Date: 17th August 2017 at 9:44am
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I still cannot believe that County came away with precisely nowt from their encounter with media darlings Salford City at Moor Lane last night.

The newspapers and other media will record that the game ended 2-1 to Salford, but apart from the first thirty minutes of the game when County`s injury hit/ re-shuffled defence was still bedding in, County looked by far the better of the two teams.

County were without defensive kingpin Michael Clarke, who had sustained an injury following Saturday`s game, and although the new defensive line up( sometimes 4?.Minihan, Cowan, Smalley and Duxbury?.sometimes 3 with Minihan spinning clear and getting up the park) did well, by the time they had ironed out the understandable wrinkles , Salford had snatched a 2 goal lead which ultimately would prove decisive.

After the second ( a really fortunate effort that took the cruellest of deflections to take it out of Hinchliffe`s reach) County gave Salford rice in real quantity, and it took a whole series of desperate tackles on Salford`s part, to keep them out at times. Eventually they just couldn`t and the half closed with Hampson claiming the best goal of the game with a real corker from outside the box.

Unfortunately that`s where the scoring ended, and whilst County continued to press ,and in doing so looked the more composed and organised of the two teams, Salford??. marshalled coolly by Scott Burton, held on to leave with all the points.

Might we have done better? Well?..there were certainly areas where improvement was needed. The corners and free kicks were not good at all, particularly the latter which on occasions last night tended to be overly focused on invention rather than penetration. By way of contrast, City`s opener came from a free kick which usefully might not have been conceded, and perhaps the largest negative from County`s game was that despite looking at times well capable of doing something, they never really worked the Salford keeper at all, particularly in the second half when shots were missing the target by some distance not infrequently.

So?..that`s the `balance` out of the way, and donning my blue spectacles ,I opine that being without 2 key central defenders was not entirely irrelevant to County`s demise on this occasion- indeed Clarke`s absence was crucially central to the issue, and whilst County`s makeshift back line worked really hard, Clarke`s cool defensive nous was greatly missed.

The game got underway with County attacking the goal behind which the enormous County following were gathered, giving terrific?.loud support to their team throughout.

County came under immediate pressure as Jake Beesley and Ibou Touray probed in lively fashion down the flanks. The left wing seemed the flank of choice for Salford`s earliest attacks and Cowan clearly had his work cut out for him faced by Touray, but the winger by no means won all the battles.

Cowan`s first work of note came just a minute or so in, and from the opposite flank, from where Beesley pinged over a decent cross. Richie Allen was on the end of this, but so was Cowan and his header eased the County angst.

County replied through Stephenson, who looked full of running and distinctly lively in the first half, but Darren was promptly upended by the City captain Liam Hogan, ushering in the first of a veritable mountain of free kicks awarded to the blues by Mr Martin Woods the referee. Hampson and Warburton conferred over the kick, but the overly tricksy routine that followed the few words, saw Salford un-troubled and able to clear their lines, which was a real disappointment.

Salford came back at County next, and Hinchliffe did well to make the save from Anthony Dudley after Mike Phenix had worked the opening for the home side.

Barely four minutes had gone, and already it was developing into a really feisty affair( although, credit to both sides, it never boiled over into something unacceptable). Ex Hatter Carl Piergianni was in his usual combative mode and a game long tussle twixt him and Jason Oswell saw the duo almost sharing kits – locked together like conjoined twins. On the whole the exotically coiffured Piergianni probably won the battle, but over the season watch Jason?.he will win more of these than he will lose!

Back to the action, and County shipped a free kick, which was pinged in at pace from the right. It was a decent kick, but there did not seem to be any undue danger as the ball dipped on its way to the box, and there was a fair distance twixt the receiver ( the excellent Michael Nottingham) and goal , when the deftest of powerful diving headers from the City number 5 made it 1-0 to our hosts- the ball flying , out of Hinchliffe`s grasp into the net!

What a total bummer that was!

Oswell and Piergianni battled relentlessly after the goal, Oswell being joined by Warburton, Minihan and Stephenson , but there looked no way through Nottingham and company, and the next important action came at the County end where Hinchliffe had to look lively , saving a shot from Phenix as County struggled to defend a corner.

Just over 12 minutes had gone by now, and we needed a reply from County?something to warm keeper Crocombe`s fingers perhaps, but again Nottingham plied his trade with distinction, heading Warburton`s effort out as I winced pitch side.

Both sides went close next- Touray for Salford after Winter had lost possession, and Stephenson for the blues. Stephenson was particularly unlucky not to get through, or any redress when he didn`t as Hogan had fouled him in the box. Mr Woods thought differently, so no penalty?.no equaliser!

Again we saw Hinchliffe called into action, his latest save,18 minutes in, keeping Phenix out.

County replied again, but when Warburton latched onto Stephenson`s pass, he was brought down, only for the referee to wave play on! It is such rubbish moments which make viewing a match through the comforting haze of a skin full of alcohol an essential prerequisite for retaining one`s sanity, but as I was in no such a state, I could only wince once more!

That said?this was a fair old game we were watching and Salford again went close, this time via Beesley`s shot that whistled across goal after Allen had set the move up.

Another foul on Warburton brought another free kick, but not one that greatly troubled Crocombe. But the free kicks to County started to mount up?Piergianni fouling Oswell this time setting a flurry of County attacking up, not helped by another of those tricky kicks from Hampson/ Warburton. Notwithstanding that last comment, County had their opponents confined to their last third, and both Minihan and Stephenson had efforts kept out. In Minihan`s case a corner resulted?then another as Jimmy Ball`s effort hit Nottingham and went behind. This was really encouraging, but we then needed Minihan`s final volley to hit the net whereas it thudded into the boards inches wide to end City`s obvious pain.<<
That was disappointing, but more ensued in rapid order as Salford attacked down the left. Again there seemed minimal danger as Dudley ambled slowly into the box, bypassing a tackle here ?a block there. Even when he shot nothing looked on?..and then it did as the ball took a wicked deflection beating Hinchliffe`s attempts to keep it out, thus doubling the home side`s advantage!

County were stung by this and attacked Salford with a purpose in the next 15 minutes or so, the immediate attacking seeing a string of corners gnaw at the hosts (and my) nerves. Ball almost nicked one during this spell and but for Crocombe agility would have, the keeper diving to tip the ball over the bar at the very last gasp.

Ball was then felled unceremoniously, as the temperature continued to climb with Piergianni and Oswell`s ongoing battle still raging unremittingly.

This was fascinating stuff, but the disappointment factor was still high, with Warburton inches away with an effort that had the keeper diving frantically to attempt to keep it out.

Oswell headed over for County, and the long period of blue pressure was briefly halted when Touray forced another save from Hinchliffe, but with half time nearing County at last gave us a goal and it was a belter!

County had resumed offensive duties with Warburton, Duxbury and Minihan all denied by the packed ranks of Salford defenders , marshalled massively well by Nottingham. Minihan won a corner and again went close with an effort, and with Salford unable to clear their lines, County took full advantage at last, as Hampson lashed a pearler home from outside the box!

That was a fantastic effort and with County attacking with purpose, was I alone in thinking that an equaliser was the least that they might now achieve? Well in the few minutes left of the half, no equaliser came?several free kicks , but nothing more, and the sides went in at the break with County still 1-2 down.

Some of the edge, so apparent in the first 45, seemed to not be so evident as play resumed to the continued accompaniment of loud noise emanating from the away end .

Salford were the first to the fore but without great success- Touray`s shot on the turn failing to trouble Hinchliffe.

The reply from County found Burton emerging as a key figure for City, doing well to disrupt the County progress and then start a break, usually down the right where he looked for Phenix.

But County kept applying pressure and it was disappointing to see Winter lift a shot up and over the bar, with about 5 minutes of the half gone.

The pressure continued from County with Stephenson in the van of the action, passing nicely to Warburton who saw his shot blocked. Warburton and Stephenson continued their cooperation and Nottingham did well to keep latter from the former`s attempt to return the complement.

In the breaks between County attacks, Burton kept irritatingly nicking the ball and his latest annoyance saw him only just fail to earn Salford a third. Burton`s pass to Allen, seeing the resultant shot charged down by Minihan, and my irritation went on and on as Allen again profited from Burton`s work, only missing out due to Duxbury`s alert response.

A great block by Hampson stopped a dangerous break by Phenix next, and the County number 3 followed this by pushing Salford back on their heels with a run down the left.

A save by Hinchliffe, following a dubiously obtained free kick, after Beesley had fallen to earth as if dead ( the Warburton after shave again!), denied our hosts a third goal, the keeper emerging with the ball to applause from the large County following.

It was still possible to be optimistic- we just needed County to up the precision at the sharp end complementing all the cool build up play. We did not see that however?.we did see a huddle between Warburton, Ball, and Hampson over County`s latest free kick, but this again saw the ball miss the target and it remained 2-1 to the home side.

With both sides using their substitutes now , County kept trying for that equaliser?Warburton foiled by the keeper`s quick reactions, as was Winter trying to reach Matty`s deft flick on with just under 10 minutes left.

As I have said earlier?we needed more precision when it came to shooting, but what we got was a series of efforts lifted high over the terrace behind Crocombe`s goal . Winter had several such efforts , Brazel ( on as a sub for Cowan) had another, but they were by no means alone in this respect.

For their part, with County attacking almost relentlessly in the last minutes, Salford were content to find touch, and when they didn`t those shots from the blues kept on carrying the bar disappointingly.

A long blast of Mr Woods whistle eventually told us that the game was over and the points lost.

That was disappointing, but I am not allowing myself to get carried away with the angst of the situation.

We are only 4 games into the season and there is much to play for, and we do have the side to do it in my view, and most certainly the man for the job in JG, who given the rub of the green injury wise, I am sure will sort matters.

See you all at Leamington on Saturday!

[ Brilliant photos of County in their yellow away kit and Salford in their traditional Orange… sorry red (sad) can be found here! ]

Salford City line up:

Crocombe, Hogan, Piergianni, Burton, Nottingham, Maynard, Beesley, Allen( Selton 77), Phenix( McHale 90), Dudley( Redshaw 74), Touray.

Subs not used: Aghayere, Foulds.

Stockport County line up:

Hinchliffe, Cowan( Brazel 81), Hampson, Winter, Duxbury, Smalley, Minihan, Ball, Oswell, Warburton, Stephenson( West 79).

Subs not used: Ormson, Walker, Whitty.

Attendance: 2358



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