[ Written By Ian Brown ]
County served up a treat for their travelling support last night, making light of the challenge from Ashton United at Hurst Cross with a scintillating 6-0 win.
It was yet another well crafted team showing from James Gannon’s boys…..so full of energy and ideas up front where Thomas had a terrific night before being substituted early in the second half. He was not alone either – if Mulhern and Turnbull deserved their goals, Warburton probably deserved 3 or 4, and Kirby was probably disappointed not getting a hat-trick having to settle for a brace with Warby.
The forwards were regularly joined by the excellent Scott Duxbury who on another night might have notched a couple himself, whilst the spine of the County effort had the imperious Paul Turnbull at its hub, and he was simply immense, controlling everything that moved all evening, in the manner of a nineteen fifties copper dealing with a cheeky kid. I particularly liked Jordan Keane’s input too, as he again showed his value at both ends of the park from the off.
ButI have singled out several now, and I really should not have done, as all 11 starters and subs were top performers on a night that simply nothing went wrong for the yellow shirted blues.
Ashton must have been demoralised.. already 3 down at half time, seeing the quality of County’s replacements who were summoned to duty thereafter. If Thomas going off offered them relief, Minihan as his substitute offered none, neither did Bell for Mulhern or Osborne for Warburton. The goals kept coming and the final margin did not flatter County at all, as they completed a brilliant night`s work with another immaculate clean sheet.
That takes us into the play-off positions at seventh spot in the division, and the manner of the performance augurs well for what is to come this season.
Back at 7 pm the rain was still bucketing down as the Flyer arrived in OL6, but with thoughts of another nightmare soaking in mind, it was a massive boost to see the rain cease (barring the occasional light sprinkling) almost immediately that the players came out to start the game.
There was no Sam Walker of course for County, sorted by Mr Cox’s supine stupidity on Saturday , but there was Bully installed in midfield , and a massive Blue and White
Army lining the four sides of this historic stadium.
Off we went, and my recent good opinion of Jordan Keane got an immediate boost as he pushed up the park in impressive style, forcing red shirts ever further back as he went. I was less impressed with his early foul on Liam Martin, but it was routine in nature and Jordan was to again go on to show a near perfect symmetry twixt ‘bites yer legs’ stuff and pleasingly construcive play.
Corners started to rack up for County almost straight off as Thomas tormented the left side of United’s defence with some typically incisive runs. Duxbury was in the mix too, and would build in confidence and impact steadily as the game went on. The second early corner came back out off the foot of the right hand post before Thomas volleyed wide after good work from Kirby.
That Kirby/Thomas combo looked interesting and again stretched the home defence shortly after. Twice from this Thomas earned applause, winning a corner, then forcing home keeper Liam Pilling to make a decent save.
It was good to see Cowan bedded in at RB, but ‘bedding in’ hardly covers it – he was up the park giving Thomas excellent support from the off.
It had been an impressive opening from County, but with no goals to show for the first 18 minutes, it was tempting, if depressing, to wonder if maybe Ashton would up their game and sneak one.
Josh Askew did see a shot cleared off the line around this time, but that was really the sum total of the response from the Lancashire side at this point, the action continued to play out at the other end where , with Duxbury and Thomas in impressive form, the corners piled up for County.
Ashton did put together a neat move, 20 minutes in, involving Askew, Martin and Matt Chadwick, but a sound tackle from Stott sorted this situation nicely, teeing a break for Mulhern who was unlucky to see his shot held onto by Pilling.
Credit to United, they were looking to make a game of this, but having won a corner 5 minutes later, they could not make it count, instead going behind as County hit them on the counter.
It started with Hinchliffe who leathered the pill up the park for Warburton to run onto. It looked promising did this, but the County forward’s run was abruptly curtailed by a poor challenge from Scott Kay. Referee Lewis Smith, who had a decent game, gave the free kick, and Warby did the rest sending a sweet, sweet drive way past Pilling’s groping arms into the net, to give County a deserved 1-0 lead.
This goal certainly boosted County’s mojo and, by this time, Duxbury was fairly flying down the left causing United no end of angst. A neat link up with Kirby promised much, and immediately delivered as Kirby took a return pass from Scott to rifle an unstoppable effort home!
Two up in 28 minutes was very good indeed, but 3 in 31 ?!
Yes.. County were looking in top nick now and Mulhern was running at the home back line with a real purpose when Jamie Jones discipline let him down when the pair reached the box, and he brought the County man down.
Again it was a no-brainer for Mr Smith and he got it right, pointing to the spot, from where Mulhern, having regained the vertical, slammed the ball home!
County kept the pressure on Ashton for the remainder of the half- Duxbury and Keane looking particularly good, a situation considerably helped by Turnbull’s total command of midfield.
Pilling had to dive to push a shot by Kirby around the post, with 5 minutes left of the half, and Warburton should have done better 2 minutes on from that, as Kirby slipped a neat ball to him following Mulhern`s surging run and neat pass. The shot was on but Warby`s radar wasn`t and the ball went a yard wide.
County ended the half with some lovely flowing football, unfortunately the finish ( twice) was not commensurate with the quality of the approach play – Warby lifting another effort over the bar, and Mulhern seeing Pilling hold his late header.
Into the second half, and it did not take long for Warburton to set things to rights – 3 minutes in fact, and it was 4-0 as Duxbury’s run opened things up for the County number 10, who slammed a fierce shot into the net.
Ashton looked shell shocked at this point, and it was not to improve greatly for them, as County claimed a fifth goal just 4 minutes later- again created by a powerful run from Duxbury, and an even better corner that picked Kirby out in front of goal, and it was 5-0 in a trice as Jake emphasised again the considerable good sense of James Gannon in sending him out to Warrington to get match fit, by beating Pilling with a fine strike!
Another 2 minutes and Minihan was on for Thomas, and within a further 2, Bell came on for Mulhern.
Ashton had also brought 2 subs on in that period and one of them, ex Hatter Ryan Crowther, was the recipient of more Duxbury brilliance as he showed the ball to his marker before imperiously running it past him. His shot on the end of all this was but inches away from the goal it richly deserved.
It went on -a Kirby/Bell link up ending with the latter miscuing a half chance away.. then another bit of excellence from Duxbury that saw him even more unlucky not to nick one!
County were rampant now, and their support in fulsome voice on the terraces and in the stand, as Warburton sent Bell in. Nyal’s shot took a deflection, and Bully’s corner from this seemed to be setting up a sixth for JG’s men when the far liner rescued our hosts with a cheery wave of his flag.
With 20 minutes left, Ashton came back into it somewhat, Hinchliffe making a comfortable save to deny Askew. A couple of corners followed some careful build up play from United, but invariably these led to a headlong dash back up to the other end where County had hit on the break – Kirby was disappointed to see his shot charged down from one such attack.
Warby left to an ovation, with 16 minutes left, Osborne coming on, and offering United absolutely no respite in his stead.
Ashton were still working to get something from the game, to their credit, but despite great efforts by Roberts and Askew, County defended their clean sheet like their very lives depended upon them doing so – great stuff!
The last 10 minutes, plus 2 of added time, saw County apply the cosh once again, with Minihan a constant irritant to home ambitions down the right. Pressed hard…Ashton eventually gave away the inevitable foul, and Pilling did well with 4 minutes left to emerge from a melee in the box from one such.
With just a minute left …a sixth finally did look on, as the neatest of County moves saw the ball land at the feet of Minihan in a central position just inside the box.
Chance? Yes, yes for sure.. but Minihan leaned back to send the ball heading off over the bar.
It would have been entirely understandable had anyone thought that 5-0 would be how it ended, and that would have been an excellent result. But no one had thought to explain this notion to Turnbull, or Osborne whose darting run saw him halted in the box by Jones last ditcher. There may have been thoughts of a penalty, although even I would have been hard pressed to justify that one, but such thoughts proved entirely superfluous, as the ball ran loose to where Bully pounced to thrash it home before joining the County fans in celebration behind the goal.
Another chance came and went in added time, as Bell was played clear and (clearly perhaps) offside, and that was that for what had been a simply excellent County display – only the celebrations remained, and the shortest and happiest of journeys home!
Catch you all at Alfreton then (but take your waterproofs)!
Ashton United line up:-
Pilling, Goulding, Jones, Chalmers, Kay, Regan, Roberts ( Hill 55), Askew, Chadwick ( Howarth 65), Martin ( Crowther 55), Tomsett.
Subs not used : Stead, Harris.
Stockport County line up:-
Hinchliffe, Cowan, Palmer, Stott, Duxbury, Keane, Turnbull, Thomas ( Minihan 54), Mulhern ( Bell 56), Warburton ( Osborne 74), Kirby.
Subs not used; Ormson, Stephenson.
Attendance : 830