It was very much a case of ` strike two` as far as Stockport County were concerned last night, as a visit to the hospitable Stockport Sports Village saw them rack up their second pre- season win in two with a comprehensive 6-0 victory over hosts Stockport Town.
A decent crowd of well over 300, which included a group of coaches from China, spread themselves around the ground for what turned out to be an interesting ,if slightly one sided, encounter twixt these near neighbours.
It took County just 3 minutes to surge into the lead via a fine goal from the impressive Frank Mulhern, and they pressed on to take a 4-0 lead in with them at the break, thanks to further strikes from Turnbull, Warburton and Stephenson, who also had a goal disallowed.
The second half gave James Gannon another opportunity to run a rule over his youngsters and a couple of others. The ` others` happily included Kallum Mantack. It was good to see him back, after the appalling injuries that wrecked his progress last season whilst engaged in a most productive loan period with ourselves.
Kallum played wide right and showed up to good effect at both ends of the park, but the changes in the County personnel after the interval, saw Town’s confidence climb somewhat as Hurst, Hanson and Skelton did everything they could to force their team back into the game.
Their efforts were exemplary but, with the re-introduction of Turnbull and Cowan ,with 20 minutes left, County took a grip again and added further goals from Sam Walker( who again convinced me of his claims not to be overlooked) and Nyal Bell who did well adding an assist to his well struck goal.
Stand out performer then for me…..again….was Frank Mulhern. Frank looks the real deal in every respect…lively and inventive in possession and much the same out of it- his willingness to track back and link with Duxbury and others being a stand out feature of his game along of course with his lethal focus near goal.
Much else impresses me about the team that JG has put together, and the 11 that started last night are widely being assumed to be his preferred starting line-up, but there is a way to go before the season starts and , twice now, Sam Walker has chipped in with performances that flag up a welcome return to his best, so I hope he gets more than the odd look in as we go forward, under Paul Turnbull’s captaincy.
Back to 8pm then as the sun belted down on all present as the game got underway with County immediately in possession and looking for a goal.
For Town, I was happy to see Sajjad El Hassan in their line up- a player I think can go places, but Town were under early pressure and Fester Arthur , at the heart of the Town defence, did brave work for the Woodley based side, with his team under the cosh and quickly deeper in the mire as one of a welter of free kicks, conceded in extremis, gave County the lead that they were after.
Adam Thomas’s delivery from said kick was immaculate in the extreme, and Ash Palmer met it with a firm header at the back post sending the ball across the face of goal to where Mulhern was able to make it 1-0 with no fuss at all.
County’s pace and strength down the flanks was giving Town great problems, whether it be via Duxbury and Stephenson ( left) or Minihan and Thomas on the other wing. But a threat through the middle was present too, and a neat one/two twixt Warburton and Mulhern , executed at a pace that was as impressive as it was difficult to handle, took a belter from Lady Luck’s handbag as the score stayed at 1-0.
Mulhern was there again, this time linking with Duxbury , and it took the combined talents of Jordan Peach and Fester Arthur to somehow snuff this one out.
Ten minutes had gone by, when Warburton just missed out, after Thomas had headed a Stephenson cross his way….and thirteen when Mulhern thought that he might have scored , but hadn`t, his shot just carrying the bar after he had stolen possession from nothing .
The fifteenth minute saw County double their advantage, and it started with Warburton’s run and pull back from the by-line. Mulhern ushered the pill on to where Turnbull made it 2 goals in two with an emphatic finish from close in.
That goal seemed to enliven County and Turnbull was disappointed to be denied by keeper Dane Smith at the near post after a run that took the County skipper to the by-line.
County were well worth the 2-0 lead , but another minute on and they had added to it . Holt had just saved his side with a goal line clearance from Thomas`s corner, when County came back at Town through Warburton who, cutting in from the left, gave Smith no chance with a lovely finish.
It was looking like being a rout now as County piled forward onto the attack, as County scored again 3 minutes later. Mulhern started it with some brilliant play down the right that turned the Town cover inside out. A cross , delivered low and with pace, was met by Stephenson who turned the ball into the net to make it 4-0.
It went on….Keane wasting one chance by lifting the ball high and wide with Smith exposed……Mulhern unlucky as a lob from him just carried the bar after good work by Palmer had stopped a rare Town raid at the other end of the park.
Palmer joined in the search for a fifth with a decent effort, but Smith did well to keep it out. The keeper could do nothing with half time almost on us as Warburton let another belter go, but the ball came back off the woodwork and it stayed at 4-0 as the teams went in for a welcome break.
County fielded a fresh 11 for the re-start with just Hinchliffe, Keane and Palmer retained in an 11 that looked thus:- Hinchliffe, Mantack, Downing, Keane, Palmer, Walker, Whittle, Kirby, Bell, Etches and Czubik.
I have mentioned Mantack above, but it was also good to see Jake Kirby, who when his fitness is sorted should be very good for County this term. He looked to have filled out considerably from when he was with us last. There was the added interest of the inclusion now of a clutch of County`s young pros – I was looking forward to the next 45 minutes!
It was soon notable that Town were anxious to get back into the game, and Jonny Hurst forced a good diving save from Hinchliffe 7 minutes into a half which so far was proving more of an equal tussle.
That said ,Kirby had gone close early on , and was only stopped , 10 minutes in, by a foul just outside the box as Mantack turned defence into attack pinging a pass in that gave Town problems. Keane hit the wall with his free kick, and Smith was able to snaffle the cross when push came to pull thereafter.
Hurst looked dismayed to be flagged offside 2 minutes later having worked himself some space nicely, and County found themselves defending more and more …..Hinchliffe saving again from Hanson , and Downing doing well to stop Hurst as he made another determined run into space.
Beyond the hour , the score was still 4-0 as Town continued to look for a goal.
It was a long time coming, and meanwhile County would have rather liked another themselves ,none more so than Szymon Czubik who was twice unlucky on the break- the second time combining nicely with Adam Etches to apply a finish to Sam Walkers immaculate through ball. Their luck was out, as was Etches’ again moments later – his speedy run not getting the corner it deserved from the far side liner.
County did get a corner next through good work by Mantack, but nothing in the way of a fifth goal, and there was no one in front of goal to apply the necessary finish when Mantack repeated the medicine not long after.
Something was needed to curb the home sides enthusiasm , and with 20 minutes left JG acted by swapping Turnbull and Cowan for Keane and Palmer who had both done a decent shift.
Town were racking the corners up but the quality of same was decidedly lacking and County dealt with them without undue issue.
Gradually though County started to impose themselves again going close to a fifth thanks to more good work from Mantack.
The 75th minute brought County the much sought after fifth goal, and it was a belter too ! Started by Bell who did excellent work before releasing the ball to Walker who simply smashed it home from the edge of the box. It was a brilliant strike, not done justice by this photo but it perhaps gives an idea of the moment.
Credit to Town – they came back at County straight off, but their efforts were nullified by terrific defending from Walker who was again showing up well!
Mottram fired over the top for Town, and that was more of less the end of the valiant resistance from them as County looked for another.
It came with 4 minutes left to play, and from Nyal Bell who capped a decent showing with what was a fine strike. Receiving the ball outside the box…..Bell took it a couple of paces forward before unleashing a drive that Smith in the Town goal looked to have covered. Smith did get both hands to it, but just could not hold it and the ball went on its way into the net .
Six nil then….and to make my earlier remarks look silly, Skelton went close for Town in the game’s dying embers.
The end was not long coming and County had put to bed another decent pre-season run out.
More on Saturday…..3 oclock at Ewen Fields …see you all there then !
Stockport Town line up’s:-
First Half: Smith, Wallis, Dean, Peach, Arthur, Greenfield, McConnell, Holt, Hurst, Lofthouse, El Hassan.
Second Half : Smith, Millington, Robinson, Samms, Whitty, Tucker, Skelton, Hanson, Hurst( Salmon- Harris 75), Foley, Mottram.
Substitutes: Salmon- Harris, Hosieh, Machado Le Gal, Crick, Simpson.
Stockport County line up’s:-
First Half: Hinchliffe, Minihan , Keane, Palmer, Cowan, Duxbury, Thomas, Turnbull, Mulhern, Warburton, Stephenson.
Second Half :- Hinchliffe, Mantack, Downing, Keane ( Turn bull 70), Palmer ( Cowan 70), Walker, Whittle, Kirby, Bell, Etches, Czubik.