Bradford PA 0 County 2
County kept their promotion chances alive , with a muck and nettles performance today against a combative Bradford Park Avenue side at the sun drenched Horsfall Stadium.
For much of this tense tussle, with both teams defending like tigers and looking short on fire power, a 0-0 draw looked an odds on certainty.
County ,with Harry Brazel showing up well on his first full start, and usual suspects Montrose, Clarke and Lloyd again doing a shift, probably had more of the play in the first half but shared Avenue's inability to nick a goal.
We had to wait until late on for the goals that made the difference and kept County's play off dreams alive, and they came as a result of JG's late substitutions. Gonzales and Amis were brought on for Ball and Odejayi, and substitute Amis scored one not long after and had a substantial hand in the other from Lloyd that sealed the win.
Back at kick off time, or thereabouts, the large County following in the crowd were settling into their positions ahead of kick off. One of their number was County fan Damon Carroll, who had reached the football ground via a 39 mile trek from Stockport to Bradford in support of this stroke charity. Damon's was a magnificent performance too, sorted in around 13 hours which is simply brilliant.
If the County team knew of Damon's efforts I am certain they would have been inspired, on a day when inspiration was definitely needed.
The opening salvoes from County, who were actually playing in blue for a welcome change away from Edgeley Park, looked promising but lacked that certain something at the last gasp.
Lloyd had an early run eventually blocked on the edge of the box, and Marsden tested keeper Ed Hall with his opener which he held well enough.
Hall then thwarted Lloyd's next effort, just beating the diminutive County striker to a through ball just inside the box.
All this was very sedate stuff really with no great devil or spark in evidence, until Lloyd's next contribution, some 5 minutes in. Ross had just pushed on up the park to win his side a corner, when Lloyd latched onto this and darted into the box.
So far so very good, except up stepped Gavin Lothery with a typical number eleven's challenge that saw Lloyd on his back. It was a no brainer...a penalty....but Referee Finnie thought otherwise- a poor decision.
Avenue did win a corner themselves not long after this, but despite the trauma of the last action, Clarke and company were able to see any danger off.
Odejayi had a hand in that defensive action, and he was in the mix again setting up County's next raid , that saw Marsden's thoughtful pass send Lloyd in for another pot at goal.
This time no defender responded and Lloyd had his opportunity , but although his shot was a decent one, it whistled inches the wrong side of Hall's far post with the keeper groping ineffectually in the warm afternoon air.
County attacked a bit after this , but again without either luck or inspiration surfacing, and with the challenges from Avenue getting ever more reckless, it was disappointing to see Marsden first into Mr Finnie's book. I saw not what for, and am guessing ` bad haircut'.
County survived the free kick that followed that last trauma, and Ross again took time out to get up field, and from his effort Clarke was mere inches from applying a much needed finish.
The pressure on Avenue continued as Brazel, who was having a decent game, jinked into the box before picking Marsden out with a neat pass. Marsden's response was neat too, and so was his shot ,but again it flew narrowly wide of the target.
Half an hour had gone, and despite the play described above, much of what went on was decidedly scrappy , as both defences kept applying the screws.
And...when we did appear to have the required inspiration....the officials stepped in to kibosh it- evidence Lloyd being flagged offside ,34 minutes in, when no such thing!
It was frustrating and more followed after Ball, responding to Lloyd's through ball, won a corner, which County promptly wasted.
We were almost on half time now, as the Bradford keeper made a save to deny Brazel after Ryan Toulson had been pole axed by a shot by Lloyd.
Some brilliant attacking hold up play from Odejayi, was followed not long after, by excellent defensive work by Clarke, and that was that for the first 45 minutes.
A Duxbury throw is ushered on by Odejayi t o Ball, whose header is then tipped over the bar by Hall, as the second half opens.
County looked a tad more determined to me upon the re-start, but that would surely be an illusion. Duxbury was certainly on the front foot, and twice in rapid order his crosses put the home defence in a quandary.
They held out though, but it was not pretty, neither was the upshot of a clash of heads between Clarke and the combative Matt Hill.
Clarke fared much the worse of the two having to leave the field of play not to return. He was eventually replaced by Meppen-Walter after some minutes with County down to 10 for a time but attacking with gusto .
The pressure looked to be about to count, when a foul on Odejayi teed a free kick up in a decent position. But....having taken his time about it, the free kick from Marsden failed to hit the target!
County's set pieces, be they corners or free kicks, were again letting them down, we badly needed inspiration from somewhere....someone!
Brazel did good work to stop the rot as ex Hatter Chris Sharp broke down the right, but these sorties in County territory were not that regular an occurrence, and despite the score still being 0-0, County were having the lion's share of the possession- Duxbury particularly and he was again impressing going forward , as a couple more crosses from him discomforted the home back line.
No goal ensued however ,indeed the otherwise efficient Brazel sprayed the poorest of efforts high and wide. on the hour.
As time passed, and County continued to mount attacks on Hall's goal, the keeper began to get more and more jittery...charging from his goal one minute to hack the ball in the general direction of Skipton with Ball darting clear down the right, then on his toes the next to clash with Odejayi, repeating this action a couple of minutes later.
Brazel continued to ply his trade well , if again missing the target with another try with 20 minutes left.
Montrose was now coming into his own with some trade mark inspirational stuff drawing applause from the crowd, and Meppen- Walter....Lloyd.....both kept the pressure on Avenue in their very different ways- Lloyd a definite danger.......Meppen-Walter striving to get up the park and create it.
With just over 15 minutes left James acted , and it was an attacking move that saw Gonzales and Amis on for Ball and Odejayi.
County's forward push continued.....Montrose lifting one inches over......Amis and Brazel trying to add a finish , without success, to a decent Cartwright cross( I am impressed with Cartwright!).
Oh....and Hall was still seeking places far off , lumping one into the far distance as Gonzales appeared at speed at the edge of the area.
Amis meanwhile had a shot charged down, and disappointment seeped in again as the corner that followed came to nothing yet again.
I was still brooding over that one when it was party time at the away end as County took the lead. A Ross throw started it . Gonzales just failed to get a shot off but the ball went left to Lloyd whose effort was blocked a yard from the line.
Montrose then took a hand blasting a snorter that looked well worthy of being his second County goal, when Hill emerged on the line to stab the ball clear.....it went to Amis who made short work of firing it home and starting the party!
The celebrations were long and loud from nearly 1000 travelling County supporters, but when a brief pitch invasion was cleared, County had defending to do ,and Cartwright did it well getting a good block in to deny Sharp.
Gonzales almost put Marsden through with some excellent work, as County kept the pressure on.
Hall then saved well from a Lloyd shot, but a foul by Brazel opened a possible door for Avenue. This was promptly shut as County's makeshift defence saw the danger off superbly, but we needed to be careful in the dying minutes , to not concede cheep free kicks.
We also badly needed a second , game killing, goal, and a minute into added time we got one......
Hall had just cleared up field when the ball came back to Amis who ushered it quickly on to Lloyd to his left. Lloyd was in the box, and in the keeper's face and a delicious dink saw the ball beat Hall and enter the net.....cue more celebrations...it was 2-0, and probably game over!
It was not quite game over....there was time for more Montrose brilliance....some sound defensive work by Meppen-Walter and a late/late break from substitute Aiden Chippendale , and then it really was `game over'
A very praise worthy win in the end that.....made the day for 972 of the crowd of 1280....and keeps us still in there with a chance.
Get to Edgeley Park next Saturday and shout them home!
[ Brilliant pictures from the game here! ]
Bradford Park Avenue line up:
Hall, Toulson, Hill, Wroe, Nowakowski, Knowles( payne 83), Hibbs, Boshell( Sinclair 64), Sharp, Spencer( Chippendale 76), Rothery.
Subs not used: Worsnop.
Stockport County line up;
Hinchliffe, Ross, Clarke( Meppen-Walter 53), Cartwright, Duxbury, Montrose, Ball9 Gonzales 73), Brazel, Odejayi( Amis 73), Marsden, Lloyd.
Subs not used; Ormson, Ellison.
Attendance; 1280 (972 Hatters' fans)