County 3 Altrincham 0
A fog bound SK3 gradually cleared to enable the Hatter`s final home game of 2016 to take place against local rivals Altrincham currently occupying the bottom position in the Conference North. Changes of management and an influx of new players including ex Rochdale and Bradford stalwart Gary Jones, no stranger to EP set up Altrincham nicely against an in form County side.
A single change from the starting line up against Marine saw Jimmy Ball in for John Marsden and in my humble opinion saw him have his best game since his move from Stalybridge. The game kicked off with County defending the Cheadle End and on two minutes a long speculative shot was well saved by Ben Hinchliffe.
Further Alty pressure saw Sam Minihan tidy up with a neat back header to Hinchliffe and the County stopper was then called into action again when a long threw ball nearly caught the home side out.
A wayward Smalley header gave Hinchliffe some more work but the visitors were unable to capitalise. At the other end after some home pressure a Sam Minihan run down the right side gave the Hatters their first corner of the day when it was partially cleared by a defender who ballooned the ball back towards his own goal but Danny Lloyd`s shot was hit wide.
Shortly after this, man of the match Lewis Montrose was fouled and he would need to get used to this. The free kick led to a throw and then a Duxbury run led to another corner where Montrose`s header was planted wide.
At the fifteen minute mark following an Alty goal kick, referee Glen Hart awarded the visitors a free kick 22 yards from goal after a somewhat spectacular dive from a visiting forward the resulting free kick taken by Gary Jones was well blocked by the wall.
The subsequent Alty pressure saw their number nine all but give the ball a massage which referee Hart either did not see or did not want to. Further myopia occurred when Gary Stopforth cleared the ball off a visiting player but Alty were awarded the throw.
Then on 19 minutes Danny Lloyd was quite brutally hacked down resulting in a first Altrincham booking, the resultant free kick was blocked by the defensive wall which was positioned around 5 yards away.
More home pressure saw Big K mauled from Sam Minihan`s throw and again the referee was having none of it. A Felix, Duxbury combo saw Kaine shoot over and then the referee gave the visitors a free kick on the half way line which was cleared and bizarrely the Alty player involved then talked himself into a yellow card.
Following some neat work down the right hand side on 25 minutes Jimmy Ball slipped a peach of a pass into Danny Lloyd who, although the angle was lessening blasted home 1-0. Following further good work between Felix, Stopforth and Lloyd the latter found himself in space clean through but a late flag saw it as offside and the move ended.
More good work saw Minihan and Lloyd go close before ex hatter Craig Hobson clattered Sam Minihan and got a yellow card for his troubles, from the kick Scott Duxbury`s effort was well saved. Duxbury then looked to go on what is rapidly becoming his trademark pitch long run, he lost the ball, won it back, lost it again and the move petered out.
Following more unrewarded thuggery on Big K a bit of Jimmy Ball soft shoe shuffle magic in the opposition`s box led to a corner that Kayode headed over. A rare corner for the visitors ensued in the 36th minute that Clarke cleared and Felix ran it out.
Gary Stopford fouled - not given and then Danny Lloyd runs into the opposition box but takes too many touches and is tackled.
Odejayi is then ruled offside following a long ball but somehow the visitors take exception to this and we have minor 'handbags` when that had settled a long range Danny Lloyd shot is fumbled by Tim Deasy and from the corner the referee awards the visitors a free kick.
Montrose is fouled for the umpteenth time - not given, then a County throw is given the wrong way. Another case of GBH on Big K and referee Hart blows for half time.
Altrincham replaced Hobson and Goodall with Nicky Clee and the gigantic Clayton McDonald. In the first minute following another exchange between Danny Lloyd and Jimmy Ball, Ball scores from a tight angle but the main stand liner belatedly raises his flag for offside and yet another Alty player is booked for arguing having won the decision!
Five minutes later a Jimmy Ball shot is well saved and then the mainstand liner treats us to nice piece of semaphore as he flags Kaine Felix offside and then he changes his mind. Felix is then fouled and Danny Lloyd`s kick is just over the cross bar. The giant McDonald who was not having a great time of things then earns himself a yellow card and Danny Lloyd`s 20 yard free kick is cleared.
On 54 minutes County replaced Felix with Mark Ross and pushed Sam Minihan up the field. More home pressure saw Duxbury, K and Ball result in a shot from Ball pushed round the post from Deasy and the subsequent corner put straight out of play from Danny Lloyd. Sam Minihan was then booked for a rather tame foul although the kick came to nothing.
Following a series of free kicks for the visitors the home side hit back with Big K finally getting a free kick in his favour and then a Odejayi flick found Danny Lloyd who was flagged offside. More thuggery on Lewis Montrose went unpunished and a break by Ball resulted in an offside decision.
On 66 minutes Altrincham replaced Shaun Densmore with one time goal machine Damian Reeves who was quickly into action when Michael Clarke is adjudged to have fouled him and again a rather harsh booking goes the way of the home defender.
At this point I thought that the referee who certainly was not the worst we have witnessed this, or any other season was starting to 'lose it` Big K is assaulted yet again, this time by the giant McDonald but Mr Hart gave the free kick Altrincham`s way. They break and a looping cross come shot actually hits the top of the crossbar but not before bending out of play for a home goal kick.
Kayode Odejayi is then fouled quite cynically by McDonald but the referee bottles it completely. This is then compounded by Jimmy Ball chasing a long ball out with a visiting defender who then performed a beautiful swallow dive to 'earn` a free kick.
On 73 minutes Big K is substituted by Amiss and left the field of play to a stand up round of applause and well deserved too. Shortly after this Danny Lloyd storms into the opposition penalty area but elects to shoot rather than pass to Jimmy Ball and the moment is lost.
Just as the 1-0 jitters start to prey on my mind Mark Ross broke free down the right and delivers the most perfect cross you will see at this or any other level. Jimmy Ball springs and directs his header into the top corner 2-0
The fresh legs of Josh Amiss are causing the visibly tiring Alty side problems and he is penalised for a foul in the Alty box. More Ball/Lloyd combo work sees a shot well saved followed by a Lloyd/Stopforth combination that gives Sam Minihan a chance with a header that is put out for a corner.
On 81 minutes Ball is replaced by Courtney Meppen -Walters whose first strike of the ball - a header, sees a combination of defender and crossbar foil his effort.
A rather crude obstruction on Danny Lloyd is unrewarded and then more of the heavy stuff this time on Gary Stopforth sees another booking to the opposition.
A goal mouth scramble sees Amiss and Minihan failing to find the target and following another foul on Montrose Lloyd`s kick comes to nothing. At the other end a cheap free kick to Altrincham is cleared and then Scott Duxbury receives an elbow in his freshly healed face although unsurprisingly nothing is given.
Well into stoppage time and the referee plays an advantage after Courtney Meppen- Walters is tripped and the ball finds it way to Sam Minihan who rifles a tremendous shot into the top far corner 3-0
Josh Amiss wins the ball and a corner that comes to nothing and shortly after Mr Hart blows for time.
A pleasing win against local rivals, a potential preverbal banana skin but what pleased me is that we took more of our chances, defended superbly and really never gave the opposition, as poor as it was, anything. Hard to find a man of the match but Minihan, Ball and Odejayi could have all been contenders but Lewis Montrose fully deserving if not for the punishment he took.
Four wins on the bounce, just outside the play off zone and heading into a new year where JG sides have traditionally pushed on. Also I have to say what an amazing turn out today on what is traditionally a poor attendance day, the week before Christmas with a gate most sides below Championship level would take.
County: Hinchliffe, Duxbury, Smalley, Clarke, Minihan, Montrose, Felix, Stopforth, Ball, Odejayi, Lloyd
Subs: Ross (57 mins) for Felix
Amiss (76 mins) for Odejayi
Meppen-Walters (84 mins) for Ball
Unused: Marsden and Ormson
Altrincham: Deasy, Densmore, Goodhall, Hannigan, Hobson, Jones, Laurie, Mcwilliams, Miller, Moult, Patterson,
Subs: Clee (45 mins) for Hobson
Mcdonald (45 mins) for Goodhall
Reeves (69 mins) for Densmore
Unused: Heathcote and Brownhill
Referee: Mr Glen Hart
Sponsors Man of the Match: Lewis Montrose