[Written By Ian Brown]
County’s upwards push took a knock last night when Blyth Spartans beat them 3-2 at Croft Park in front of 531 totally perished spectators.
In terms of the amount of possession and opportunities that County had this defeat was a real disappointment, although if you were to point to the display of home keeper Peter Jameson in mitigation, you would have a point as he frustrated County throughout with a series of important saves.
It was not that Spartans were in particularly irresistible form ….they decidedly were not, but they did the basics better than County, and took the two real chances that came their way in the first half when the blues struggled to nick the one they did, from a range of opportunities.
Free kicks and corners came and went in quantity for the Hatters, but bar the one that Thomas applied a finish to, County failed to take advantage. Indeed it was Spartans who took advantage, hitting County on the break twice when they left the back door ajar.
All that said, down 2-1 at the break did not seem to be an insurmountable obstacle to overcome, indeed if they tightened up, my view was that we could sort this one, but within a minute of play resuming we were 2 down again as Dale set Oliver up for a dispiriting third goal for the home side.
The consistently busy Frank Mulhern made it 2-3 with a shot that took a slight deflection off Oliver, but despite trying hard they just could not dislodge Blyth, who held on tenaciously for 3 points it would be churlish to say they did not deserve.
Twenty five made the trip via the Flyer, down on the usual numbers, no doubt due to the abysmal weather that was widely expected to greet us upon arrival in NE24.
Numbers overall were down also, and the weather was, if anything, worse than forecasted…..Yeovil plus and then some!
Despite intermittent downpours that were hurled about the arena by a constant gale force wind, County mounted a series of nicely fashioned moves.
Blyth looked to be struggling somewhat to combat the wave of blue shirts that headed towards the brave band of County fans who were stationed behind the Spartan’s goal.
Corners came and went for County, without reward, the best chance of the first 5 minutes falling Mulhern’s way only for this to be snuffed out by home keeper Peter Jameson.
Home captain Robert Dale did have a shot charged down, not long after, but I had seen enough early on to lead me to believe that we just might win this one.
The neat moves continued from the blues, Thomas winning a corner with an incisive run, but again nothing came of it, ushering in a reply from our hosts that saw Hinchliffe make a diving save to deny Maguire.
Now that was worrying….from a County attack… we had almost shipped a goal!
Still, perhaps I was being over critical, but whilst this opinion gained some stimulus as County queued to shoot in front of Jameson’s goal, it was undermined somewhat as Mulhern’s eventual shot went wide.
This pattern continued….Osborne seeing a shot whizz wide.
Walker and Warburton both had efforts charged down, one of these winning a corner, which Palmer headed wide.
Despite the odd raid from Blyth, nothing in the first 24 minutes signalled alarm for County, but then the alarm bells were ringing all over the shop as Dale’s pass sent Maguire clear. This looked a good chance but somehow Hinchliffe managed to keep it out, only for the ball to sneak in off Cowan.
That was thoroughly dispiriting, but County’s immediate response was entirely admirable as the weight of the blues forward movement drew a foul from our hosts. The free kick was a good one as was Thomas’s effort on the end of it, but there were gasps of raw disappointment from behind Jameson’s goal as he dived to tip the ball over the bar – the keeper not improving the County fans mood greatly by holding onto the corner that followed.
Then….barely 4 minutes on from the first goal….County shipped another, as attack turned to defence Reid breaking clear from a County free kick to slam a fine strike past Hinchliffe to make it 2-0 to Spartans.
Again County responded well, but again there was no cigar as Osborne watched in anguish, as Jameson pushed his shot around the post.
Nothing came of the subsequent corner, and Osborne’s anguish continued as another shot from him thudded into the hoardings a foot or so wide of goal.
There were just 10 minutes left of the half now, and Green had just headed an incoming County free kick behind for a corner. At last….a set piece worked, and Thomas headed home to give the County faithful and his team mates something to cheer!
If I looked for County to build on this good fortune, this had to wait as Hinchliffe was called into action to push a shot from Oliver around the post.
County came under pressure in much of what remained of the half, but they just might have been a tad miffed , almost smack on 45 minutes, as Jameson sent Mulhern flying on the edge of the box. The card colour was yellow….arguably an escape for the home side!
No matter…..the half was played out with County defending a free kick. They did this well, going in at the break 2-1 down.
Seeking shelter as the blizzard conditions intensified, I got talking to a local who confirmed he was a County supporter – he was also a relative of Sandbach Hatter- a nice little interlude before the re-start!
But when it did re-start the game brought more disappointment County’s way, as Dale shredded County’s defensive cover with a neat ball that allowed Oliver to beat Hinchliffe with a firmly struck finish!
That served only to make the conditions seem even more awful. Warburton did his best to in part rectify matters, but annoyingly Jameson was on top of his game again, beating Warby’s shot out in some style.
County made a couple of changes after this….Bell for Walker, and Stott for Minihan, which saw Cowan move over to RB.
Within 3 minutes of the last of these changes, County had reduced the arrears. An attack was looking about to stall on the edge of the box when Mulhern stepped up with a shot that soared into the net via a slight deflection off Oliver.
There was no segregation in place , thus Jameson had the same hardy band of travelling County fans to his back and they were in fine voice again !
County were revitalised somewhat by the goal, but a third just would not follow, Warburton unlucky to see his effort, after 70 minutes, deflected for a corner, that sadly we made nothing of. The pressure continued from the Blues and Spartans were happy to find touch in reply.
Then, with less than 15 minutes left, the tables were turned again and County were pushed back on the defensive – Keane ushering the ball off the line at one point…Hinchliffe performing heroics at another as a series of corners came his way.
It went on much in the same vein, with Hinchliffe doing well to keep the score 3-2 as a free kick for the home side pushed County back. Credit to County, they kept pegging away…..Mulhern unlucky, and Bell thwarted by Jameson with time running out, but Spartans dogged resistance carried the day seeing them home to the delight of the home specs.
County’s hardy following reacted well too, giving their team a good reception at the end – just how it should be.
As I said earlier this set back does nothing for County’s upwards momentum, back to the drawing board then to a degree anyway, for Saturday’s match with Chorley, but JG will have this in hand, so do not bet against us doing the biz!
Blyth Spartans line up:-
Jameson, Cunningham, Liddle, Green ( Mullen 71), Watson, Laing, Rivers ( Horner 92), Oliver, Maguire( Fewster 83), Reid, Dale.
Subs not used : Watson, Wrightson.
Stockport County line up:-
Hinchliffe, Minihan ( Stott 58), Palmer, Cowan, Duxbury, Keane, Walker ( Bell 53), Thomas, Mulhern, Osborne, Warburton( Dimaio 92) .
Subs not used : Ormson, Turnbull.
Attendance : 531