[Written By Ian Brown]
County were exceedingly unfortunate not to progress to Round 3 of the FA Cup at the Hive today, as National Premier side Barnet just about held on to a 1-0 lead that they snatched early doors, in the face of a veritable blizzard of attacking football from James Gannon’s Cheshire Heroes after the break!
The Barnet goal was executed well enough, with Sparkes heading home a right wing cross pretty much unchallenged, but that last element was totally central to the goal and County’s fate ultimately, as Palmer was off the field at the time receiving treatment. Had that not been the case a whole different scenario would have played out before the eyes of a magnificent County following that filled the away end and filled the air all afternoon with loud support for their team.
There were probably around 1800 County fans in attendance, an invasion that the City of London has not witnessed since Boudicca’s army laid waste to the capitol in AD61. It seemed like half of Stockport made it to the Hive to cheer their team to a famous victory which sadly fate denied them.
Also central to County’s demise was Scott Duxbury’s absence. JG sorted this by bringing Minihan in on the left wing back position. There was one other change that of Stephenson for Turnbull. Both changes played out well enough although the undeniably special qualities Scott brings to proceedings, despite valiant efforts by both Sam and Dazzer, were definitely missed.
Mulhern was preferred to Bell up front which was absolutely fine, but County’s main threat, throughout the game came largely down the right flank where Thomas again made short work of what cover the home back line put in his path. In fact more than once that cover was panicky and without the laws of the game, but the Blues were unable to prosper from a raft of free kicks in the second half particularly.
Referee Scott Oldham came late to the party as far as penalising what should be penalised is concerned, having opened with what I can only confirm as a ‘typically myopic first half hour or so’ in which County were pressurised with a series of dubious free kicks.
Mr Oldham has previous with ourselves and although today was by no means his worst showing handling County, that’s about all you can say in mitigation.
As early as the fifth minute it started as the referee teed Barnet up with the chance of an opener with a free kick smack in front. This was as choice an early Xmas gift as a well-rested National Premier side could reasonably dream of, but somehow Dan Sparkes did not hit the target with his kick.
County replied through Thomas whose run and Cowan’s assist en-route, set Osborne up for a shot that whistled just wide.
That was a good response, but Palmer and Harrison had come together, and whist both received treatment only Palmer went off, coming back with a new shirt and a head swathed in blood stained bandages.
In the interim, with Palmer still off the park, Barnet cashed in big time, as Alexander’s cross from the by-line was headed home at the back post by the previously profligate Sparkes.
Seven minutes gone…one down…not the start that we had craved, but I felt no real nervousness, as we had shown our metal at Yeovil and come back from 1-0 down there, and Mulhern was inches from applying a finish to Osborne’s good work.
And furthermore, Thomas was beavering away at the home back line, drawing a series of fouls as baffled defenders struggled in his wake. Walker took the latest kick, and Keane turned this into a corner with some tenacious work, only for Mark Cousins to emerge with the ball and stop County’s gallop.
Another Thomas run, another foul as he takes an elbow not long after, but again nothing came of the free kick and it stayed 1-0.
County pegged away at the Barnet defences – Cousins saving well from Walker and Thomas, and Palmer unlucky not to finish off Stephenson’s good work down the left.
Meanwhile Harrison, a gangling beanpole of a forward, was busy going through his vaudevillian routines – first he fell down with no County white shirt in the vicinity (even Mr Oldham probably laughed at that one), then after Hinchliffe had made a crucial stop he decided, but briefly it must be admitted, to take his handbag to Hinchliffe.
If that was irritating, Walker provided us with the perfect counterpoint next bringing the ball out of defence in great style to push Barnet back.
Nothing came of the attack, and a loose ball thereafter put County under pressure, but again County offered their supporters (who were still belting out the support loud and long) reason to hope, as again defence turned into attack, this time via Mulhern. It really did look promising this, but Mulhern’s pass to the overlapping Thomas had too much oomph about it, and any chance was gone.
Minihan, in tandem with Stephenson, kept the County momentum going, but the support arriving from team mates was not of great quality, and the move was halted.
The pressure on County looked about to tell, with 3 minutes left before half time, and Hinchliffe did brilliantly to make the save and deny Fonguck. The knock that Ben received sorting that action saw him needing treatment, but thankfully Ian Ormson (who was hurriedly called on to warm up) was not needed and Hinchliffe resumed as good as new.
The last 2 or 3 minutes and added time were a procession of County attacks. Alexander doing well to block a Stephenson run… then Minihan tore into the home back line forcing Dan Sweeney into a most hurried clearance. It was affective though, except the ball just came back via the foot of Walker making Sparkes’ headlong diving clearance all the more vital for his team.
Add two more incisive late runs by Stephenson, both thwarted by 2 Cousins saves, and that was it for the first half.
I had not seen anything in that half to suggest other than that County had a good chance of turning this around in the second half. We would see!
The second half opened with no changes in either teams line ups, but with a welter of attacking from County spearheaded down the right by Thomas. Inevitably the fouls ensued, as did the County free kicks, but without making the much sought after breakthrough.
Stephenson was in good nick down the left also, and Mulhern came close to adding something of note to his and Thomas’s crosses.
A fine save by Hinchliffe, who pushed a shot from Sparkes over the bar at the last gasp, only left me fulminating with rage after Johnson’s run to set this up had seen him take the ball out of play (the barman in the stand side bar actually asked for his order -it was that obvious) and in again with no sanction applied – that was beyond annoying! But it was still mainly County on the offensive, and Cousins did well to deny him 10 minutes into the second half.
Thomas and Osborne went close after this, and Thomas had a penalty appeal turned down (I would have given it if you are wondering).
The pressure was building on Barnet, so much so that a series of fouls by Alexander on Stephenson saw him booked. Still it was all County… but not quite all as Hinchliffe was again called on to push Josh Walker’s shot over the bar on the break.
Walker was subbed after that, as County resumed the onslaught on the home goal. Cowans’ shot blocked by Cousins……ditto Stephenson, as corners and throws pinned the Bees back. Mulhern ended the period seeing a shot go narrowly wide with the keeper in all kinds of difficulties dealing with a cross from Osborne.
Warburton came on for Osborne with just over 20 minutes left, as almost constant County attacks were met with the odd raid from Barnet in response that told us to keep the back door firmly bolted, but County were largely doing that and Palmer, still swathed in blood stained bandages, was covering everything everywhere, and managing to get forward too.
Thomas was unlucky not to get a corner next, thanks to the liner to my left, but not as unlucky perhaps as the cameraman to my right into whom Thomas sped at speed!
It went on… County doing their utmost to nick the equaliser they so richly deserved, and an occasional response coming back from the Bees requiring swift action from Hinchliffe. Another break by Barnet seeing a shot by Robson dealt with in top notch fashion by the County keeper.
We were into the last 10 minutes now, and Warburton had just seen his shot saved by Cousins,and Palmer watched as his header drifted inches wide. Stott was taking time out from defensive duties to push on and only a very irksome free kick stopped the rot for the Bees as Stott powered into the box.
A couple of late County personnel changes.. with 7 minutes left (Bell for Minihan / Dimaio for Keane) were both attack minded moves, and Dimaio almost scored straight off, Cousins making the save from yet another Thomas cross.
It began to look like a lost cause now as attack after County attack either went close or was nullified by a free kick to our hosts.
The time wasting multiplied from Barnet into added time, without reducing the volume or intensity of the County attacks, or the wall of sound emanating from 1800 voices behind Cousins goal.
County fought to the last gasp, but it was not to be, but everyone associated with this Cup run deserves massive credit… players……staff… fans… board.
We have made a bob or two from this, so hopefully this will go towards aiding James’ promotion push.
Back to National North action now, with Chester`s visit to Edgeley Park on Saturday.
See you all there !
Barnet line up:
Cousins, Alexander, Johnson, Reynolds, Robson, Harrison( Duku 80), Sparkes , Taylor, Fonguck ( Adams 69), Walker ( Elito 59), Sweeney.
Subs not used: Matrevics, Coulthirst, Mason- Clark, Bettamer.
Stockport County line up:
Hinchliffe, Cowan , Palmer, Stott, Minihan ( Bell 82), Keane Dimaio 83), Walker, Thomas, Mulhern, Osborne ( Warburton 68), Stephenson.
Subs not used : Ormson, Turnbull, Downing, Robinson.