AFC Fylde 0 County 0
In a game that fizzed, pulsed and roared for 90 odd minutes, last night, in the cold Lancashire air at league leaders AFC Fylde`s swanky new pad, County thrilled upwards of 1000 travelling County fans with a superb performance which earned them a deserved point.
County pulled out all the stops in what was quite simply a terrific match between two alpha teams in top form and out to thrill. They did just that, and in return the large County following gave a display of support that typified their avid commitment as much as their teams quality.
After a spell in the first 5 minutes when the hosts enjoyed possession and a measure of control the other 89 minutes were end to end with both sides working like demons to exploit a weakness they strained for but just could not find.
The game was about the best I have seen this season, and it went off in a fine spirit with no sign of the ill feeling, and poor discipline we saw at Edgeley Park from Fylde who clearly now have their eyes on the prize.
County have similar ambitions and on the evidence of this performance, on what was a perishingly cold night, their ambitions are not misplaced.
As usual it was a team performance ……and as I have hinted already…..one to die for, but I give special mentions to Harry Winter, who made crucial contributions here there and everywhere for 90 odd minutes……..Michael Clarke( a rock as usual), and Ben Hinchliffe who punched cleanly under pressure…caught and saved everything sent his way!
That said…..no one ducked a shift and as a result I suspect that the table toppers will be rather more pleased with their point this morning than will County who just might fancy they might have nicked it!
Fylde opened brightly, composed and positive on the ball, and the first 4 minutes saw County defending deep in their own half fending a series of corners off.
The mini siege was lifted by Montrose who ran the ball clear, and the ensuing break required keeper Rhys Taylor to make a save to stop Danny Lloyd opening the scoring.
The game swung abruptly after this, and Hinchliffe followed Taylor`s example with a neat save to deny Rowe, who had ambled clear in his characteristically misleading way.
That was 10 minutes done and dusted, 10 that were followed by a concerted effort from County to dent their opponents self confidence. Three corners racked up in quick succession, each with no goal at the end of it, but County`s confidence must have received a lift to see Fylde so inconvenienced.
Ball and Montrose went close at one point- thwarted by the outstretched leg of Dom Collins, and Taylor did well to beat Gonzales to a high bouncing ball into the box.
This was promising stuff from a County team that looked as cool and confident as we had probably expected our hosts to be.
Gonzales was having a rare old battle with Collins, and the defender was moved to foul his man to stop him. The free kick set us up with a chance, but this quickly disappeared as Maguire headed Ball`s kick clear, and sent Rowe on the charge.
It was a good break and needed urgent attention from the County back- line, and Smalley provided it, snuffing the danger out leaving Rowe bemused …staring blankly into the darkening Fylde sky line.
Break sorted…..County pushed Fylde back again through Montrose, whose drivingly relentless run coaxed another foul out of the white shirted Fylde defence. Again the kick offered a glimpse of glory, but after an engaging mime twixt Lloyd and Ball, Ball took it …hit the wall…chance gone!
A clutch of County corners followed with Gonzales in the van for the blues. It was a case of `close but not quite close enough` though, as the period of pressure ended with Mark Ross shooting wide of Taylor`s left hand post, after Daniels had hooked the ball clear under pressure.
It was time for a reply from the Lancashire side and it came via ex Hatter Danny Rowe who was not best pleased to see his shot hurried away off the line by Clarke, after much good work from Matt Hughes.
I made Matt Hughes and Finley Fylde`s top men, but it was County`s Danny Lloyd who had the crowd roaring- just kept out by Caspar Hughes` last gasper with Gonzales lurking menacingly to his right.
Half time was approaching, but we needed to concentrate and not concede with Fylde re-doubling their efforts to score, and Clarke fully understood this need being in position to usher another effort off the line as Rowe sought to finish off more good work from Matt Hughes on the right.
On this excellent game went with Gonzales and Minihan setting up a clutch of County corners and an anxious moment or two for the league leaders. Rowe eventually was in position to hook the ball clear and the danger was gone.
Rowe`s up field punt sent a bevy of white shirts heading Hinchliffe`s way, but their initial thrust was met decisively by Hampson.
The home side were not daunted however and Matt Hughes took the initiative darting through the middle to the edge of the box, where a fine tackle from Winter stopped the rot for County.
It was a beat of an intervention from the ex FCUM man, but referee Pete Gibbons saw it differently awarding Fylde the most dubious of free kicks smack in front and dead central! Adding insult to injury the confused official then booked Winter.
Fuming ….. I guess, County had to organise a wall, but Rowe by-passed it with his kick which was smack on the button, but then so was the Hinchliffe response and his dive saw him tip the ball over the bar spectacularly. Smalley then did the biz by heading the resultant corner clear, and that was an excellent first half put to bed!
Gonzales was in action early doors on the re-start, and Taylor did well to make the save that denied County that vital first goal.
Again the play swung about and Fylde attacked, but again County found the answer as Ross blocked Daniels run.
Back came County almost immediately and this time, with Gonzales and Lloyd surging hither and thither at pace, a goal really did look on, until the most ridiculous offside decision robbed County of the chance that looked right on. That really was a poor call!
The result was another Fylde break…..and another decent catch under pressure from Hinchliffe to stop it.
It went on….Gonzales/ Ball tearing into the home side`s defences one moment….a punch out by Hinchliffe…..then an on the line block by Clarke the next….wow what a game this was!
Gonzales was getting into the Fylde faces nicely now , and we should have had a free kick as one of his surging runs was half stopped by a crude foul . The offence was clearly seen by the referee but the free kick did not follow when County`s advantage slipped away.
I must have a word with myself about criticising referees…..but then again perhaps if they improved their performance………..
Undaunted, Gonzales combined with Minihan next to push Fylde back in their last third. Ross joined them winning a corner that very nearly saw Lloyd nick one.
Beyond the hour then, and still no let up in the pace of the game, and Finley went close with a shot that took a deflection. Minihan tidied up from the corner , but the pressure continued as a short series of cheep free kicks given away by County, offered Fylde renewed chances from decent positions.
Thankfully the latest saw Daniels slip as he took the kick, and the ball flew wide, but the free kicks needed to be cut out if County were to survive intact.
County actually had more on their mind than mere survival and the next action saw them almost take the lead. Lloyd was in the van with a typical run and shot that Taylor saved well.
The keeper could only parry Lloyd`s powerful effort however and a goal looked decidedly on as Gonzales and Ball surged for the ball half a yard or so out. It looked all over 1-0 , but it wasn`t to be as Gonzales` momentum saw him hit the upright with a half hit effort.
That was a massive disappointment and more followed as Minihan had a shot charged down, and the raid ended with handball by Gonzales giving Fylde some much needed relief.
Again the game swung ends, but Daniels fluffed his lines when well placed, sending his header over the top.
Felix replaced Lloyd with just over 20 minutes left, but there was no let up in County`s attacking play, and at times Fylde were happy just to find touch with blue shirts buzzing all around the place.
Have I said it was `end to end`? Well it certainly was as Clarke did well to head a Kennedy cross out under pressure, as a prelude to a save by Taylor at the other end of the park to deny Gonzales.
Felix`s pace gave us clear indications of his potential to wreak havoc, but having dashed clear, on 73 minutes, and made it to the by-line- the end product was a disappointing ball inside that found a white shirt.
Felix kept running at Fylde however, and again County went close…first via Minihan whose shot took a deflection, and then from Winter, whose glancing header was mere inches away from sneaking in at the far post.
Fylde replied in kind with Finley not far away with a neat strike. James Hardy and ex Hatter Richie Baker followed this up with some neat work that was snuffed out by even better stuff from Winter.
If Baker was emerging as an influential contributor in his late cameo role, so was Winter and he had been on the park game long, and we still had 10 minutes to go!
Ball then sent Felix clear, only for Taylor to advance out of the box to hack the ball off the park. Hampson joined in, going close with a fine header, and still I could not rid myself of the feeling that we just might snatch this one!
With Ross to the fore, County piled forward in the games last minutes, and for long periods Fylde were on the rack good and proper. They found time to have a go themselves though - Matt Hughes seeing a shot blocked, and Maguire lifting another over the bar and into the dark beyond!
County ended the game on the front foot and I was not alone in shouting `penalty` as Felix went down in the box under pressure from Matt Hughes.
With County pressing….pressing…there was of course time for one more twist ….one more switch in play as the league leaders summoned up enough oomph to go again, but Ross was on hand and a brilliant bit of work from him snuffed the embryonic raid out.
Great stuff….great game….fantastic County performance, one to be truly proud of.
I saw enough last night to suggest that County have what it takes to do what needs to be done!
They lie seventh now but well placed and in excellent nick, so with the support from their fans matching the team`s efforts, we are an irresistible force- believe!
[ Atmospheric pictures from the game here! ]
AFC Fylde line up:
Taylor, C Hughes, Kennedy, Maguire, Collins( Baker 70), Bond, M Hughes( Dixon 82), Finley, Rowe, Bradley, Daniels( Hardy 75).
Subs not used: Kay, Blinkhorn.
Stockport County line up:
Hinchliffe, Ross, Clarke, Smalley, Hampson, Montrose, Minihan, Winter, Gonzales( Duxbury 87), Ball, Lloyd( Felix 67).
Subs not used: Ormson, Meppen-Walter, Odejayi.
Attendance : 2489