Date: 14th December 2014 at 9:51am
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Those amongst us patiently waiting for some promised celestial fireworks, with the imminent arrival of the Geminide Meteor Shower( due over the UK at 2 a.m.),would have been better advised to get themselves down to the Harry Williams Riverside Stadium, where County gave a more down to earth display of football fireworks in putting a hard working and not unimpressive Ramsbottom side to the sword.

It was a terrific performance from County faced by a Rams side that was decidedly ‘up for it’.

The back four were magnificent- every one of them, whilst in front of them Baker and Moses really produced the goods, competing for everything going for 90 minutes.

In Moses, County probably had the M.O.M, but having said that O`Halloran or any of his defensive colleagues might sensibly argue that they were worth a shout too, Glenn Belezika in particular who made a couple of goal line clearances along with a plethora of decisive blocks with Rams up and at County.

Up front County were in good shape too …taking an early lead via a Spencer penalty, and thereafter, with Sharp running and harrying forever, they shrugged off an injury that deprived them of Dennis, to score twice more through Gregson and Jordan Lazenbury and scorch their way into Round 2.

The final goal was just reward for Lazenbury who has performed consistently well in the Dev Squad whilst waiting patiently for this his first chance to shine at first team level!

For County, the result was very satisfying, and the manner of it even more so….as a desire to play neat and tidy football was subjugated by a pragmatic approach that eschewed error, shutting the on form Rams out with a thoroughly professional performance that brought huge warmth to their travelling support on a beast of a day that had seen rain….fog….sleet…hail, and snow blitz them relentlessly!

There were 4 County changes to the starting eleven at 3 o`clock…..Belezika, Moses, Lofthouse and Dennis coming in for Owens, Milligan, Stevenson and Churchman, as I peered through an almost impenetrable curtain of snowy drizzle into the bleak Lancashire scene, to see County kick off and quickly head for the Away End!

The initiative changed hands abruptly as first Phil Dean, and then Tom Williams took turns running at us through the murk.

The County back line, with Belezika and Gregson to the fore, dealt with the threats calmly, and with little hint of bother.

The first 2 or 3 minutes soon passed with the Rams looking lively and as interested as they had done the last time we ventured here before last season, but the fourth minute brought an even more abrupt change thanks to Chris Sharp whose energy and wit saw him fluster Cedric Krou into conceding a corner.

This was a crucial moment for, and after a Spencer header had crashed into the bar from the resultant kick, County had a penalty when the follow up shot thudded into a Ramsbottom arm in the box.

It was a nice moment, but a better one followed as Spencer`s kick gave Shenton no chance and County had a 1-0 lead!

Credit to Rams…they applied themselves straight away after the early set back, but Scott Burton found Gregson and then Hurst positioned perfectly to keep him out, and thus keep County`s lead intact.

County`s play however, seemed tailor made to the conditions and the opposition- no fancy danning…..just quick and decisive tackling allied to promptly delivered and largely accurate passing!

Sharp was in his element waiting up-field for scraps ,and some brilliant work by him set Baker up with a chance that saw Shenton pull off another save to thwart the County man.

Already it was shaping up to be a decent cup tie- with George Grayson doing enough one moment to stop a Spencer cross causing mayhem, ushering in a counter attack from our hosts that ended with Glenn Belezika heading clear on the line!

It was good end to end stuff was this, and Sharp tried to keep it going by steeling possession from Krou, only to see the flag stop the rot for the Rams , and thoroughly bemuse Sharp!

Just 12 minutes had gone now, and there was no let up in the pace of things as Shenton again had to make a diving save, a really good one, to push a Dennis shot around the post!

This was followed by more action involving Dennis, as this time he lifted his shot over the bar, after good work from the energetic Sharp had set him up.

This was the last we would see of Dennis however, as the 19th minute saw him replaced by Jordan Lazenbury, after taking a knock.

Perhaps buoyed by the sight of Dennis going off, Ramsbottom took the game to County once more- Spencer and Belezika earning plaudits for defensive work as the home side pressed for an equaliser.

Belezika kept it going as well and he did really well again to stop Dean who had slipped clear through the middle- a great saving tackle earning rich applause from the rather damp County following.

Play switched again though, with Lazenbury forcing a corner setting Lees and Gregson up for a fruitless attempt to double County`s lead!

Fruitless it might have been, but the pressure was still on County`s opponents, and more so when Gary Stopforth had to foul Sharp to stop him.

Another Sharp initiated decisive moment was upon us now as County had a free kick which Baker dispatched into the crowded box with a degree of aplomb!

I was reminded of those awful…harrowing films where yer`Wildebeast is suddenly up to its gills in water and being tugged under by one or more crocs!

Gregson did the croc bit to perfection…beating Lees to the ball as it bounced in the box, before hitting it home on the turn.

A really good strike that was, and County had a very tasty 2 goal lead now!

Again…after that 2nd goal, the game continued apace with both teams seemingly hungry for further goals.

Three times Grant Spencer ran at County, seeing first Gregson, then Belezika , then Gregson again on hand to deny him. Lees doing the same job on Grayson who looked determined to succeed.

County`s defensive nous was overflowing however , and the Stockport Spencer replied in kind going close a couple of times aided and abetted by Sharp.

We went into the last minute of the half with County defending, and O`Halloran did brilliant work to keep Williams out, as Burton sent him scurrying clear.

The Ramsbottom forward push continued however forcing Hurst into action punching clear under pressure.

I wondered about the validity of a shout of `handball` from the home specs at this point, in the build up, but overall, although I thought some of his decisions a tad odd, the referee was one of the better one`s I have seen this term!

There was time for another decent defensive header from, Belezika, who had been booked and was thus on a familiar tightrope, before the referee blew to end the first half.

Ramsbottom opened the second half on the front foot, and Belezika and O`Halloran had to work hard to see them off in this period- Hurst too…his quick reactions enabling him to advance and keep Williams , and then Jordan Hulme out.

A reply from County saw a neat cooperation between Sharp and Lazenbury founder with no one able to add a finish in front of Shenton`s goal.

Williams seemed in a position to pull one back for the Rams next only to spoil it by sending his shot screaming across goal and out of play.

All this time Moses and Baker were working hard in the County cause trying to make something from almost nothing- for Ramsbottom- Williams did likewise , but it looked now to be the case that both defences held sway and that was how it would remain, as O`Halloran ran through his repertoire of excellent things to do on the football field, each one drawing applause from his audience- those at the Away End anyway!

Hulme was working his socks off for Rams, and the Irish International was simply spoiling his day! Lees joined in with some excellence of his own ( one header right out of the top drawer) , and with Milligan on for Lofthouse late on, we were set fair for a grand stand finish!

Ramsbottom had not given up the fight though and it required diligence on the part of Belezika and Lees to keep it at 2-0 with the determined blue shirted rams in their faces!

It was stirring stuff….how many times in the past have we seen teams from lower down in the pyramid dish County? Well….. not this time…..not this team…..

…….and with 10 minutes left `this team` struck again, and once more Sharp had a hand in it, latching onto a throw to send a pin point cross into the box where Lazenbury sent a firm header home.

For a moment it looked like Shenton had kept it out, but he hadn`t and County had a 3-0 lead.

Play entered the last 5 or 6 minutes with Connor Hancock on for the excellent Moses, and he was soon in the thick of things involving himself fully in the area just in front of the back four- slotting in nicely at LB should O`Halloran charge up the park.

A great block from Connor saw Hulme off once again, and County`s lead intact at 3-0.

Milligan went close from a Lazenbury cross late on , but much of the last few minutes, and into added time ,was spent with County defending- O`Halloran denying substitute Jon Robinson……Belezika…..the Rams` Spencer, and O`Halloran and Gregson in the mix again thwarting every effort from the Lancastrian forwards.

There might have been a late/ late chance when Gregson was adjudged to have fouled Hulme, but there was no one in the box to apply a finish when the free kick pinged across, so 3-0 it was, and that was how it stayed until the end.

A good result, and one worth celebrating. Against a team from a lower division for sure, but a team playing well and working hard for 90 odd minutes, so credit where it`s due! Nice one County! Let`s look for a home tie in Round 2!

County line up:
Hurst, Belezika, Gregson, Lees, O`Halloran, Moses( Hancock 84), Baker, Lofthouse ( Milligan 76), Dennis ( Lazenbury 19),Spencer, Shar

Subs not used;
Ormson, Woolfe.

Ramsbottom United line up;
Shenton, Smalley, Grayson ( Robinson 60), Stopforth, Howson, Krou, Williams( Abadaki 76), Burton, Hulme, Spencer, Dean.

Subs not used;
Morley, Kuba-Kuba, Slaven.

Attendance: 907

To see the photos of the mist, rain and sleet during the game AND to read a bonus FA Trophy round up please click this LINK to be taken to Ian Brown’s ever excellent ‘All Things County’ site !

Ian Brown


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