[ Written By Ian Brown ]
After all the emotion of the last couple of days and the entirely understandable outbreak of optimism amongst County supporters resulting from Mark Stott`s arrival hereabouts, and the unprecedented impact he has made in such a short time, it was perhaps a certainty that today`s game would have something of the anti-climax about it.
On the back of a resounding beating versus Dorking, and the fact that JG had had maybe a couple of days and one training session to bed 3 new signings in, I was not expecting too much pre-match – a narrow victory perhaps, at best, and no more.
It was a way removed from the `football fest` Dorking treated us to, just a few days ago, both sides largely cancelling the other out making for not too great a spectacle, both working hard but struggling to take control, without having too many clues as to just how to achieve that.
There was a terrific game long battle between Ben Wyatt for Sutton, and Adam Thomas, with honours pretty much even, and a decent showing for County at the back from Arthur, Turnbull in midfield, and Thomas up front, but there was little else for either set of supporters in the 5000+ crowd to get overly excited about on an afternoon that slowly morphed from pleasingly sunny to bone-chillingly cold.
I saw nothing really from any of the new County faces to get too enthused about, although of the 3 I thought that Clarke made the strongest impression, growing into the game strongly after coming under some pressure early on.
But, as I have indicated we need more than 2 days and 1 training session to assess the new recruits and change this, and we know JG has this in hand already don’t we!
There was a real buzz about the place circa 3 o`clock, with decent numbers populating all three stands currently in use.
County had all 3 of their new signings in the starting 11, and with Arthur and Osborne coming back it meant no start for Minihan, Sam Walker, Bell, Garratt or Jackson, so perhaps it was inevitable and understandable that it would take time for the chosen 11 to get going.
And that`s just about how it looked as the game got underway with the visitors pushing forward sustained by Harry Beautyman`s drive and enthusiasm, and the danger created down the right by David Ajiboye.
The early action saw County on the back foot as crosses pinged in from Ajiboye on one flank, and Wyatt on the other. For a time, things looked a tad iffy, but there was no panic at all from the blue backline that had Festus Arthur neatly embedded within it again, and looking solid.
It was the fifth minute before a reply came from County and it came via Thomas. Adam was cut off however, but a corner resulted and a neat dummy from Keane as this came over, deserved more than another flag-kick as reward. McAlinden took this only for Beautyman to head clear to the relief of the 95 United fans in the Pop Side.
Then Sutton hit back only for Bugiel to head over from Ajiboye`s cross, and Beautyman did no better, swivelling to face goal before lifting the ball over the top from another Ajiboye offering a couple of minutes later.
There was certainly plenty for County to think about, and Sutton continued to push on and seek an opening, that just did not materialise.
Eventually, County gave us evidence that they were alive and well- Thomas seeing his cross cleared by Beautyman, and Osborne doing better sending a rasping drive beyond anything keeper Nik Tzanev could produce in reply, missing the target by not very much at all.
Fifteen minutes had gone now, then 16…17, as Clarke cleared his lines following more mischief from Ajiboye, and Archer showed up for the first time with a run that raised hopes briefly but without producing a shot on goal. Sutton were defending well and with wily skills, hence County`s issues, none more so than Wyatt who although perhaps lucky to benefit from referee Aaron Jackson`s penchant for `chatting rather than booking` did enough twixt times to show his obvious worth to Matt Gray`s side.
County started to get forward more as the mid-point of the half neared, Archer winning a throw that saw Wyatt show us his less endearing side with a none too fussy challenge on Thomas. I wondered about a card, but it was plain that Mr J had done no such thing, a soothing chat would suffice. We maybe should have extracted our punishment via the free-kick that followed, but Tzanev did well to save Mc Alinden`s kick and the corner that followed on from it.
Thomas and Osborne then continue to turn the screw on United, but yet another County corner saw the visitors survive with reasonable comfort.
Twenty-five minutes in, we had one of those ` might have been moments`, as Turnbull lost possession just outside the box. It looked distinctly iffy as Beautyman advanced on goal until a great block by Arthur stopped the rot for County.
This pressure from the blues continued, Clarke beginning to find his feet with a run that put Sutton on the back foot, teeing Osborne up to win County`s umpteenth corner of the game. That was good work, but nothing came from it.
We needed to make better use of our set pieces, but having won a free kick for a sly ankle tap on Ossie that did for what looked like a decent move, the same player lofted an indifferent kick high over the bar.
To their credit County persisted to seek something from nothing, Clarke and Cowan getting forward down the flanks to good effect.
A melee followed a subsequent corner, but there was no goal, and the same pattern remained as a further corner came and went, the pressure eventually easing when the referee saw something and awarded Sutton a relief bringing free-kick.
In what remained of the half more County corners went unrewarded, and the main attraction ( Wyatt v Thomas) continued intriguingly, Thomas ending the half crashing into the advertising hoardings, although not at the hands of Wyatt it must be said quickly!
Nothing greatly altered as the game resumed after the break except that the 49th minute saw Hinchliffe in action reacting quickly to deny Tommy Wright after Arthur had lost possession just outside the box.
Beautyman was still impressing for Sutton covering acres of ground to good effect, but the County rearguard stood up well to the pressure clearing up after a free-kick that perhaps United might think they could have made more of.
They didn`t….and Bugiel fared no better, seeing a shot deflected for a corner on 54 minutes, and then wasting a chance- having got to Ajiboye`s cross he then contrived to lift the ball into the empty Railway End!
By no means was this a great game, but my interest was suddenly aroused as a surging run from Archer saw him collide with the keeper. Hmm…..I did think……pen….I did…..but Mr Jackson and his comatose stand side liner were not remotely interested in obliging.
Undeterred, County kept at it, a Thomas / Beautyman entanglement resulting in another County corner. Again I hoped, that County would make this count, but instead I looked on as Bugiel ran the ball clear.
A throw followed, then more pressure as Jon Barden`s shot was blocked by Arthur, and Hinchliffe worked extra hard to push the ball out for a corner when danger threatened. Palmer got a decent defensive header in from this, but danger was only averted when the referee saw an infringement and awarded the blues a free-kick.
Twice in the attacks that followed from Sutton, County cleared the ball off the line- Barden and Goodliffe doing good work for the visitors in the build-up.
On it went….more pressure…..another `nick of time` clearance from County, and another effort from Beautyman that went wide.
We needed something to change, something to inspire the big crowd, and JG acted bringing Jackson on for Osborne.
No real change in the pattern of play was discernible in the minutes that followed, despite Jackson offering definite options down the left going forward, indeed the 75th minute saw Hinchliffe earn his corn again with a tasty save as Wright tried to take advantage of some loose play from the blues.
County replied a minute later, but Jackson`s cross found no takers, and another minute saw him clear the bar with a shot from Mc Alinden`s run and pass.
With under 15 minutes left, Mulhern came on for Archer, and 5 minutes on from this we saw Bell replace Thomas, as County tried to impose themselves on the opposition.
We needed a fair swing of the Lady Luck fashion accessory for that to happen, and if Mr Jackson sported a fashion accessory or similar, it swung in an altogether different direction, the 85 minute seeing Bell`s run rewarded with a free-kick to Sutton for……………………..?
I looked up the park a couple of minutes later and Sutton had a free kick in a not undesirable position. County defended this well, and despite exerting a fair bit of pressure United were unable to prise open the County locker.
Then……a rare moment of excitement at the Cheadle End as Jackson`s run ended with him whipping a tasty ball Bell`s way.
The shot that followed cleared the bar, and that was probably the last real chance of the game for County.
Added time made no odds…it stayed 0-0, and that was probably as it should be.
So…it`s off to Hartlepool next , and with JG having a week to work with his new additions I would not bet against County showing us something worthwhile there.
See you there then.
Stockport County line up:-
Hinchliffe, Cowan, Palmer, Arthur, Clarke, Turnbull, Keane, Thomas ( Bell 83), Osborne ( Jackson 68), Archer ( Mulhern 77), Mc Alinden.
Subs not used: Ormson, Minihan.
Sutton United line up:-
Tzanev, John, Barden, Goodliffe, Davis, Bugiel ( Jarvis 68), Beautyman, Ajiboye, Wright, Wyatt, Reid.
Subs not used: Bolarinwa. Rowe, Dundas, Milsom.
Attendance : 5079 ( 95)