[ Written By Ian Brown ]
It just keeps getting better and better for Stockport County fans, who on the foulest night imaginable, turned out in numbers to see James Gannon’s team surge to 14 games unbeaten and joint top of the division, with a magnificent 3-2 victory against a cussedly unwatchable Southport side last night.
By all accounts Liam Watson’s side kicked lumps out of Darlo a day or so ago, and recently scored 5 against the then runaway leaders Chorley.
Well…. if all the aggression alluded to above was present, in a plethora of dubious tackles, they also made a concerted pitch for ‘curmudgeons of the season’ by refusing to kick the ball back to Hinchliffe after an uncontested bounce-up (the moron on the ball put it near the corner flag in County’s half!), adding obstructing the keeper (jumping in front of him) to all in all make it good to see the back of them circa 9.45.
As far as their goal scoring capability is concerned, inside 32 minutes , the visitors were 2 up……poor goals to concede from County’s view point…..one a free kick conceded near the box…the other a breakaway goal conceded as County pounded the visitors , whilst leaving the back gate open.
So……game over then, at that point?
No…..no….a thousand times no…. and County showed their magnificent metal by scoring in first half injury time. Keane did the deed, and a brilliant effort it was as well, and he was probably still smarting …..thinking of his earlier effort that had been disallowed for offside (would I have allowed it?- absolutely!), when he lashed the ball home.
No matter…a goal back at just that point was a crucial blow for the blues to strike, and within 7 minutes of the re-start, they struck again……twice….. taking a deserved lead via goals from Stephenson and Walker.
Stephenson was in excellent form and took the M.O.M award, but I was also struck by the superb play of Keane and Walker who bestrode the midfield unremittingly, inch perfect throughout and seemingly unable to let anything of consequence pass them.
I could also point to Minihan, an irresistible force from first minute to last…. and the danger emanating from Thomas, but in so doing I am remiss in not listing all 11 and the subs as well, as it is becoming obvious again that this County team IS a unit that is playing for each other , and none amongst their number is shirking their job – their work rate and unremitting intensity is simply fantastic!
Back at 7.45 , County were unchanged as the teams came out, Bell getting another shout ahead of Mulhern.
There was another big crowd awaiting them, including another excited throng of families with children on the Pop Side, who were to leave later still bubbling with what they had seen.
At 7.46 all that was yet to come, but there was excitement for sure, and Duxbury was providing it with a series of searing runs deep into the heart of the Sandgrounders territory. Once…twice…three times crosses pinged over from the left, and three times the visitors repelled boarders.
If it wasn’t pretty from Southport…..it was effective enough, although visiting keeper Dan Hanford took 2 go’s to sort another cross 4 minutes in.
“Oooh” came the cry of 115 voices in unison from the far end of the Pop Side, as the visitors won a corner, six minutes in. If this offered them an early chance, it soon disappeared in the shape of Darren Stephenson who snuffed the raid out……ran the ball from box to box, his shot then being partially blocked by Edwards, winning County a corner of their own.
County were full of running, and looked likely to open their account sooner rather than later, but the corner saw Minihan and Thomas battle manfully to get that hoped for opener, only to see Bell’s instinctive effort whizz a foot wide.
Everyone in blue was joining in – Walker seeing a shot charged down from Warburton’s pass, and Duxbury there once more with another danger filled ball into the heart of the visitors last third.
By the 15th minute the place was buzzing from 900 seconds of almost constant attacking from County, but the 16th saw some response from Southport, if not a very great one, as Wood lifted an inglorious effort high and wide.
But…they were rallying for sure, and we needed to be tight in our responses, but Thomas instead gave away a free kick just outside the box. It was at an angle, but Warby and Walker have scored barrow loads from there, and Richards made no mistake giving his team a shock lead.
The response from County was immediate, but despite the best work of Keane, Walker, Duxbury and a clutch of others there was nothing to show for it- save the sight of Hanford just managing to beat Bell to a loose ball.
Twenty eight minutes had gone by now, and we were to see an example of the one dimensional thuggery that was to be a feature of the Lancashire side’s play, as Parry went straight through Thomas near the right corner flag. It incensed the Cheadle End, but Aaron Jackson ( a referee with previous with us, and an inbuilt lenient streak where violent conduct is concerned) contented himself with a yellow for the lumpant miscreant.
Sadly ……there followed more angst as, the free kick came to nought as did a raft of efforts from the usual suspects in blue that deserved better. What we did not need was to concede a goal and that’s just what we did, as Archer beat Palmer on half way to dash clear ….into the box……..and slip the ball to Charless who doubled the Southport advantage!
Against the run of play or wot!
Well it mattered not….the fact was we were 0-2 down and staring an uphill battle square in the face.
County needed a break…..but the 30th minute saw the officials unite to ignore cries of “handball” from all bar 115 of those watching, as a Thomas header headed goalward from Walker’s free kick.
This was frustrating, but we were beyond the half hour now, and iffy tackles were flying in like popadoms at the Blue Nile – Morgan’s latest (on Walker) earning a yellow.
The free kick was a belter, and County’s repost to Southport’s indiscipline was magnificently total, as Keane met Thomas’s precise delivery with a diving header to make it 1-2!
Simply brilliant…..except the far side liner had his flag up and the goal was ruled out!
Amazingly this latest disappointment did not dim the County flame, and both Stephenson and Warburton went close, the latter stinging the keeper`s hands with his effort on 40 minutes.
It was a revelation…..everywhere I looked there was someone in blue running his tripes out, be it Walker, Keane, Duxbury , Minihan, or any one of 5 or 6 others, but half time was approaching and there was still no reward !
And…in reply…what did we get from Southport?
Nothing that they could be remotely proud of , for sure. Archer had just gone down deep in the County half, and received treatment following which the referee awarded an uncontested bounce-up, which Wood stepped up to lump to within inches of the corner flag , ignoring the accepted protocol (and presumably ignoring the refs instructions) . Kids at park level know better than this, and it was entirely appropriate that the hapless Lancastrians did not profit from their shame laden throw in.
Thankfully County kept their discipline (and integrity) intact, and deep in added time got there just reward in the shape of an excellent goal.
Started down the left with a Duxbury throw, the ball was played inside by Stephenson , eventually finishing up with Keane who , arriving at speed, despatched the pill netwards with ruthless efficiency!
What a pearler that was, and the old place went AS as a result, heading off for the break in just the right frame of mind with the score now a much more presentable 1-2.
The second half was into its first minute when Stephenson switched flanks to combine with Minihan and Thomas who saw a rasping drive kicked off the line by Wood.
Stephenson then saw Hanford hold his shot a minute later, and a further minute on brought the equaliser with that freshly minted Minihan / Stephenson combo declaring a dividend when Dazzer took Sam’s pass to leave the keeper helpless, and the score 2-2.
I was still buzzing from that one 3 or 4 minutes later when there was cause to buzz once again. The 3 or 4 minutes mentioned above where mainly occupied by the referee lining up County free kicks as Southport went through their sad repertoire of witless fouls.
The latest of these saw Duxbury hauled down , by Richards, when darting clear . The usual pre kick stuff followed …the Warby/ Walker conference after which Warby took it -the ball striking the hand of Wood at some point thereafter. This free kick was in a slightly better position, and Walker duly curled a terrific effort beyond Hanford`s despairing dive into the net!
Almost unbelievably it was 3-2 to County, who had come back from being seemingly dead.
The pattern did not change much after the goal….. the hour mark came and went with the fouls, from ‘Port’, still testing everyone’s patience.
Keane, with Walker, was driving the County forward push on with a keen eye on preventing a repeat of the second Southport goal, and it was good to see how well Baines was now acclimatised to life in SK3- getting forward nicely at times, seeing a header miss out 63 minutes in.
The Southport defending was desperate and at times decidedly iffy, but while it stayed at 3-2 they had a chance, and Stephenson went close to squaring that circle on 64 minutes, being inches away from reaching a Thomas cross.
Mulhern was now on for Bell , as County were called on to do some defending- Hinchliffe doing well to cut out a break by Archer, and Baines in action not long after sorting a similar brief skirmish.
There were 20 minutes left now and Southport were beginning to look to get forward, and Hinchliffe again did well to punch clear under pressure from a rare Southport free kick.
Then…. Southport went to sleep , ushering in thoughts of 4-2…..as Warburton looked to feast on the loosest of loose passes from the Sandgrounders. Warby had it…and then Mulhern, but someone in yellow managed to get a touch to Frank’s shot conceding a corner. This saw Homson-Smith excel for his team stopping Minihan’s surge from the flag kick and setting up a break.
Excellent defending saw off the threat from the break, and it was heart warming to see the likes of Mulhern back in the last third adding little bits and bobs to the defensive effort!
Osborne came on for Warburton with 10 minutes left , and he did well quickly helping sort another Southport free kick, turning defence into attack nicely against his former club- going close not long after with a snap shot.
With Turnbull on for Stephenson (cue ovation), County continued to look for a deciding fourth, whilst increasingly having to fend off Southport efforts to bombard them with aerial missiles.
That fourth for a second looked on as Mulhern went for a Thomas cross with 2 minutes remaining of play, but Astles ( chief pumper of high and hopeful one’s) did well to block Frank`s progress.
Four minutes of added time had just been announced when Keane did some brilliant work to snuff out a break by Gilchrist.
Up stepped Southport with time fast running out…..Astles lifting ’em up into the box….Palmer heading clear…..Wood getting up the park only to be thwarted by excellent defensive work from the redoubtable Thomas. Osborne joined the fray again to good effect and the inevitable Southport foul, as Minihan sought to run the ball clear, ended the County angst.
On….on it went…..high one’s still heading into the County box via the stratosphere- Baines to the fore this time dealing.
Osborne’s fresh legs were a boon in these dying moments of the game and eventually the Blues efforts paid off as Mr Jackson at last blew for time.
I really think these scribblings hardly do justice to what County laid before us last night, but I hope a flavour of how it was has come over.
A special night then…..another special night…..more to come I expect….be sure to be there!
[ Great photos yet again here! ]
Stockport County line up:-
Hinchliffe, Minihan, Palmer, Baines, Duxbury , Keane, Walker, Thomas, Bell ( Mulhern 66), Warburton ( Osborne 80), Stephenson ( Turnbull 87).
Subs not used: Ormson, Kirby.
Southport line up:-
Hanford, Richards, Parry ( Homson- Smith 58), Edwards, Astles, Platt, Morgan, Wood, Charles, Archer ( Gilchrist 86), Lacey ( Sampson 70).
Subs not used : Davies, Tibbetts.