County 1 Harrogate Town 1
This was a disappointing start to the new year, as County surrendered a slender one goal lead late on to a Harrogate Town side that had not mustered so much as one shot, on target of any note, all match.
'How so?` I hear you cry, and the answer is that, on the stroke of 90 minutes, with County cruising, albeit by only one goal, and Town looking clueless as to just where a shot never mind a goal would come from, the blues did the job for them as a suicidal back pass from the otherwise excellent Gary Stopforth left keeper Hinchliffe helpless and the visitors cock a hoop!
I took the path between the reservoirs as my route home after the game, and my journey was made to the accompaniment of disturbed squarking from the geese/ ducks that were in occupation of the murky waters- it rather summed up my feelings to a cold post Xmas tee!
County had been the better team , in another closely fought out encounter, but , when Michael Clarke planted his header home from a corner just after the hour there seemed but one winner, and with Town unable to muster anything like a worthwhile shot on goal, it clearly wasn`t them.
I am tempted to say at this point…..in fact I will…..that had Danny Lloyd`s umpteenth gritty run into the box, with just 5 minutes left, ended with a penalty as the combined attentions of messrs Swain and Ainge saw Lloyd decked inside the box, instead of a slack wrested shrug from referee Dave Underwood, the 1-0 it was at that point would surely have been 2-0 and it would have been `match over`.
As it was the referee`s bottle job set up the finale that Town hardly deserved, and a swing of Lady Luck`s fashion accessory did the rest!
There was one change for County, at 3 o`clock, namely the inclusion of Courtney Meppen-Walter at Mark Ross`s expense, as the game got underway with the hills in the far distance bedecked with snow. Judged by feel of the afternoon air, it seemed highly likely that it would not be long off heading our way.
A minutes silence honouring all those in the County Family who have passed in 2016 had preceded the kick off which saw the County faithful get behind their team with some suitably rousing stuff including the odd tribute to Danny Bergara.
Much of the early action saw Harrogate on the ball, but even at this juncture it was already apparent that they would struggle to make an impact , despite the encouragement of a couple of cheap free kicks courtesy of Mr Underwood.
I had forgotten the irritating tendency from Town, evident in shed loads on Boxing Day, of going to ground preferably to the accompaniment of anguished cries of pain. Jack Emmett( a reasonable player in my view and one I earmarked as a possible threat) reminded me a couple of minutes in going down with full theatrical effects in place. It mattered not…..the kicks were poor…..the shots on the end of both…worse…. and County made light of them.
Twice in the first 5 minutes, Hinchliffe had sought to pick Lloyd out, and twice the ruse had only just failed to declare a dividend.
Meanwhile, what attacks that Town were mounting were going nowhere fast as Smalley particularly was on his metal - judgement spot on…clearances likewise!
It was not long before County set about attacking the Railway End, and keeper Peter Crook did well to smother Lloyd`s shot as he dived to his near post.
Another minute….another County raid…..and Crook was in action again robbing Duxbury in the box after the young full back had charged pretty much the length of the field.
County were warming up nicely now, and a neat header from Odejayi , ushered Duxbury`s throw on to Lloyd, who was already looking a major threat to the Yorkshire team. Again …however…Crook managed to get down and keep Lloyd`s shot out!
Just over 10 minutes had gone, and County had done enough to convince me that they would have enough to prevail today, and Smalley underlined my confidence with the firmest of headers out as Swain pinged a hopeful ball into the box for Town!
County were still looking the more likely to……but Mr Underwood was not helping any, totally ignoring a foul on Stopforth when a corner, won by Duxbury, put the visitors under the cosh.
Harrogate cleared, thanks to the referee`s error, but County would not go away, and Swain had to again foul Montrose ( who I thought had a terrific 90 odd minutes) to stop the rot. A poor County free kick helped Town raise a smile.
Now…..Lloyd eventually took the sponsors M.O.M award, and the next few minutes illustrated perhaps why…….27 minutes….back tracking Emmett before bamboozling him with some neat defensive work that won a throw…..28 minutes…..up the park onto a Stopforth pass and only stopped by a last ditch naughty one from Ellis……33 minutes ( following applause for Chris Thompson)…just kept from the ball by Crook at the last gasp…..34 minutes…. Stopforth sends him clear again, and is unlucky to see his shot charged down, when Lloyd picks him out with a neat return pass.
In the Greedy League this sort of stuff would be attracting rave reports, and it is great that we can boast having him in our team!
Hinchliffe had some work to do about this time, but the shot from Warren Burrell needed a steady eye and a firm catch nothing more and the County keeper duly obliged.
County kept the pressure on in the run up to half time, with Meppen- Walter and Ball combining nicely to put Minihan through. Only a corner resulted, and more looked on the cards, but Smalley saw his shot blocked , and Ball`s follow up headed over the bar into the empty Railway End.
It continued with Lloyd stretching the visitors back line to breaking point at times- but smack on 45 minutes, Odejayi was just kept from forcing a Lloyd cross home by Joe Colbeck on the line.
Two minutes of added time failed to offer Town any respite, mainly due to Minihan and Lloyd who ripped up the place down the right flank. A cross followed, then a sublime lay off from Odejayi, but the half ended with Ball`s shot thudding into one of a line of defenders.
It was time for the break…..and no doubt a warm for the players, as they left the field to applause.
County opened up in lively fashion when the game re-started, with both Ball and Minihan bringing the best out of Swain and Burrell with determined runs.
The game went off the boil slightly for a while, brought back abruptly when Crook again nipped beyond his box to this time deny Ball.
Past the hour, and County were still on the front foot, none more so than Lloyd who followed some excellent work from Odejayi/ Ball and Minihan with a screamer of a shot that took a deflection before going narrowly out for a corner.
There was some disappointment about at this point- that just might have deserved to be the opener- but this did not last long as the kick soared to the back post where Clarke stole a march on his markers to plant the firmest of headers home!
There was deep joy in the County camp, and Crook did well not long after to keep another Lloyd effort out following good work from Minihan.
Another corner followed and this time Clarke had Swain on his case, indeed holding his shirt. It mattered not…..Clarke shrugged his marker off again and was desperately unlucky with his header, and somehow Harrogate survived without conceding again!
JG swapped Odejayi for Amis ,with 20 minutes remaining, and for a while after Harrogate pushed forward holding onto possession quite well, but there was nothing evident in the way of end product, and thus, despite their slender advantage, I felt County to be safe.
Substitute Chib Chilaka , for Town, seemed to prove my point….twice getting decent possession before …twice failing to hit the target with his efforts, whilst for the blues …Lloyd, Montrose and Lloyd again worked small wonders in the Town last third without reward.
On it went as Amis saw a shot blocked….Lloyd lifted one over the bar.
Amis started to stretch the visitors back line with his runs but instead of a goal, a throw was the reward. This instigated more pressure, largely Minihan induced, but when Lloyd won us a corner, Mr Underwood dismayed us by signalling a goal kick!
There were about 2 minutes left of normal time when Lloyd set about another lung bursting run. He had Swain and Ainge for company, and upon reaching the box , pressure from the duo forced him onto the deck. It was a nailed on penalty, but not according to the referee who waved play - a ludicrous decision!
I was still fuming when Stopforth saw his run blocked on the edge of the box next….then Ainge stepped in again to block Amis`s path to goal ( legitimately this time).
It was getting too one sided for words, as Ellis and Ainge combined to usher a dangerous ball by Duxbury away from the danger zone.
The 90 minutes were almost up now, and we just had to bide our time …play safe …..and the points were ours….
Then it happened….Stopforth under no pressure at all sent a back pass back to where he must have assumed keeper Hinchliffe was……but he wasn`t and the ball crept inside the far post, to the absolute anguish of pretty much all of the 3700+ crowd.
It was like a pools win….the lottery…the lot for Town who suddenly had a new lease of life as we entered 4 minutes added time.
County did their best to put things right….Minihan tore into Town with pace and energy…but no luck…as did Montrose ….Lloyd and others, but it was not to be …the points were shared and that was that!
That was bitterly disappointing, but not the end of the world.
This team is good enough to push on, and I for one will be there next Saturday to support them.
See you at Boston then!
[ As ever, pics from the game here! ]
Stockport County line up:
Hinchliffe, Minihan, Clarke, Smalley, Duxbury, Montrose, Stopforth, Meppen-Walter( Ross 45), Odejayi( Amis 70), Ball, Lloyd.
Subs not used; Ormson, Marsden, Felix.
Harrogate Town line up:
Crook, Colbeck, Swain, Burrell( Thanoj 65), Ellis, Shiels( Ainge 41), Emmett, Kerry, Pittman, Day( Chilaka 65), Leesley.
Subs not used: Platt, Parker.