Harrogate Town 0 County 1
Wow…those who made it to Wetherby Road today were privileged to see a County performance straight out of the top draw, as once again they proved that they could scale the mountain and then tough it out …see off pressure to emerge victorious.
The fact that they can hold onto slender leads so often, without ever really looking likely to surrender same is a tribute to JG`s organisational nous and the teams magic ability to defend as one, and look to attack in similar fashion- no big money striker maybe….but one hell of a good team!
I was looking forward to today`s game, a potential morale booster if ever I saw one, against a Harrogate Town side always up for a scrum be it Xmas or St Swithin`s Day, and devilishly difficult to beat!
Yes…I was up for it, and the thought of Thompson`s Tea Bar was adding to the enjoyment as the fully laden Flyer headed for North Yorkshire.
The thought of those terrific pasties ,with the just baked / home made taste…and the definitely home made soup, had forced a post Xmas Day fast on me, and promised much.
I was particularly looking forward to seeing whether the mooted 40mph winds would add some oomph to Hinchliffe`s efforts to pick Danny Lloyd out .
All that was to come… now where`s Thompsons……………..
Well… Thompson`s was ok…attracting gynormous queue`s, if perhaps not quite up to the standard of previous season`s.
Elsewhere there were bigger disappointments, most specifically the intrusive frisking before entering the ground to the barked order " line up over there to be frisked!", that all County fans were subjected to.
That was totally out of order and over the top, and if we are ,as it appears drifting back to the mind set on the part of football clubs whereby football supporters are forced to leave their civil rights at the turnstiles….
I for one will not be happy with that situation!
It was also disappointing to see that there were absolutely no seats made available to County`s travelling fans. We had many supporters not in the best of health( to put it mildy) or elderly, and they should have been provided with a seat not kept from them by the stewards as they were ( particularly when plenty of seats remained unoccupied in the stand opposite).
It distresses me to have to rant in this fashion……it should not be necessary, in the 21st Century!
Enough….the game…..it was played out on an artificial surface to the accompaniment of the pre ordained 40 mph winds. Of the two sides County handled the conditions the better, and were unfortunate not to have a lead at the break, after a Clarke header had rattled the bar with home keeper Peter Crook beaten on his line, mid way through a half that the blues had largely dominated.
After the break, with the wind behind them, Harrogate had more of the ball but fared no better despite this increased possession, going down eventually to a sublime Meppen-Walter strike with 20 minutes left.
That was a neat finish to what had been a terrific team performance. I liked Clarke`s showing ( first half) and Smalley`s ( second) , and the work of both full backs, but in refusing to give my M.O.M to one player, I think I am being correct in saying they all won that game for us - every man jack of 'em!
The Wetherby Road Terrace was bulging and bouncing as the game kicked off to a mountainous cacophony of noise emanating from under the new(ish) roof from around 700 County fans!
County had most of the early possession as they made light of the appalling conditions created by some atrociously high winds. Hinchliffe did find time to try an early long one - Odejayi just kept from it by a Joe Colbeck/ Luke Shiels combination.
If County were having most of the possession, for Town , Jack Emmett ,at this juncture, seemed to offer reasonable options, looking quite lively.
Just 4 minutes had gone, when Jimmy Ball`s through ball opened up the home defence. In no time it was out to Lloyd on the left and in another it was crossed neatly into the box where Louis Swain somehow stopped Sam Minihan from forcing it home.
That was encouraging, and more followed as a Ross free kick pushed Town back on the defensive. Again it looked good, as Lloyd was away down the left, and then he wasn`t as Colbeck`s body check stopped him in his tracks.
That was a poor foul and deserved to be punished by the free kick that followed, instead when Ball lifted the ball into the box, and Clarke met it with the firmest of headers….it was anguish all round for the blues as the ball thudded into the bar flying away out of danger.
It was time for a response from Town, but when Emmett obliged with a run that turned defence into attack, Joe Leesley fluffed the chance when the cross came his way.
That last action was against the run of play, but normal service was quickly resumed, only for Ball`s rapid progress to be interrupted by another poor tackle from Lloyd Kerry. The resultant free kick was followed by runs from Ross ( right) and Lloyd( left) that severely stretched the Yorkshire sides resolve, but without a goal to show!
Ten minutes in and I looked up to see Lloyd signal to Hinchliffe that he wanted the ball. It was a Hinchliffe free kick….and he duly obliged, and it was Lloyd`s after just one bounce. He was one on one with the keeper but snatched at it and his attempted lob merely gave the man with the gloves some catching practice.
County kept the pressure up- the ball flying from Minihan to Ross and on, before Crook did enough to deny Ball. Then a flick on from Odejayi , allowed Duxbury to set Lloyd up, until Colbeck`s intervention ended County`s hopes of that opening goal.
There was no let up from the blues as Montrose powered forward again setting Lloyd free with a glorious pass. Lloyd seemed to be aiming his cross for Minihan as he advanced and cut inside down the right, but then it didn`t as, with Crook and his fellow defenders gazing helplessly at it…the ball curled to within an inch of going in!
Odejayi joined the fray next and it took some really good work by Shiels to stop the rot as the County number nine cut through the home back line astutely.
That took us to the half hour mark, and another half chance for Town. This one fell to Jon Paul Pittman - the provider again being the energetic Emmett. It was another disappointment for the home specs however as, whilst there was power in Pittman`s shot, his radar was off and the ball flew wide.
There was a nice moment 32 minutes in when the County supporters and some of the home specs gave an ovation in honour of County fan Chris Thompson. This was a fitting tribute nicely observed- not even the small panto that had preceded it, as the referee charged the players with clearing the plethora of black/ yellow balloons from off the County goal line, could detract from its value!
Clarke was busy at both ends next ….first off narrowly failing to force home a corner, won by the endlessly energetic Stopforth, and then denying Emmett as he scooted clear on the break.
The last meaningful first half action saw County go close through Jimmy Ball whose run carved a hole in the home defence sufficient for Ross to sneak into. His shot went wide however and it was still 0-0 when the teams headed for the dressing rooms for a warm!
Town piled forward upon the re-start galvanised no doubt by having the wind to their backs now. Twice in quick succession Smalley did well with Emmett and others buzzing about near the edge of the County box.
Duxbury joined in too, and it was just as well, as without his input, Emmett might have nicked that opener.
County`s second half strategy seemed to be to absorb the pressure and hit on the break, and in this respect, when they did…they still managed to look the team most likely to…..
Just 4 minutes into the half and we had evidence of this as panic set in at the back for Town as County queued for a pot at goal. In the excitement Ball missed his kick…..then Lloyd appeared to be hauled down in the box ( no pen was given).
So…..trauma or no trauma…Town held out long enough to renew their assault of the County defence. In this respect Leesley and Emmett had switched flanks, but despite all their huff and puff, they could make little impression on the County back line where Hinchliffe emerged, to applause, with the ball to end one period of prolonged Town activity in the blue half.
Just beyond the hour, County replied, and again there was a certain amount of potency about the move as Odejayi threaded the ball through to Lloyd. Lloyd was having his usual fine, all action, game but sadly he dragged his shot wide and it stayed 0-0.
The 67th minute saw Meppen-Walter on for Minihan, and within 2 minutes JG`s move declared a handsome dividend in the shape of a goal.
It started with Crook in a considerable tiz, putting the ball hurriedly out of play with opener for County on the cards. Having survived that trauma…another came along apace and with the keeper stranded….. a yard off his line….Courtney Meppen-Walter experienced his ` Kayode Odejayi at Hednesford Moment` lifting a delightfully weighted lob into the overhead maelstrom over the keepers bewildered head …into the far corner of the net.
It was time for those under the Wetherby Road roof to go AS In celebration of a terrific goal and…a lead…..no disorder….no rancour…..just a celebration of their team`s efforts…..totally brilliant!
Soon after Amis came on for Odejayi, as Harrogate set about squaring this most un squarable of circles.
Corners ….crosses…long throws all headed Hinchliffe`s way - a punch under pressure here…a save there…and some mightily good cover from his colleagues and the hard won lead remained intact into added time and beyond.
Felix replaced Lloyd at the death, with County now facing a run of late free kicks in decidedly scoreable positions. Thankfully the Town forwards were lacking incisiveness and when they weren`t Clarke, Smalley and 9 others in white did the biz.
It was great stuff and a mighty roar pierced the cold North Yorkshire air circa 4.45 as the referee blew for time with County 3 points better off!
Get down to Edgeley Park on Sunday 1 January folks, for the return…give our team the support they deserve!
See you Sunday!
[ For the superb pictures from the game, including the famous Thompson's Tea Bar, please click here! ]
Harrogate Town line up:
Crook, Colbeck, Swain, Burrell, Ellis, Shiels, Emmett( Chilaka 75), Kerry, Pittman, Cadman( Brooksby 55/ Ainge 80), Leesley.
Subs not used: Platt, Turner.
Stockport County line up:
Hinchliffe, Ross, Clarke, Smalley, Duxbury, Montrose, Minihan( Meppen-Walter 67), Stopforth, Odejayi( Amis 72), Ball, Lloyd ( Felix 89).
Subs not used: Ormson, Marsden.