[Writtten by Ian Bown]
Tension has been mounting this week, as I awaited the publication of Philomena Cunk’s ‘Encyclopedia of Everything’….. but I was still waiting come Saturday morning with imminent release still nothing more substantial than a rumour.
Now….I like much of PC’s output but it does tend to have something of the curates egg about it, and that was pretty much what County gave us today against struggling Nuneaton at Edgeley Park.
I struggled myself to nail the right adjective to describe County’s first half showing, at first thinking ‘insipid’ as they failed to test Nuneaton keeper Ross Etheridge once, but plumped eventually for ‘diabolical’ as at the other end they were somewhat fortunate to not have leaked more than one goal- far from impenetrable at the back…..punchless going forward.
After the break , whilst for a time matters improved as County upped the octane more than a touch, via Adam Thomas’s well hit equaliser, it took a penalty to get the blues a lead, which with their opponents reduced to ten as that second County goal went in, County could not hold onto.
Nuneaton’s troubles have been well documented recently and their sorry plight off the field has attracted almost universal sympathy from fans of all hues, and it must be said that if their future fortune depended on their team on the park, then they would be safe because this set of players had spirit to burn battling it out to the end, when they still fancied they could nick one.
They didn’t …..but the point they took from this game was well deserved!
I made Dior Angus Borough’s top man- a threat right up to the end, and Adam McGurk gets an honourable mention also, whilst for the blues Thomas probably deserved the sponsors M.O.M award.
What he didn’t deserve was the booing that accompanied the M.O.M announcement- diabolical is just not sufficiently strong an adjective to describe my contempt for this kind of response!
It was a quiet start to proceedings, the first real action came 5 minutes in with Borough keeper Etheridge in action with a routine catch after Minihan and Thomas had engineered a corner.
Two minutes later and a loose County pass saw them wading thigh deep in the brown stuff, as McGurk , assisted by Angus’s diversionary run, took advantage and headed off into the box. Stunned by the loss of possession, I awaited what I thought was the inevitable challenge from someone…anyone…in blue ….but one never came and the finish from Mc Gurk was excellent giving Hinchliffe no chance of reaching it, and his team a surprise lead!
That was a shock, but there was no time for an inquest on what went wrong as Hinchliffe had to pull out all the stops to keep a shot from Angus out, as a cross was pinged into the box from the right by James Weslowski.
This was not supposed to be on the menu today, and Minihan tried to return us to something we would regard as normality, with a typically gritty run, but his onward pass saw Thomas lean back before sending his shot into the empty Railway End.
Mulhern won a corner on 12 minutes, but this only served to give Etheridge catching practise again, County were just not attacking this type of situation with enough oomph at all.
Meanwhile…at the other end….Mc Gurk and Angus were showing the utmost seriousness and not a little intent, as the former looked on aghast to see Hinchliffe just able to keep the latter from his neat through ball.
We did look susceptible to the quick break, and just such a situation occurred again, with 21 minutes gone, Minihan robbing Angus at the last gasp after Duxbury had been dispossessed.
This was not great from County, but the 53 (true fans all) in the Away Block of the Pop Side were in a near frenzy to my right as another effort from Angus whizzed across the face of goal without either defender or forward getting a touch to it.
Nuneaton just kept running at County, Mc Gurk inches from reaching Theo Wharton with a neat ball inside the County box.
Something was needed in response from County, but Stott’s pass, on 30 minutes, saw Warburton’s shot go wide, and it was not long thereafter before a counter came from Nuneaton – Walker clearing off the line from a corner that had them at sixes and sevens trying to clear.
Thomas did get a shot in after this action, but without making Etheridge work, whereupon play switched ends, where an indiscretion from Duxbury put us under the cosh again via the resultant free kick. Having kept that out, County then had a corner to contend with, and were fortunate that the quality of the final ball from Borough did not match the approach play.
The 38th minute looked to be ushering in something good for County in the form of a free kick in a decently central position, but after much prep from Warburton and Walker, the free kick went tamely into the keeper`s arms which was a disappointment.
Two minutes later and it was case of déjà vu. A Stephenson run had induced the foul this time and the free kick was wide left, which ushered Duxbury in to take it. So far…so good…..but again the kick failed to make Etheridge work at all.
A clearance off the line by Thomas from Angus’s last effort of the half, and a late shot from Stott that climbed over the bar, and that was the first half put to bed.
When the game resumed after the break, Bell was now on for Warburton, I liked the thought of Bell and Mulhern up front, but would it square this particular circle for County?
Well…..first County had to avoid shipping another goal, and Hinchliffe did this saving with his legs with Angus bearing down on goal.
County survived that early second half scare, using it as a launch pad for a clutch of raids which brought them corners, but nothing else.
Bell did get a clattering from Curtis Obeng, that saw him laid out and receiving attention for a prolonged period, before he was able to re-join play again.
Angus meanwhile was still at it….making it to the by-line and requiring more good work from Hinchliffe to deny him.
With Duxbury probing energetically down the left, County had themselves a couple of corners in rapid order. They went close….twice…the second occasion seeing Etheridge in action keeping Palmer from getting a shot off.
The corners kept racking up now for County, and whilst Etheridge needed to make a decisive punch out under pressure from the second, a goal kept eluding the blues.
Then it didn’t………..as Stephenson burst inside before pinging a cross into the crowded box. Any number wanted it…..only Thomas reached it swivelling around whilst grounded to beat the keeper with a shot that brooked no argument.
County were level, and possibly fancied that matters might just go their way from here on out!
Well…yes….upping the pace of their attacks and the frequency, this began to look like the way things just might pan out, and the defending from Nuneaton started to get ever more last gasp desperate- Stott and Palmer unlucky not to score after good work by Mulhern and Walker.
It went on…Stephenson….Mulhern….shredding the visitors nerves with runs.
Those nerves looked decidedly shredded next as , with County queueing for a shot at goal from Thomas`s bravely fashioned cross, Obeng earned himself an early bath by handling the ball on the line.
That was a no brainer for the referee Andy Kitchen (who did OK for me), but what I also thought as being a no-brainer (namely that Mulhern would take the penalty) was anything but as Walker stepped up to take it drilling the ball beyond Etheridge into the net to put County 2-1 up.
With Nuneaton down to 10 things looked altogether better for County…didn’t they?
Err…well…possibly…but I looked right to see Hinchliffe having to work to keep a Nuneaton free kick out ,with just under 20 minutes to go.
County looked confident now, as the ball flowed twixt Stephenson, Mulhern and Bell, before Etheridge stopped the rot!
Stephenson and Mulhern were there again shortly after, winning a corner when they perhaps deserved better, but this ended unhappily for the blues as Osborne’s shot carried the angle of bar and post.
Then we got the rudest of awakenings from the ten of Nuneaton, as Wharton battled like a lion to earn his team a corner with barely 10 minutes left to play. County might….should have defended this but instead Miles Addison was able to force the ball home to send the away support into raptures as the score board showed County 2 Nuneaton 2.
County tried to forget the cruel reality of it all, and did their best to hit back via another Thomas run, but Etheridge did well to change direction and hold Stott’s late strike that took a deflection an route.
Dimaio came on for Thomas with just 4 minutes of normal time left, but despite an immense amount of effort from County nothing would now go right- Stephenson and Mulhern combining to set Walker up only to see the shot charged down in the crowded box.
We went into 4 added minutes watching in near horror as McGurk ran into the County box causing all manner of alarms, without actually nicking the winning goal that 2749 of the crowd feared!
Deep…..deeper we went into added time with County still pressing- getting shots off….having to settle for corners – Dimaio unlucky seeing one shot deflected inches wide, and Minihan just blocked by a desperate last gasper from substitute Devon Kelly-Evans.
That was that then.
Whilst our current unbeaten run continues on the back of this result, it remains a definite disappointment, one that we will be looking to County to put right this coming Tuesday, when they have the small matter of league leaders Chorley to contend with.
Will you be betting against a County win….I think not!
See you all then.
Stockport County line up:
Hinchliffe, Minihan, Palmer, Stott, Duxbury, Osborne, Walker, Thomas( Dimaio 86), Mulhern, Warburton( Bell 45) , Stephenson.
Subs not used: Ormson, Cowan, Keane.
Nuneaton Borough line up:
Etheridge, Obeng, Davies (Kelly-Davies 64), Calverley, Addison, Carter, Weslowski (Panayiotum 70), Richards, Mc Gurk, Angus, Wharton.
Subs not used; Basso, Benjamin, Andoh.