Gloucester City 0 County 1
An assured performance saw County come away from a decidedly chilly Whaddon Road with 3 well merited points today against a feisty Gloucester City side.
It was a performance built on solid defensive foundations with both Smalley and Clarke putting in monumentally impressive shifts. Ross and Duxbury were not far behind in the merit marks stakes, and when the ball was worked out of defensive positions the blues had Minihan and Lloyd providing power and pace aplenty down the flanks.
As usual Odejayi`s hold up play was excellent, but it was not until the 74th minute, when Minihan`s run gave him the ball, that Big K`s work declared a dividend, and Felix ( on the park for only 3 minutes ) slammed a corker home to stun the home specs.
At this point I must mention the enormously poor display from referee Declan Bourne. He offered County no protection at all throughout a game in which elbows, upraised studs and iffy tackles flew in with regularity from our hosts.
In addition we had 2 penalty claims turned down( 1 cast iron solid/ 1 not quite so), whilst obliging Gloucester with 1 in the early minutes of the game, that had not Hinchliffe been in disobliging mood and saved it, would have given them a massive boost. As it was …the boost was County`s and the 90 minutes of none stop application that followed thoroughly merited the full haul of points it ultimately generated!
Ross for Felix, Duxbury for Cartwright and Ball for Marsden were the changes in County`s line up as the game commenced shortly after 3 o`clock, following a beautifully observed minutes silence in honour of the Brazilian club Chapacoense .
Home keeper Jasbir Singh had early action to contend with as Danny Lloyd surged into the box and in his face.
Luke Hooper offered home specs something to cheer, if briefly, as he scooted clear, hell bent on hitting County on the break. That was an altogether laudable intent, but the delivery failed to match it as the ball headed out of the ground at the far end!
County replied almost immediately, and Danny Greenslade did well to keep Lloyd`s ball from Minihan.
Five minutes had gone, and the score was still 0-0, but another couple of minutes and the home support was heard crowing in anticipation of an opening goal for their side as Hopper went to ground in the box under pressure from Smalley.
Referee Bourne wasted no time in pointing to the spot, where Hopper was now vertical again and preparing to take the kick. Up he stepped sending the ball to Hinchliffe`s right, but……the County keeper was already heading that way and grabbed the ball at the foot of the post to send the sizeable County following slightly AS!
County looked suitably buoyed by that last action, and Ross made good ground down the right winning a corner. Lloyd took the kick, but Smalley sent his header wide to keep it at 0-0.
The pressure on City continued, and there was a sharp intake of breath from 200 or so souls behind the away end goal when Odejayi`s header was charged down.
There was an altogether sharper intake of breath within seconds however as County piled in after the ball only for Lloyd to be felled right under the referees nose. It was a nailed down penalty but the referee waved play on cravenly, whilst the near side liner`s flag never left his side for a second sealing our fate.
Undaunted…County pushed on ….corners…free kicks adding momentum, but there was always the possibility of being caught out on the break , and it was good to see Clarke and Smalley combine to see off Joe Parker`s run as he broke from a deep defensive position.
Breaks seemed about City`s best chance , as County were on the front foot most of the time- Lloyd`s runs causing the home defence no end of issues- Smalley again not far away with a header , and Ball inches from glory not long after with a shot.
Lloyd was in terrific nick -turning his man inside out but having to be content, time after time, with a corner. Replying….City got back in numbers and defended doggedly…and when they couldn`t….Mr Bourne again obliged with a free kick here and there to relieve the home side`s angst.
Hopper seemed to be the nearest to a danger-man in the home ranks , but with Clarke and Smalley in tip top form, chances available to the number 9 were in short supply, and City were largely limited to shots from distance and Ed Williams sent his, 25 minutes in, pretty much where Hooper had sent his early on.
That last action was by no means typical of play and Ball brought us back to reality with a powerful run into the box. Unfortunately he could not add finish to power and Singh was not troubled by the shot that followed.
Mr Bourne had writing to do next as Joe Hanks sent Lloyd crashing into the barriers with a wreckage of a challenge. Mullins cleared the ball as the kick pinged over, but this only encouraged the irrepressible Lloyd to run at the beleaguered home back line again. Keiran Thomas did really well to stop Lloyd , and we all thought `oh well…..it`s a corner anyway`. …but it wasn`t… Mr B saw it as a GK!
Some good work by Clarke followed, before County went looking for a goal again, and Jack Deaman had to pull out all the stops to prevent another probing Lloyd ball sending MinIhan clear. The ball just could not make its way up the park into the County half, and an almighty melee resulted during which Thomas, under pressure from Lloyd had a `hand to ball` moment in the box. Arguably….there was no intent…..but there was contact hand/ ball….but when Lewis Hall hacked the ball clear and it ran loose, the referee looked away and again no penalty resulted.
Have I mentioned how Mr Bourne had a propensity for coming up with helpful free kicks to aid the home side at times of great stress? Well…....minute 36 saw just such happen again. A shot from Lloyd had just crashed into and rebounded from the chest of keeper Singh, signalling much panic in the home ranks. Somehow….from somewhere however, and much to the ire of County and their following …Mr Bourne saw `something` and eased the home side`s angst with the balm of a free kick.
We entered the `Twilight Zone` ( that period immediately prior to the break when ,by tradition almost, County become prone to goal leakage)with City having a go, but finding Stopforth and Smalley in top trim in response. That said…Parker did seem to have the drop on us on the stroke of half time, but good work from Ross saved the day for his team , keeping it at 0-0 as the teams went in at the break!
The second half opened with a series of Gloucester free kicks of varying validity , but none made any impact on a solid County back line at all, and eventually…having weathered what storm there was, County then set about pushing City back, and Duxbury did this in excellent style, his run winning County another corner .Gloucester were again back in numbers and defending well , thus despite conceding another corner, they did not leak a goal which was good work from their view point.
It was all County, just that crucial clinical finish was missing- Lloyd went close twice- forcing Singh to punch out less than confidently with one effort, but it was now beyond the hour mark ,and still 0-0.
Briefly….County were pushed back by a free kick but a Stopforth/ Clarke combo sorted that one , enabling Ross and Odejayi to work at opening up their opponents left flank. Lloyd went close again from this action, but it was noticeable that County were leaking free kicks at a growing rate, and that Odejayi/ Ross link up was seen working small wonders at the back as the pressure mounted.
The 70th minute saw JG`s first personnel change, as he brought Felix on for the fast fading Ball. This was another JG master stroke, but we had to wait a couple of minutes for evidence of this!
First off we saw Stopforth shoot over from Minihan`s run, and Ross head out as a cross by Zack Kotwica came over.
That`s the 2 minutes up….as Minihan and Ross brought the ball forward and Odejayi presence did the rest as his control had the clutch of defenders that surrounded him transfixed, just long enough for him to release the ball to Felix who surged on before slamming a ferocious drive past Singh into the net!
The away end went AS gain and rightly so, and it was oh so nearly 2-0 in a trice shortly after - Stopforth just wide with an effort after Minihan had shredded the home cover comprehensively!
Into the last 10 minutes we went with City on a rare raid- but Hinchliffe positioned himself well to keep a snap shot from Mullings out!
Amis was now on for Odejayi, who left to a good ovation from both sets of supporters.
The near side liner meanwhile was not earning applause, in fact he had the away end up in arms as he allowed Kotwica to take the ball out of play before crossing the ball- County cleared comfortably enough…..but…….
County then turned defence into classic attack, and a lovely move ensued as a Minihan/ Felix break set Lloyd on a run that took him almost to the by-line. The home defence was at sixes/ sevens as Lloyd delivered a fine cross into the box. It was the best of moves and deserved the best of finishes, but having made up much ground and despite having the goal at his mercy, Amis sliced a horror strike way wide of goal. He had only just come on….but……
Would County rue that miss?
Well …Hinchliffe did have to pull off a very decent save to keep Craig Read`s shot out with 6 minutes left.
Pressure mounted from the home side, but with Meppen-Walter on to boulster the defence late on County were looking set to meet the challenge.
And…..they did…Stopforth denying Kotwica with some great work …Ross heading clear under pressure….Clarke…Duxbury….and Clarke again all doing really good work when it was needed.
The home shooting in this period, and we were now into an unbelievable 5 minutes added time, was abysmal- Dinsley and Parker failing to hit the target when reasonably set.
The naughty stuff was going in now apace and Mr Bourne was missing it all….the terrible challenge that laid Duxbury out ,forcing Minihan to come over and cover the left flank with young Scott limping. Then there was the elbow on Meppen-Walter…all `missed` by the officials!
In the end none of this counted and County`s solid showing won out1
The points were all ours and it was time to celebrate and team and players duly did!
Great stuff…well done County, here`s to more of the same next Saturday in the FA Trophy!
Oh...and there was time before setting off back to Stockport to sing `Happy Birthday' to Lou Spalding, the driving force behind the Fingerpost Flyer- `Happy Birthday Lou !
[ See the pictures from a freezing Glocestershire here ]
Gloucester City line up:
Singh, Thomas, Hall( Kotwica 67), Deaman, Avery, Mullings, Hanks( Dinsley 45), Greenslade, Hopper, Parker, Williams( Reid 83).
Subs not used:
Richards , Fitzgibbon.
Stockport County line up:
Hinchliffe. Ross, Clarke, Smalley, Duxbury, Montrose, Minihan, Stopforth, Odejayi( Amis 80), Ball( Felix 70), Lloyd( Meppen-Walter86) .
Subs not used: