliffe had pulled off a decent stop to deny Goddard.
Soon we were beyond the hour and Turnbull was on for Osborne, Bell replacing McAlinden not long after.
The changes were worth a try, but Palmer had to work hard to block Ugwu. He conceded a corner which was cleared well enough, but Minihan`s shot after he had surged clear did not test Holmes and it stayed 0-0.
Lloyd looked altogether more menacing just 2 minutes later, but his surging run and pass inside to Walker received scant reward when he was penalised for not a great deal.
Umerah looked as aggrieved as Walker shortly after, the referee penalising him as he and Hogan clashed. I thought Hogan did well there!
Ebbsfleet continued to want the win that tempted both teams to risk all, but try as both Mc Glashan and Umerah did there was nothing down for them, and Mc Glashan rather blotted his copybook by wrecking a decent move by Umerah and Ugwu with a poor pass.
It went on…………Umerah seeing Hinchliffe positioned perfectly to keep his strike out, with just 12 minutes left, following this with the game`s second worse miss, as he dragged the poorest of shots wide leaving the home specs groaning in unison.
More attacking from Fleet saw Hinchliffe dive to push Ugwu`s header around the post, before claiming the incoming corner to increase the locals` angst.
With 10 minutes left Dimaio came on for Walker, as Holmes` hands were warmed by a wee stinger from Jackson.
That was but a taster as the County machine revved up a gear or two. Lloyd ignoring the worst the weather could hurl his way to force a corner!
That was a gigantic effort from Lloyd, and Palmer provided another, rising gloriously to head the ball home – first amongst a clutch of equals in white straining to do likewise!
That was exactly what was required and the sodden supporters behind the goal, on the windswept and rain lashed open terrace, hailed it loud and long….a fantastic County moment to savour!
But….could they hold on to what they had got?
They certainly had defending to do in the 5 minutes of added time to be played…5 minutes that saw keeper Holmes launching sundry clearances and free-kicks deep into County territory- free-kick launched……follow-up lifted again, but once…twice…3 times County met the challenge and found touch- eventually getting relief when Dimaio was fouled on the edge of the box.
And…had I done County disfavour in asking `could they hold on?`, because Lloyd and others continued to look to sniff out a late second goal.
Then……the game was almost done…dead, when the ball reached McGlashan in a prime shooting position. It had `chance` written all over it in bold letters, but he lifted a dreadful effort over the bar- the last act of a game now ended by Mr Wood`s whistle!
Loved that….Well done with knobs on County!
Ebbsfleet United line up:-
Holmes, King, Wilson, Ugwu, Goddard (Adeloye 68), Umerah, Grimes, Timlin, Payne ( Lawless 78), McGlashan, Mekki.
Subs not used : Blackman, Palmer, Ekpiteta.
Stockport County line up:-
Hinchliffe, Minihan, Palmer, Hogan, Cowan, Keane, Walker ( Dimaio 80), Osborne ( Turnbull 62), Jackson, McAlinden ( Bell 68), Lloyd.
Subs not used : Ormson, Arthur.