County 0 St. Mirren 1
The town was rife with rumours in the lead up to County`s latest pre season friendly against Scottish Premier League side St Mirren.
Yes.............the Scots were coming, and speculation abounded as to whether 300 or 400 of the fearsome visitors would make the trip.
Way back in 1745, much the same issues abounded as the Town awaited the arrival of Bonnie Prince Charlie as he made his way towards London. The locals must have been anxious, but in the end action by the English military ( who destroyed Lancashire Bridge) delayed the would be monarch`s forward push just long enough to ensure its ultimate demise.
The latest invasion proved altogether more benign as, something in the region of the previously anticipated 300 to 400, took up position behind the goal at the Railway End, bravely eschewing any headgear, by and large, in fairly fierce sunshine.
The game proved to be an excellent work out for County who will think themselves a tad unlucky to concede the game`s only goal just 3 minutes from the end. It was no classic but we saw a bit more of the players likely to form the team`s nuclease this season, and much of their play was neat , the defending was reasonably together and later on the attacking forays grew in confidence .
To be fair ,I expected something approaching a rout ,before the game, but this was never even remotely in prospect as, with County reverting to 4/4/2, there was none of the first half mayhem on show at the back as there had been on Tuesday at Ramsbottom. Do not get me wrong, County got through loads of defensive work, and had at times to rely on some poor finishing by the Scottish side, but to their credit they had enough about them to emerge in the second half on the hunt for a win themselves.
Again, as per Tuesday, this fresh impetus in the latter half of the game, stemmed from the introduction of Rhys Turner, who slotted in alongside Kristian Dennis up front for the last half hour or so. With Paris Bateman in something approaching prime form in midfield supplementing Turner and Dennis, County had chances, but St Mirren held out and their determination to snatch the spoils proved irresistible in the end -it only needed one lapse from County and in the 87th minute it duly came and Gary Harkins took advantage to send the travelling fans home happy with a neat finish from close in.
What did we learn then?
Well......both keepers are in good nick so that`s a start and the 4/4/2 formation offered us a solidity we have lacked previously this pre-season. Of the backs I felt that O`Halloran stood out - Jacobs was OK, but he declined a couple of `could be decisive` tackles in the first half that might have cost us.
I see no real problem with our centre backs who performed well enough in a system I am guessing they are used to playing. Paris Bateman, thankfully recovered from his Nantwich trauma, showed great energy and not a little skill going forward throughout the 90 minutes, and will probably have earned a contract. Turner must start for me alongside Dennis up front which, all in all, gives Ian Bogie a reasonable foundation to start his season with.
Back to the start though and it was good to see Jim Goodwin back in these parts , but after polite applause for him and his team, I looked forward thereafter to maybe slightly less cordiality heading the visitors way as our lads geared up for an improvement in form.
No such thing was in evidence in the early minutes as the SPL side pressed forward forcing Jacobs to lash the ball clear with unexpected venom in response. The St Mirren advance continued after this with Tunnicliffe doing well to dispossess Steve Thompson as he turned in the box and lined up a shot at goal.
Ten minutes had gone by, and St Mirren were still making tracks for Ormson`s goal and Bateman did particularly well to block the Scottish trialist`s (number 23) attempted cross. He conceded a corner but worse had threatened so County would take it! They seemed also to have weathered the storm as well, and then they hadn`t because they had conceded a free kick just outside the box. This was played short to Gary Harkins who lifted the ball to the back of the box for Marc Mc Ausland to feed on. He left hungry however, as O`Halloran kept the ball from him before clearing up field.
It came almost straight back of course as Thompson beat Chris Sutherland to it, but Ormson continued his good form from Ramsbottom by making a decent save to deprive the visitors number nine of the oxygen of a goal!
Sutherland, on loan from Oldham, did better next, stopping Jake McGinn after he had latched onto another dangerous high ball aimed at the back of the County box.
The pressure continued on County with one.....two runs really stretching them-Gary Teale going closest with a cross that he pinged in from the by-line. It came to nothing, but the next move from the visitors looked altogether better as Thompson darted clear onto a through ball. It was a chance for sure, but the forward snatched at it and his hurried effort went well wide.
Sutherland tried to impress next, and he did with a neatly skillful run down the left, but then he found the back of the Railway End with his cross to rather take the edge off it.
For a moment or two it seemed that County just might regret not taking the last opportunity, as when St Mirren replied , Paul McGowan went to ground to gain his side a somewhat cheep free kick. It was central and just outside the box, but trialist ( number 23) drilled his shot wide with Ormson not needing to move.
Then the 23rd minute saw Jacobs opt out of a tackle on McGinn , allowing the Scot to cut inside towards goal. His shot lacked accuracy and again Ormson`s goal had survived reasonably comfortably, but it just might have been different.
A couple of minutes later and Jacobs almost made amends at the other end of the park, but his final ball bounced just out of Jevons` reach in the box and keeper David Cornell was able to make the save.
We needed a response from the County forwards but instead it was defensive duties that occupied them, as St Mirren pressed on for the opening goal which continued to prove elusive thanks to good defensive work from County , but also good goal keeping from Ormson, who made a massive save to prevent McGinn from scoring from close in on the 30 minute mark.
The 34th minute again saw Jacobs opt out of a tackle on Teale, which perplexed me...was he perhaps carrying an injury? It didn`t look to be so and meanwhile County had Teale to look after, which thankfully Stephen O`Halloran did, and it stayed 0-0.
A rare County raid, and some neat play, ended with Sutherland again disappointing with his cross.
The rest of the half was a continuation of what had gone before as Harkins, McGowan and Teale all went close with efforts- Teale being doubly unlucky to be stopped by a terrific slider from O`Halloran not long after.
We were almost on half time now and it would be a good performance for County to have kept it at 0-0 , but they had a corner to defend following that last action and Thompson and Harkin went up for it with Ormson. You would not bet that heavily against the young County keeper being bullied over the line, I guess, but he made the doubters blush by making a decisive punched clearance.
It only remained for Teale to break clear again and for Thompson to get on the end of the resultant cross before heading it over the bar, and that was that for the first half, and County had survived with the score a very respectable 0-0!
The re-start was Ian Bogie`s chance to change things a bit, and he did, bringing on King,Fagbola,Hand and the free scoring Dennis for Ormson, Charnock, Craney and Jevons. Things started on the up as well, as former Hatter Jim Goodwin was forced to concede a corner by O`Halloran`s tasty cross- Cornell saw the resultant kick off, but it was a good start to the second 45.
Hand did well in the exchange that followed, but after another encouraging moment or two from the blues, they again gave a free kick away just outside the box, forcing King into early action to prevent a decent effort from Harkins from opening the scoring.
St Mirren`s play had a bit of a buzz about it for a time after this, and Fagbola did well to tidy things up under a bit of pressure. Then County`s prospects looked to be about to take an up-turn via Bateman who continued to impress, this time with a break through the middle. It really did look like a chance, but when he released a pass under pressure the move died the death of a 1000 dithers as Dennis and Sutherland failed to take matters further.
Still......again it was an improvement and more followed and only some excellent defending by David van Zanton stopped what was a fine blue move.
It continued in the same vein with a free kick by Hand headed clear by McAusland only for the ball to come back via Hand again who played Sutherland in nicely. A shot followed from the on loan Latic, but Cornell did enough to keep it out and it stayed 0-0.
After a time St Mirren came back into it again and County were a tad fortunate to escape after their loose play forced O`Halloran to more last gasp heroics.
Past the hour and things were perhaps about to change for the better as Sutherland gave way to Turner, who almost immediately caused panic with a pacy run through the middle. It took two defenders to block him and one of them played it back to keeper Cornell. It was pretty much his only option and Cornell clutched the ball to his chest, but the referee patted his quads in response, which I took to be an indication that he was experiencing a bout of cramp, but no.....he was indicating the back pass was within the rules and..............how we laughed........
Already Turner was changing the complexion of the game and McGinn did well to stop Rhys`s pass from picking the predatory Dennis out a minute later.
A corner followed, and then another -trialist 23 making two late stops, the second of which, from Turner, looked to have some element of `hand to ball` about it.
I was quite pleased with what I was watching now, but there was no room for complacency and County were again grateful to O`Halloran who was on hand to save the day when Thompson and Harkin came calling on the break.
Back came County though with Turner initiating a move taken on by Jacobs and Dennis. A corner followed, then nothing, but the blues were beginning to look as likely as their Scottish opponents to score.
The last 20 minutes came with Turner on a mazy run that took him past 3....4.....5 players as he laid a diagonal down across the box. There were just too many bodies wearing the wrong coloured shirts in the box and thus eventually one of them claimed the ball and another excellent move had foundered.
Meanwhile the warnings kept coming as first off Harkins missed a sitter , as did McGowan shortly after ,going for finesse instead of power when through ,and lifting his effort over the bar!
In addition, King added to the Railway End`s sorrows by reacting well when Harkins did hit the target another minute on, by getting to the shot and making the save. Good stuff I thought and I was well pleased with the thought of County holding their SPL opponents - there was still 10 minutes left, but if they kept at it...........
And Bateman did....... sending Turner scuttling clear with panic abounding in the visitors back line- a mad scramble followed in front of Cornell`s goal, and then a corner ,but this was wasted and the chance was gone.
It was clear however that St Mirren were taking this game seriously and County were doing well to hold them , and hold them they did.....until the 87th minute when Fagbola reactions allowed Harkins time on the ball....time enough for him to slot the winner home.
How unlucky was that?
There was still time for more speedy skillful stuff from Turner to cause a bit of late panic in front of the Cheadle End, and for Fagbola to send a meaty header over the bar from a late corner, but soon enough the referee blew for time and the game was over and St Mirren had won.
Bogie will be pleased with that I think....things are definitely improving, and I am really looking forward to Tuesday `s clash with FCUM now!
See you there!
County line up;
Ormson ( King 45), Jacobs, Tunnicliffe( Fagbola 45), Charnock ( Windsor 80), O`Halloran, Sutherland ( Turner 62), Bateman, Craney( Hand 45),Riley, Field, Jevons ( Dennis 45)
Cornell, van Zanton, Goodwin, McGinn, Harkins, Thompson, McGowan, McAusland, Trialist, Teale, Trialist.
Attendance ; 1171