County 0 Barrow 1
The curtain was brought down on County's pre-season, today at Edgeley Park, where, after a series of interesting and meaningful friendlies against the likes of Preston and Bolton Wanderers and others , the blues entertained Barrow....the Bash Street Kids of National League football!
The result was a 1-0 win for the Cumbrian side but the game was comprehensively ruined, as a spectacle, by the sight of Barrow continually hauling County players to the floor- usually but not exclusively Oswell. The approach owed more to the WWE or World Wrestling codes rather than any rule book devised by the footballing authorities- it was truly abysmal stuff from the visitors, rather answering my pre match question of `why so few actually travel from Barrow to watch the side?'. Would you ? I certainly wouldn't!
It was a pity really from a purely footballing standpoint , as Paul Cox's side , in Adi Yussuf, had a player who obviously had an abundance of skills and was on top of his game. In fact and by a country mile he was Barrow's outstanding player, scoring the winner early in the first half.
County again started without top scorer Matty Warburton, but did field new signing Ben McKenna. In truth we saw little from McKenna to excite , but that was perhaps to be expected having hardly been introduced to his blue shirted team mates.
The blues did not look at all inferior to their opponents and in Scott Duxbury they had someone to rival the Barrow number ten for energy and skills. He was top man for me again, with Winter and Clarke not far behind in the kudos stakes.
It was good to see Mike Swann( landlord of the Spinning Top in the crowd of just over 1000, as the game commenced with County ( thankfully) starting with their backs to the Cheadle End.
Straight from the off County pushed the visitors back , and couple of early corners, saw keeper Stuart Moore busily punch clear at one point under pressure. A free kick quickly followed, but this, the first effort in a County shirt from McKenna, flew disappointingly wide.
Barrow responded and Walker did just enough to ensure that Yussuf's shot missed the target.
Again the game switched ends as Stephenson ran onto Walker's neat through ball before slipping a pass inside to Winter whose shot took a late/late deflection off a defender. The mother of all melees ensued from the corner ,with someone in red somehow managing to boot the ball off the line.
No goals then, but not a bad start to be fair!
Barrow again replied though, and the first of a game long series of long throws put County under the cosh. A second throw followed as Winter found touch, and Ball made the clearance eventually to end the County angst.
Twelve minutes had gone by and I had just watched Stephenson 's shot charged down , and Ball's blocked on the edge of the Barrow box, when from all that County attacking came the opening goal, and it came to Barrow......
The visitors were attacking but there did not seem to be any emergency to deal with for County even though Yussuf was shaping to get the ball. He had Minihan in his face...and then unaccountably...he hadn't , and before the County man could recover ,the forward was away and in on goal where a neat angled shot eluded Hinchliffe's dive to give Barrow the lead.
County piled forward after this showing plenty of energy, but nothing in the way of threat- Stephenson missing out when one on one with Moore with a chance to equalise on after the keeper could only parry a shot from Oswell.
Meanwhile ...whilst County were doing a shade more attacking than Barrow, when Yussuf was involved a goal always looked at least possible. That said O'Halloran chipped in with the neatest of blocking tackles to deny the goal scorer, after he had been allowed to continue on after an assault on Winter en-route.
No goal that time then, and none at the other end either as McKenna pinged one in- missing the target by not very much at all.
We were 30 minutes in now and it was getting steadily more tedious watching breaking County players slyly hauled down by one or other Barrow defenders. It was Oswell this time, and Ball's kick was good, forcing Moore to tip the ball over the bar to save the day for his side.
That was close, and so was Asa Hall a minute later for Barrow , but his shot brought the best out of Hinchliffe who kept it at 0-1.
Moussa Diarra got himself booked next for a none too fussy bit of work on Oswell in front of the Danny Stand. A regular `bru-ha-ha' followed ,but this quickly cooled off allowing Walker to have a go with the free kick. The kick was not that great, indeed Barrow had it on the break from it, and Minihan did well to stop Yussuf with a timely intervention to stop the rot for the blues.
Back came County, only for another mindless challenge to stop Stephenson's progress. The kick was not good and Barrow ,as a consequence, were able to clear their lines.<
It went on...County breaking from half way or thereabouts....Barrow opting for some WWE or an early shirt exchange- again the 37th minute saw Oswell so treated, and it was really irksome that we again made nothing of the free kick.
The closing minutes of the half saw Barrow on the front foot-Hall volleying inches over the angle of bar and post with 3 minutes left.
With 2 minutes left they came at us again this time via Yussuf whose dangerous cross was ushered away by the watchful Clarke. A corner followed and a spectacular overhead kick, a yard out, from Jimmy Dunne, but Hinchliffe was on it in a flash to make the save.
Clarke and O'Halloran did good work next as the half drew to a close with Thiery Audel charging at us down the right.
That was a frustrating 45 minutes, but with County kicking our way in the second half......
Into the second half then, and Barrow started it on the attack- Hall again going close with an early effort.
Hall was there again within a couple of minutes , on the end of a decent ball from Yussuf. It looked a goal no messing, and his shot was on target, but Hinchliffe's dive saw him brilliantly fend the ball off with his legs- 0-1 it stayed!
McKenna had a shot saved by Moore some minutes later, and this proved to be his last contribution as he was replaced by Cowan with 10 minutes gone of the half.
More attacking followed from County, and the almost inevitable free kick, and Moore did well this time to keep Ball's kick out.
County looked to be building up a certain momentum now, and it was fantastically annoying to see Oswell again hauled down by Nieskins. No booking ( amazingly) for Nieskins ...and no goal either- Jordan White tracking back to thwart Stephenson's goal ward gallop.
Beyond the hour we saw a chink in the Yussuf armour as he missed the target when put through with the poorest of shots.
County replied quickly to that last action ,and Minihan was clear and inside the box when he was upended by Diarra. It was a clear penalty, but neither liner nor referee would have it so, and Barrow had escaped ridiculously!
On it went...Stephenson pulled down by Dunne......the trialist ( 22) allowed a few minutes later to foul his man and thus halt the latest incisive run from Duxbury.
It was getting boring now as Oswell was involved in an unwanted shirt exchange with Nieskins. No free kick or penalty resulted and Barrow were allowed to clear after...yes...you guessed it....being awarded a free kick!
County were certainly doing their best to square this particular circle, but Barrow still offered some morsels to their fans, via Yussuf, but his latest run was cut short by Clarke after the forward had eluded O'Halloran.
Clarke then went off being replaced by George West - an attacking move from JG.
Oh......and Nieskins upended Stephenson to earn an overdue booking.
A series of last ditchers followed from Barrow as Dunne headed the free kick out, just beating Oswell to the ball. Diarra found touch and Moore was seen to punch clear as the pressure continued on the visitors goal- the excitement ending when Stephenson fired wide after good work by Duxbury had been blocked by Dan Jones.
Hinchliffe did well faced with Yussuf and Gomis on the break, whilst Oswell could only send his header wide from a late/late County corner.
County re-doubled their attacking efforts as the 90th minute beckoned, and Jones again came to his teams aid ,finding touch as Duxbury's cross eluded Oswell and Ball in front of goal. It was `anywhere ' now from Barrow as, in rapid succession, Jones and Diarra belted the ball into the middle distance with the pressure on.
The 90th minute saw Duxbury plant the ball onto Ball's head smack in front. Ball's header was a decent one but not good enough to beat Moore and it stayed 0-1 and Barrow had won.
No shame in that from County, who I suspect are gagging for the season to start for real.
That goes for me too, see you at Spennymoor next Saturday I hope!
[ Pictures of County vs 'Bash Street Kids' can be found here! ]
Stockport County line up:
Hinchliffe, Minihan, Clarke ( West 78), O'Halloran, Duxbury, Winter , McKenna ( Cowan 53), Walker, Oswell, Ball, Stephenson.
Subs not used; Ormson, Hampson, Brazel, Smalley.
Barrow line up:
Moore, Audel( Trialist (22) 60 , Jones, Nieskins, Dunne, Diarra, Gomis, Harvey,White, Yussuf, Hall( Panayiotou 85)
Subs not used: Hughes, Bauress, Fitzpatrick,Makoma.