County swept to a magnificent 3-1 win, last night, at Bower Fold the home of Tameside neighbours Stalybridge Celtic.
It was a terrific team performance backed up in immaculate fashion by Jim`s use of substitutes that not only preserved their 100% winning record, but also sent County soaring to the top of the National League North.
Man of the Match?
I would not dream of belittling this mighty TEAM performance by picking one, they were all magnificent, from keeper Ben Hinchliffe who made 3 or 4 really top saves at important times, through a reshuffled back line of Minihan, Clarke, Smalley and Ross who all made stand out contributions, through to the midfield and forwards who gave County a real threat throughout including substitutes Spencer and Amis who shone when beckoned on with the game still to be won.
The goals came from Meppen-Walter, on the stroke of half time, Marsden and Amis after the break.
They were all belting goals in their different ways, and whilst Marsden tops County`s scoring list with 2?..with the blues 7 goals so far ( from 2 games) coming via 6 different players, it is clear others have eyes on dislodging him from that top spot!
Back at 7.45 or thereabouts, I mainly thought that a difficult task lay ahead of James Gannon`s team against a Stalybridge side already with a win to its credit this season, and renowned as feisty performers on their own patch. This task would not be made any easier by Scott Duxbury`s absence ( dead leg, I was advised by Alan Gaskin).
In the event the switch of Ross to the left flank merely meant that he transferred his excellence to his new position , but we could not know this for certain as the game got underway with County playing in white with black shorts- a combination I like a lot!
The early action saw County occasionally probe the home defences via Lloyd and Marsden, but mostly the Hatters spent their time defending for the first 3 minutes or so and the re-shuffled County back line did it well particularly the central 2, Smalley and Clarke, who looked solid throughout.
The absence of Duxbury meant a welcome start for Saturday`s star goal scorer??extraordinary celebrator?..and interview wit, Gary Stopforth , and he was in the game quickly ,switching to the left to fire over a cross that had Stalybridge in difficulties until rescued by the far liners flag.
Odejayi received a none too legal buffeting as the ball headed his way?..but ?hey ho?.it was our hosts who got the free kick and some very welcome relief!
Both teams were cautiously probing the other in search of an opening, and the first came Celtic`s way. There was a touch of good fortune about it, in so far as the chance came via an intended clearance by the hard working Meppen-Walter that was unluckily charged down.
The ricochet that followed saw the ball at Jimmy Ball`s feet and he struck his shot hard and true towards goal. It was smack on target but so was Hinchliffe`s response as he tipped the ball over the bar at the last gasp to applause from the massive County following on three sides of the ground! The corner was cleared without hassle and all around me were happy.
Tony McMillan, a keeper I have a lot of time for, did well next ,stopping Lloyd reaching a neat ball from Stopforth, but the first 10 minutes ended with Celtic on the front foot through Ball who having been baulked first off by Smalley, returned with Andy Owens, putting him through nicely. Owens maybe should have done better?.but instead he lifted a poor shot high and wide.
If the best early chance fell to Celtic, the next one headed County`s way falling to Marsden when an attempted clearance was charged down.
McMillan was out of his goal and well stressed with Marsden looking on the score for a second or two. It did not materialise however and the home side`s angst was reduced when Matty Hughes found touch in a hurry!
That was disappointing but showed that our opponents were potentially vulnerable, but it was the County goal that came under threat next, this time via Kris Platt whose snap shot saw Hinchliffe in action again pushing the ball over the bar in spectacular fashion.
Two corners followed on from that action and any concern was ended with a neat cooperation by Smalley and Minihan that saw the ball cleared.
Both sides got free kicks at this point- Platt heading over from the one that came Celtic`s way. Whilst County`s set piece pushed their opponents back, Clarke did well to act quickly and snuff out a break by Owens as the County thrust ebbed away.
Gradually County started to get more of a grip on proceedings as Minihan stormed clear down the right. That raid was eventually repulsed, but another soon replaced it courtesy of Ross who sent Lloyd clear down the left. The cross was a good one and caused real concern to the home defence, but despite Marsden`s best efforts it stayed 0-0.
On it went with Hinchliffe in the perfect position to snaffle a dangerous cross with Ball interested, whilst County benefited from Minihan`s power that had Stalybridge at sixes and sevens.
A good moment seemed to be upon us when Odejayi got the whiff of goal, but he made contact with the keeper en-route and the overly fussy Referee, Mr Copeland, again penalised Big K.
So ?..30 minutes gone and it was still anyone`s game ( or so I had just scribbled) .
The following minutes maybe backed up that notion as Owens tried his best to discomfort County but found Smalley in top form in response.
This was followed by another save by Hinchliffe to deny Platt, then play switched again for Lloyd`s run to win us a corner.
It came to nothing unfortunately as Marsden was unceremoniously decked by Hughes, which earned him a card and a chat with Mr Copeland. The Referee however was rather quick to even things up by booking Smalley within a minute ,although the two situations were hardly similar.
Liam Hynes did his best to sort something for his team but his run foundered on coming in close proximity to Ross who was looking assured at left back, even getting forward a time or two.
Clarke stepped up next for County with just over 5 minutes left of the half, doing excellent work to prevent Owens latching onto a tasty through ball in the box.
Four minutes left and County pushed on via Marsden and Odejayi, the latter had a good position from which to shoot but the ball came back out off Dan Wisdom from Big K`s effort , and a rather ambitious effort by Meppen-Walter carried the bar whilst leaving him incapacitated for a while after.
A series of long throws and corners from Stalybridge filled the last few minutes of normal time which County largely spent defending, which they did in numbers and well.
The PA had just announced 2 added minutes, when the ball reached, a now fully recuperated Meppen-Walter. He was miles from goal?somewhere near the exit to the M67?when he latched onto the pill and leathered it goal ward.
It was a real snorter and did not rise or dip on its way past McMillan who realised too late what was about to happen. The net somehow remained fixed to its moorings, but it must have been a close run thing!
Yes?what a goal?and what a time to score it.
There was time for County to have a go at adding to the score, but it was not long before the Referee blew for half time with us nicely placed 1-0 up.
The early action in the second half was fairly sedate, Lloyd making most of the running for County- prompt action by McMillan thwarting the County wide man`s best effort in three during the first 10 minutes of the half.
Not long after County were gifted the goal chance of the night on a plate. Aaron Chalmers was the gift provider and a truly awful attempted clearance from him ended up at the feet of Odejayi a yard or so out with the goal gaping.
It should have gone in?..instead County`s number nine scuffed his shot well wide of the goal!
After that last disappointment, County had work to do at the back with Celtic frantically trying to square the circle and get back in the game.
County kept them out, but it was not long before JG acted to replace Odejayi with Amis, who quickly got into the game.
Celtic were still working at levelling things up, but with Clarke covering a break by Ball and a subsequent corner, things were looking fairly stable.
At this venue however?..it is dangerous to think you are safe or out of the woods and that is possibly what some in white thought next as no one challenged Ball as he drifted inside.
It was a fatal mistake as Ball, on reaching the edge of the box, let fly and the ball sped home to the dismay of the majority of the crowd of over 1600.
After this?.County did their best to respond, but Meppen-Walter`s eager shot carried the bar by a bit, and Hinchliffe was again in action pushing a shot from substitute Adam Farrell around the post. The corner that followed might have offered Celtic a chance to take a shock lead, but Hughes wasted it by dragging his shot well wide.
With 20 minutes to go Spencer replaced Lloyd , and there was an almost immediate upping of work rate from County thereafter that seemed to point to them being the fitter of the two sides.
Minihan and Stopforth typified the County approach, both running at speed at the opposition who did not look at all comfy as a result.
The ball went from the aforesaid duo to Spencer, who you might expect to be off the pace somewhat. Not a bit of it he did enough to see the ball inside to Marsden who looked up before slamming a nicely controlled drive home past McMillan`s dive.
Wow?that was excellent, and more followed with Spencer stretching his legs in improbable fashion down the left before bringing Stopforth and Marsden into play.
Somehow Celtic held out, but there was now a greater element of threat about County`s work which was refreshing, illustrated by another Spencer run, and good work from Montrose that set Marsden up for a strike that was unluckily deflected wide of goal.
Tackles were getting a touch tasty from Celtic at this point and Hynes was very lucky to escape censure for a poor challenge on Ross.
County were all over Celtic now and no amount of dubious tackling would suppress them, and it was disappointing to see Spencer lift his shot over the bar when well placed with 10 minutes left.
Amis meanwhile was proving a real handful for the home rear guard. He should perhaps have done better and get a finish off having worked to get keeper McMillan stranded way out of the box.
Instead, despite help from Minihan, Hughes was able to clear his lines and a third, game ending, County goal was prevented!
Not for long though?..and it was that man Spencer at the heart of it again- a great run by him capped brilliantly with a cross that invited Amis to put it away at the far edge of the box.
The young County capture from Northwich Victoria duly obliged ,diving forward to head home to the utter joy of all bar a couple of hundred Celtic fans.
It was 3-1 and surely `game over`?..Celtic kept trying, but there attacks were far from convincing, and carried little in the way of threat.
County might have increased their lead however, with 2 minutes left as Meppen-Walter , still working hard, found Spencer with a peach of a pass.
Spencer had a sight of goal and fired off a veritable whiz/bang , but the ex Hyde man`s radar was ever so slightly off and the ball fizzed its way over the bar keeping it at 3-1.
County were clearly going to win this one, it was just a case of by how many. Amis had two chances with added time ( 5 minutes) approaching- being penalised first off when again getting keeper McMillan into a tangle.
He was unlucky on that one, but more so almost straight away as he darted clear again seeing his shot come back out off the inside of the far post!
Bugger me?that was unlucky?and no mistake, but County kept at it, trying to increase their lead.
Amis`s runs were getting ever more dangerous as time passed, and he set Spencer up only for him to be thwarted by the quick responses of keeper McMillan.
Credit to Celtic?.they too kept trying, but it did not carry that much conviction and County were keeping the home sides attacks at bay fairly comfortably.
That said?..Mr Copeland did attempt to put a small damper on proceeding for us, ruling that Ross ( I think) climbed on Ball as the latest cloud hugger from Celtic headed into the County box.
It was a penalty, and bearing in mind the amount that kind of stuff that went unpunished at our place on Saturday this looked a particularly rich decision.
Would it make any difference? Was there enough time for a Celtic rally?
All these questions and more were rendered irrelevant as the kick went to Hinchliffe`s right where his dive allowed him to beat the ball out brilliantly.
That was justice for sure, and in short order the game was over and County had won and secured their place at the top of the league!
Well done all?an excellent team performance and I make no apology for repeating that!
The threat from the County team throughout was noticeably up on the recent past, and we weathered the game ,fitness wise, better as well which will stand us in good stead with another game on Friday and a busy 7-10 days still to come.
Great stuff then?.see you all at FCUM!
[ Lovin’ the white / black / orange 3rd kit. Anyone else like the look of it? See here! ]
Stalybridge Celtic line up:
Mc Millan, Chalmers, Wisdom, Hughes, Ryan, Platt, Hynes, Ball, Owens( Mukendi 79), Bagshaw( Farrell 61), Pilkington( Sherlock 61).
Subs not used:
Stockport County line up:
Hinchliffe, Minihan, Clarke, Smalley, Ross, Meppen-Walter( Carney 94), Stopforth, Montrose, Odejayi( Amis 61),Marsden, Lloyd( Spencer 69).
Subs not used:
Stalybridge Celtic 1 County 3
County swept to a magnificent 3-1 win, last night, at Bower Fold the home of Tameside neighbours Stalybridge Celtic.