[ Written By Ian Brown ]
Six hours after the game finished the excitement….. and the raw overwhelming pride, in my team’s performance still lingers, keeping these old bones from going to bed!
I have just watched Stockport County of Vanarama National League North ( Division 6) thrash their opponents, Maidstone United of the National Premier (Division 5) comprehensively in Maidstone, to gain a place in the Semi Final of the FA Trophy.
In a season of scintillating County showings, this ranks not far away from the best of them, and County’s 3-0 win by no means flattered them..
Faced with time off difficulties for players with another job, and a need perhaps to rest some first teamers and stretch the legs of others pressing for a place in his promotion chasing side, JG turned out a team with 5 changes from Saturday – not the first eleven everyone would automatically plump for necessarily, but not the swingeing insult that Salford City aimed at Maidstone in the round before – its about respect man!
By way of contrast United went with pretty much their top picks and were even able to include top scorer Blair Turgott from half time when the score was then still 0-0.
It was 0-0 at that stage due to the form of Maidstone keeper Chris Lewington who shone like a beacon for the home side (apart from just after the hour mark when Nyal Bell rather spoilt the party for him) with a string of good saves.
It was disappointing to see the score still level at the break as County had pretty much pummelled their hosts from the off….Thomas and Kirby, aided by Cowan and Duxbury, feeding a bullish Frank Mulhern with masses of material to feed off, and feed off it he did, only the liners flag and some rank bad refereeing from Adrian Quelch kept him out.
But…after the break, 2 goals from Kirby and one via Keane, and the fantastic unselfish play of Bell, opened and closed the flood gates to ensure the 88 brave hearts from SK3, who came to support their team, went home happy.
All this was possible because of what was going on behind the attack for the Blues – it was impressive stuff!
First off JG went for Keane and Palmer in central defence, and they shut everything off at source. I have already mentioned Cowan and Duxbury who provided valuable assistance to Thomas and Kirby, but I have not yet touched on the contribution of Turnbull and Walker in midfield and they were immense giving United nothing at all…. all evening! Add Osborne in the number 10 roll and you begin to see Maidstone’s problem!
Of course there was also Hinchliffe, and he again showed his immense value, saving the only shot of any kind sent his way ( almost immediately following County’s first goal) in brilliant style.
Yet another fabulously impressive TEAM performance!
Having said that County dominated proceedings throughout, the game’s first attack came from the home side down the right and for a moment I wondered….just a moment….whether our hosts might just produce something to spoil our night, but I had forgotten the County work ethic and its chief enforcer (Paul Turnbull) and a suitable response saw the threat off.
That was that then as far as real threat was concerned from United as when Palmer’s head did not see off the latest high / hopeful ball from distance into the box, Keane’s did, and this was a wonderful platform from which to launch attacks, and that is just what the white shirted Blues did.
Kirby was unlucky early with a thrusting run through the middle, where Dan Wishart blocked his route to goal. Wishart was to work hard for his team in the next 40 minutes or so, and he needed to as County stepped on the gas appreciably.
Mulhern was in impish form – nicking the ball and heading off for goal- being flagged ‘offside’ for the first time 10 minutes in.
Undaunted…Frank kept at it, making it to the by-line twice in rapid succession – the soft centre of the home defence trembling as he approached.
You may think that I am just delving deep into my updated edition of ‘The Bumper Book of Footballing Hyperbole’, but I assure you I am not.
And down the flanks…if things were beginning to stir with Duxbury, down the right Maidstone just were not handling Thomas’s pace and determination at all- crosses pinging over from him and Cowan at regular intervals.
In response….United were happy to lump the ball out of play, but Frank caught them napping again on 20 minutes, darting clear in fine style. It was a real chance, until he was flagged ‘offside’ in the act of shooting. That looked a thoroughly stupid decision to me, but the referee trumped it with another lulu, waving a yellow at Frank for ‘kicking the ball away’- a nonsense of gargantuan proportions as Frank sent the ball smack into the keepers arms. The referee’s hair trigger when it came to trivial ‘offences’ was to be placed in sharp contrast to his approach when faced with violent conduct later.
A United free kick was summarily sorted by the County cover next, before County resumed the onslaught – Mulhern seeing a shot saved by Lewington.
If that was good from Lewington, his next work was excellent and he prevented Duxbury from opening the scoring pushing his dipping drive onto the bar, after Cowan had set the chance up.
Walker put the pressure on again via the resultant corner, and Thomas saw Lewington tip his shot over the bar with County circling the United box like hawks on a hunt, but somehow the home side survived intact.
The half hour mark saw Walker go close again, as he and Bully continued their glorious hegemony at the centre of operations, and Turnbull do likewise not long after.
To say that it was ‘one way traffic’ is to understate it big time….. if it were a boxing match…..etc ….etc…etc…..
Into the half’s last 10 minutes we went with Thomas still tearing into the job of totally eviscerating the United cover, but the estimable Wishart stood up to the task manfully and did exceptionally well to ..eventually….block the latest run from the County wing man.
The rest of the half continued as before… County pressing…. Osborne halted by a foul……Walker’s free kick from this just pushed around the post by Lewington, with a couple of minutes left.
Thomas fed Mulhern at the death… the shot clearing the bar, and that was the first half over, with score …unbelievably….still 0-0.
The re-start saw Bell on for Mulhern for County, and top scorer Turgott replace Muldoon for Maidstone.
The pattern remained the same……Thomas, in particular causing the Kentish side big issues – his run and cross setting Duxbury up for a shot that Lewington saved convincingly.
It continued….Walker / Duxbury and Kirby looking to do damage in concert with each other, but finding the keeper on his metal to deny them.
Lewington looked exposed however, 54 minutes in, as Osborne surged past his man to go clear, but again the offside flag was raised to thwart yet another County raid.
That was disappointing, and Maidstone just might have got a touch bullish, aided by the encouragement heading their way from the officials, as they won a couple of corners in rapid order, Aaron Davies doing well at one point to ping the ball back in the box, when County threatened to relieve the brief siege.
But United did not help themselves one bit, wasting a temptingly placed free kick around the hour mark- fair do’s though it was probably not so much United fluffing it as County making sure that they did.
The 62nd minute and it was Groundhog Day again as the liner burst a gut to raise his flag as Bell surged clear – the kindest response would be that this was a marginal decision, anyway the chance was gone, and we were dished again by a man in black.
Was Bell miffed at that one (I certainly was) as he was in action straight away thereafter heading clear down the right this time. Lewington came out to meet him only to be by-passed by Bell who looked altogether more tuned in than he had of late. In a flash Lewington was out of the equation…..and Bell could have gone for glory…except he did not …instead earning massive kudos by unselfishly slipping a slide rule pass across for Kirby to slam it home!
Brilliant…County were 1-0 up, and deservedly so!
Then …within a minute or so, at last, Maidstone gave Hinchliffe something to do, but when Phillips lashed his sides sole on target effort in on goal, Hinchliffe’s dive saw him push the ball to safety!
Normal Service resumed following that last action, but Thomas was unlucky to see the keeper again keep his effort out. That was his last contribution, as Minihan came on almost immediately to replace him.
Kirby meanwhile was buzzing following his goal, but disappointed as United found touch to keep an effort from him out with 20 minutes left.
Yes ….Kirby was a threat…he wanted that number 11 shirt all right, but Simon Walton had altogether different plans and ideas for him – planting an elbow in his face being his starter!
I looked for the obvious card as the prone Kirby eventually struggled to resume the vertical, but one did not come from Mr Quelch, or when he went right through Jake 3 or 4 minutes later- just a word, that’s all – useless…..totally useless, we are entitled to protection and do not get it with regularity at this level!
On it went …a gruesome black comedy with Walton carting another white shirted blue 74 minutes in- again to no response from the ref.
Walton was subbed a minute later, meanwhile Frank will miss the next game thanks to that refereeing hair trigger I spoke of earlier!
A neat Bell lay off enabled an Osborne shot, that just missed out, but the best effort for a while came next, from Walker, whose looping belter smacked into the cross bar with the keeper no-where.
Wow…that was excellent…..but unlucky. And we needed that luck to turn!
But….try as they might it stayed 1-0…..as County queued for a shot that never materialised from another neat bit of work from Bell.
More brilliance came via Duxbury and Walker, both of whom were thwarted by the keeper.
County were certainly looking to make the game safe, but it took until 6 minutes from the end for this particular circle to get squared, and Osborne started it with a neat low cross that enabled Kirby to fire home doubling his and his team’s tally!
We went into the last 5 minutes with eyebrows raised as the appalling Mr Quelch’s seriously skewed priorities saw him book Bell for ‘kicking the ball away’.
We also saw Hinchliffe in rare action getting to the ball before Phillips, after United had been allowed to continue after a rolling ball free kick- who was it said ‘rules is rules?’…obvious not Mr Quelch!
Credit to United they kept trying to make an impression on the County back line, but it was just not a goer at all, and eventually the last laugh was ours as Minihan forced a corner from nothing, which Walker pinged in for the advancing Jordan Keane to emphatically head home.
It was 3-0 and a fitting end to an excellent County performance.
The five hour journey back was a breeze.
To get some of that, be sure to be at Edgeley Park this Saturday for the top of the table clash with Spennymoor Town, and get there early!
Oh……and after that game SCAN have a presentation event for the current squad who have qualified for SCAN Certificates via the FA Cup.
It goes on after the game (until 7.30) in the Insider Suite, but the upshot is that I have been asked by SCAN to do the photographs thus the report will be later than usual….possibly later on Saturday…but more likely early Sunday.
[ Pictures from the game are here! ]
Maidstone United line up:-
Lewington, Davies, Powell, Paxman, Wishart, Cassidy, Walton ( L Donnellan 75), Muldoon (Turgott 45), Phillips, S Donnellan, Edobor ( Meredith 66).
Subs not used : Henry, Tingley.
Stockport County line up:-
Hinchliffe, Cowan, Palmer, Keane, Duxbury, Turnbull, Walker, Thomas, Mulhern ( Bell 45), Osborne, Kirby ( Stephenson 85).
Subs not used :- Ormson, Baines.