Brackley Town 0 County 3
So, to the final game of what many considered a season defining trio of contests against fellow contenders, Darlington, AFC Halifax and Brackley Town.
If the first of those games was a disappointing point snatched from a probable three, the second a hard fought and gritty draw, then this was really something quite different-an entertaining game in miserable conditions with the Hatters scoring three without reply and in truth it could have been more.
Both sides, and I have to say decent officials, all playing their part in entertaining the 368 crowd of which I counted around half made up of traveling Hatters.
Gary Stopforth having departed to begin his antipodean adventure,meant that changes were forced from Saturday`s game included recalls for Mark Ross, Courtney Meppen-Walter and Josh Amis.
After County kicked off proceedings, little action of any note ensued for a time.
A couple of throws for each side before a poor Sam Minihan clearance gave Brackley a sniff, Ben Hinchliffe fumbled the attempt but the danger passed as the ball was cleared.
Shortly after, Brackley were awarded a free kick on the half way line that was sent straight at Minihan. Michael Clarke then made a slight horlicks of an attempted clearance but Glen Walker fluffed his opportunity and it remained goalless.
Danny Lloyd then broke for County but was penalised and then repeated the action but slipped in the perpetual drizzle and the moment was gone. Michael Clarke and Glen Walker then had a tussle with the Brackley winger getting a shot off that Ben Hinchliffe comfortably dealt with.
Danny Lloyd then fashioned himself some space to break and cross but Josh Amis was just unable to meet the ball and the chance went.
On thirteen minutes, Lloyd was put through again and `scored', but the effort was disallowed seemingly for a push. Shortly after, a rather meaty challenge on Amis gave the Hatters a free kick, but nothing came of it. Jordan Gough then illegally dished Elliot Osborne and received a yellow card for his troubles.
Brackley then had a short spell of possession where the dangerous Glen Walker got a decent cross in, but the header was placed wide. At the other end Mark Ross got a shot off which was blocked for a corner that Brackley clear.
The next one following a counter attack did pay dividends after a Josh Amis shot was blocked, Courtney Meppen-Walter met it to perfection and directed his header just inside the far post........... 1-0 with 24 minutes played.
Following the restart the home side fashioned a corner for themselves after Hinchliffe parried an effort.
The corner produced nothing, but from the break Osborne just failed to find Danny Lloyd. The home side then press again following a free kick in their favour and after some minor panic in the penalty area Hinchliffe gathered the ball, before being fouled by Lee Ndlovu.
On the half hour mark Brackley won another corner but then waste it. County then win themselves a free kick after Amis is fouled but Elliot Osborne tries to take it short and the ball is lost.
Brackley stage a break next but a rather crude challenge on Sam Minihan by Lee Ndlovu sees him become the second Brackley recipient of a yellow card.
On 36 minutes Osborne then broke from midfield and picked out Meppen-Walter on the edge of the penalty area his right footed shot skimmed the wet surface took a bobble in front of the keeper..................... 2-0
At last we get that second goal that often seems to elude us when our pressure justifies it.
Brackley resume proceedings and a bone jarring tackle on Mark Ross referee Paul Howard adjudges as 50/50 and then Adam Walker for the home side makes some space for a shot that is well wide.
Following some minor excitement at both ends the added two minutes time is played and half time is with us.
From the restart Brackley threaten with Armson but Clarke makes a wonderful tackle and then the home side make a half hearted appeal for a handball in the County box but are 'rewarded` with an offside decision instead.
On 51 minutes Danny Lloyd got a strong shot away, the keeper parries but Amis cannot meet the rebound and Osborne threatens but cannot get his shot off.
On the hour mark Brackley replace David Moyo with Ellis Myles. Danny Lloyd then goes down under a heavy challenge, nothing given but Lloyd required treatment when the ball finally goes out of play.
Play continues and Lewis Montrose makes a great tackle before Myles executes a beautiful swallow dive that failed to impress anybody least of all Mr Howard. County keep up the pressure and at the other end Josh Amis charges down Laurie Walker`s clearance and a home goal kick ensues.
Yet more pressure from the visitors and at the other end we see some aerial ballet in the home sides penalty area when Amis knocks the ball down but no takers to put the game to bed.
Steve Diggin replaces Matt Lowe for Brackley. Scott Duxbury clears his lines but Lloyd is flagged offside. Josh Amis then gets a shot off that loops off a defender and the keeper deals with it.
On 65 minutes following a Brackley corner, Danny Lloyd breaks, gets his shot off that the keeper blocks and Sam Minihan trying for all his worth to keep his follow up shot down scoops it over the bar - chance gone.
Danny Lloyd`s departs on 69 minutes...... he his replaced by Kaine Felix whom the stadium announcer introduced as Jimmy Ball (!) but did correct himself later and indeed the 'real' Jimmy Ball did replace Osborne later. The home side themselves make another change bringing on Rankin for Jordan Gough.
Brackley then fashioned their best chance of the game but lady luck was not on their side and Adam Walker`s effort crashed off Hinchliffe`s post.
Following some more County pressure started by a Felix break, Jimmy Ball`s effort was blocked but Minihan prodded a cross that Felix steered in to howls off 'offside` from the hosts and the locals, possibly with some justification but the officials did not concur and it was 3-0.
Seeking a fourth goal Josh Amis chases a long ball that the keeper gathers but his perceived challenge on the keeper earns him a caution from Mr Howard. Mr Howard than gave us an added 4 minutes and that was that.
A complete performance in difficult conditions after a long trip against good quality promotion contenders. Man of the match could have been any of them really but for me Meppen-Walter, Osborne and Minihan all shone.
Out of that trio of 'defining` games that saw us prevent any of those teams from beating us and propels us nicely into 5th spot.
Of course the trick now is to win against the so called lesser teams starting with Stalybridge on Saturday but you know it is rarely that simple!
None the less after driving home and hitting the pillow around 1.30 am I and you could bathe in the warm afterglow of this win.
[ See the pics from the game, including one of the author (many thanks Adrian) by clicking here ]
County: Hinchliffe, Ross,Duxbury,Montrose,Clarke,Smalley,Minihan, Meppen-Walter, Amis, Osborne (Ball 80), Lloyd (Felix 68)
Subs Unused: Brazel,Ormson, Marsden
Brackley: Walker,Moyo (Myles 55),Gudger, Byrne, Graham, Gough (Rankin 73), Walker, Armson, Ndluvu, Lowe (Diggin 57), Walker
Subs Unused: Bowden, Pitt
Attendance: 368 (12th Man 185)
Referee: Mr Paul Howard