[ Written by Ian Brown]
James Gannon’s Stockport County gave their loyal fans a bit of a treat at bedrizzled Edgeley Park last night, thoroughly spanking runaway league leaders Chorley 3-0, as substitute Matty Warburton chipped in with a neat hat-trick of goals.
Chorley have never been beaten at Edgeley Park before last night, winning the majority of the five visits in the last 5 years and drawing the rest, and yet am I alone in saying that this was about as unexpected as the Chancellor giving a £3billion hand out to high earners, whilst simultaneously offering a two finger salute to the lower paid….that is to say not unexpected at all ?
It was typical of County over the years……those of you inured to the pain of it all after decades of being a County fan, will know what I mean. It was so……. so County…..to struggle for a point just 3 days earlier at home against a side rooted in the bottom three…..then comprehensively sort the league leaders the game after!
That said ….those County supporters present, on a cold late October evening, gave every indication of having thoroughly enjoyed the County performance, and the manner of execution of same. The team got a thoroughly justified rousing send off at the end, after a win that just may give us something to build on!
The ruthless execution of the match winning goals gives particular confidence, as this ability to convert solid defensive work into the gold of goals is an ingredient not consistently present in County’s play previously this term, and just may see us prosper now at the sharp end of the season.
It was a magnificent performance from County, who held the top team in the division in a vice like grip pretty much throughout. Certainly in the first half anyway, where Chorley were largely restricted to shots from distance by a County defence superbly marshalled by captain Palmer and benefitting greatly from the return of Jordan Keane.
Palmer took the sponsors M.O.M award, but Matty Warburton just may feel aggrieved, having scored 3 superb goals in 7 second half minutes after coming on at half time for Stephenson.
Chorley began to make things interesting for a time after the break, but still without making an impression on the County back line, who to a man played full tilt for 90 odd minutes, providing the springboard for some thrilling….match winning goals!
Call it so much overheated hyperbole if you must, but the nature of the goals had me thinking back to Brian Clough’s European Cup winning Nottingham Forest side, who were so adept at soaking up pressure, and then striking from deep with speed allied to a certain lethality on the end of it – that was County last night, and I liked what I saw!
Two changes were apparent in County’s starting line-up, when I took up position on the Pop Side – Mulhern and Warburton were on the bench, being replaced by Bell and Keane respectively.
There were a goodly number in from Chorley, which you might reasonably expect with them sitting atop the table, and County fans turned out as well there being over 2600 in the old place come kick off time – a decent number for a cold / wet Tuesday in late October.
The early minutes saw a pattern established as County pushed Chorley onto the back foot. In this respect Osborne played a touch further up the park than of late, and alongside him the return of Keane saw him mixing diligent defending with sorties into the visitors half.
By the fourth minute County had already won their first corner, via Thomas, but it was an early disappointment when nothing came of it. We needed something more this time from the blues via their set pieces and this was not the start required.
Meanwhile Chorley were restricted to dispatching hopeful crosses from wide positions, and Keane and Minihan were prominent in providing the routine defending which saw these off.
By the fifth minute Bell, in for a welcome start, was already giving the Chorley defenders much to think about. Ex Hatter Courtney Meppen-Walter was prominent amongst these worthies, but it was apparent that he would have to sustain his early good work if his side were to prosper in this game.
A second and third County corner came and went, again with no reward, but I took consolation in the fact that County’s table topping opponents were struggling to make an impression, their first shot on goal a massively tame effort from Marcus Carver that fell limply into the waiting arms of County’s Ben Hinchliffe.
If Ben was relatively untroubled, at the other end Matt Urwin was a busy lad between the sticks for Chorley, and the level of anxiety that County’s activity was generating in Chozzer ranks saw it manifested in a poor tackle by Meppen-Walter on Thomas which ushered in a free kick in a very interesting position, but interest waned when Sam Walker’s kick flew off over the bar.
Despite the early disappointments , this was an improved showing from County, and it continued – Bell unlucky, 18 minutes in, to see his shot following a surging power filled run, narrowly miss out.
Keane went closeish too not long after – we just needed a shade of good fortune – a smile from Lady Luck in place of the usual swing of the fashion accessory!
But…. It wasn’t happening ……not yet anyway, as Thomas won another corner from Duxbury’s run, only for the Magpies to clear up the park.
It was nip/tuck for a while, but it was good to see that Chorley were still unable to find a way through County’s defensive cover, indeed it was 30 minutes in before they got anywhere close to doing this, and when they did Elliott Newby lifted his effort high into the Cheadle End.
For a while after this Chorley began to work at getting a way through, and Louis Almond did make it to the by-line down the right only to replicate the Newby experience, failing to make Hinchliffe work at all in the process.
And when they did get it together with purpose in this period, they found County mid-field and forwards doing a shift in response, both Keane and Thomas earning applause for cool defensive work. Thomas doing particularly well to apply the block to prevent Carver getting a shot in from close range.
The last 15 minutes of the half were Chorley’s best, but still County would not be moved……Almond nicked a cheeky free kick…..it was coolly cleared…..they took the aerial route, only to find that when the ball was pinged in someone in blue was there to make a defensive header to sort the situation. Palmer and Minihan were prominent in this respect as half time neared.
The half ended with County back attacking through Bell whose shot was deflected for a corner, and Chorley doing enough to ensure it stayed 0-0 as the teams headed off towards the dressing rooms.
The return of the teams revealed that JG had moved to replace Stephenson with Warburton, who very nearly opened his account within 2 minutes of coming on. His raking rasper only just missing out with Urwin a bemused spectator.
County fans loved that, and what followed as the Blues pushed on forcing Chorley to take up increasingly deep defensive positions, but thus far all the good work from JG’s men was going unrewarded – a Minihan run won a corner which came and went without causing Urwin too much hassle, and another borderline brilliant run from Warburton did not get the return it deserved – the effort going wide.
By the time we had reached 10 minutes in, Chorley had started to re-group and set about countering the County hegemony . There was a fair amount of pressure on County around this period and it was a relief to see Osborne usher the ball clear after the visitors had pinned the blues back with a free kick.
It went on in the same vein; Hinchliffe clutching the ball to him to end a surging run down the right from Matt Challonor and Andy Teague.
The Cheadle End and YB Pops were in good voice at this juncture, helping to galvanise a response from County which saw them put the visitors under the cosh for a good 5 minutes.
This was interrupted on the hour as Chorley hit us on the break only for Newby to reprise his first half ‘moment to forget’ with another lulu, his shot missing the target by some distance after having worked a decent shooting position for himself.
Hmmm….that was amusing to a degree but slightly worrying also as Chorley were still looking like they wanted a goal, and often, one is enough to settle games twixt us and them.
It was good to see Stott respond well easing pressure nicely with a good defensive block, and Hinchliffe in position to deny Almond with a save at the foot of his right hand post. Yes Chorley were definitely wanting a goal!
A free kick to County as Thomas was crudely felled with County on the counter in numbers put the pressure back on Chorley, and Warburton twice had a stab at opening County’s account- his first attempt being charged down by one of a line of visiting defenders…..his second rising over the top with most of the crowd willing it to go in.
The ball was in the net not long after that last action, and it was at the County end. Yes having sneaked clear substitute Josh Wilson thought his diving header had nicked one for the league leaders, but he was wrong…he was also palpably offside and the premature celebrations of the visiting fans were cut delightfully short!
Chorley kept plugging away after this, with the usual response from County who defended with a will and some determination, topping this off with a superlative strike on the break!
It was started by Bell whose surging run had the Chorley back line in a tizz. Bell was 100% on the money as the move developed, picking out Warburton with a low cross that Warburton put away with assurance, that belied his recent dip in form!
County were galvanised by that goal, and Urwin did really well to make the save and keep a shot from Bell out just one minute later.
Not long after, Dimaio came on in place of Osborne, and within a minute of that happening County had another.
Minihan’s run had just been blocked by some dogged defending by the Magpies as the blues piled on the pressure. Chorley seemed to have sorted this out and set about forcing County onto the back foot. Having done this however they left the back door ajar and Bell scooted through it with Warburton for company. Bell to Warby and it was 2-0 as a fierce drive left Urwin for dead and caressed the back of the netting behind him!
It was at this point the combined choirs of Cheadle End and YB Pops gave us the first rendering of ‘Top of the League – Your Having a Laugh!’…excellent value!
With under 10 minutes left, Mulhern came on for Bell who left to an ovation after an assist filled performance.
Chorley meanwhile, stung no doubt by being 2-0 down to a team that is apparently ‘No longer famous’ went looking for a goal…a consolation goal….but Carver could not direct his header on target with 7 minutes left.
County defended like the proverbial lions in the 4 or 5 minutes that followed allowing Chorley little leeway or sight of goal.
A Mulhern shot ricocheted off a defender narrowly missing the target a minute later, but despite the corner that resulted, it stayed 2-0. Indeed Chorley were not done….they still wanted something from the game, but sending it long was now the chosen route and County dealt with that methodology with something approaching comfort.
And…..when the moment was right….. and the break was on …..that is what County did, this time Dimaio did the biz breaking with Warburton and providing the pass that saw to it that he claimed his hat trick giving County a 3-0 lead.
Four minutes added time gave Cheadle End and Pop Side the chance of a reprise of ‘Top of the League………’ as the Chorley ultras headed for the exits in droves, and there was time enough for another unsuccessful Chorley attempt to beat Hinchliffe, but the clean sheet was his and the points…all 3 of them…were County’s !
Fantastic stuff from County…… an excellent win that could be the foundation for a concerted push for promotion.
Off to Curzon Ashton then , see you there!
Stockport County line up :-
Hinchliffe, Minihan, Palmer, Stott, Duxbury, Keane, Osborne( Dimaio 76), Walker, Thomas, Bell( Mulhern 81), Stephenson( Warburton 45).
Subs not used : Ormson, Downing.
Chorley line up:-
Urwin, Challoner, Blakeman , Teague, Leather ( Whitham 76) , Meppen-Walter, Newby A( Glynn 62), O`Keefe, Carver, Almond( Wilson 70), Newby E.
Subs not used : Cottrell, Anson.
Attendance : 2653