County 3 Curzon Ashton 0
James Gannon's Stockport County answered the critics and doubters last night, with an emphatic 3-0 victory against a Curzon Ashton side whose 4-0 win just a few days earlier had set them atop the table.
The Tameside side were surprisingly brittle at times last night ,and this did not play well pitted against County's obvious zest to put Saturday behind them. I have said that the visitors were brittle at times, but at others they looked to at least want to have an impact on proceedings, unfortunately for them they were already 3 down by the time a full hand of substitutes had firmed up this conviction.
The win was thoroughly deserved and well worked, with goals coming from Captain Fantastic- Harry Winter in the first half ,then one each for Matty Warburton and Jason Oswell after the break. Warburton's superb free kick was the pick of three well taken goals, that sent a decent wet Tuesday night crowd of over 3000 home happy.
JG rang the changes again bringing Connor Hampson and Chris Smalley in for Scott Duxbury and Steve O'Halloran, and Sam Walker was again on the bench, but it was perhaps surprising to see that despite their side sitting at the head of the division after Saturday's 4-0 win, the Nash ultras stayed at home, there being barely a single coach load in the away enclosure at the far end of the Pop Side.
The match was underway on time , and within seconds County were in hungry search of a goal at the Railway End, with Warburton unlucky to find visiting keeper Cameron Mason on his toes and able to make the save. It was only a parry however, and a melee then ensued , the keeper doing well to eventually emerge with the ball , as his defence presumably tried to recall just how they had kept a clean sheet just 3 days earlier.
The County pressure was kept up but the nearest to a goal came 5 minutes in, and it was fuelled by an unlikely source. Harry Winter is in majestic form just now , but the 5th minute saw him tamely pass the ball to Max Leanoard just outside the box and pretty much smack central. In no time the number 10 did the right thing and passed to Paul Marshall , but his shot was as poor as Harry's pass and it stayed 0-0 as the ball flew a yard wide.
Just 5 minutes gone and it could have been 1-1 already, this was shaping up to be an interesting night!
County looked to be gagging for a goal, none more so than Warburton who made it to the by-line with intent 3 minutes later. The ball inside to Stephenson was a good one as was the Stephenson response , but the shot went wide to the delight of the miserably small away following.
The Nash responded well to the County pressure but although Chris Rowney followed his forwards up the park, when he got possession , not far out, he sprayed his shot into our midst behind Hinchliffe's goal.
A cheeky free kick , awarded to my consternation, by David Mc Namara the referee, bolstered, if temporarily, the Ashton effort , and a definite chance emerged when the kick came over from under the Danny Stand. Yes....Leanoard should have done better than he did , and made County's night less of a party than it ultimately would become, but he didn`t .... totally failing to put away what was distinctly put awayable.
Would the visitors rue that one later ?
There was no time to ponder or discuss that one as Mason was in action again to deny Stephenson's run through the middle of the Nash back line.
Meanwhile....I was pleased to see County's rear guard shaping up well and steadily getting into gear. It was good to see Smalley back alongside Clarke in the centre of it all, and gradually Cowan was emerging with honours too with some neat defensive work earning him applause . He even found time for a lung bursting run from deep into the box- he then lost the pill, but as a message of intent Dan's run had legs!!
Others were showing great intent too, and Warburton was amongst 'em still , but inches from reaching a tasty ball to the back post from Hampson.
County were warming to their task now and it was not a great surprise to see them take the lead 21 minutes into proceedings. The surprise factor was that it was Harry Winter who scored, forcing home a cross from wide right in the packed box.
That was great stuff from Harry and Row R was bubbling over with excitement at the prospect of what might be to come from the blues.
It went a bit quiet for a time next, Minihan's run to win a corner on 27 minutes the nearest to anything exciting, but County continued their poor form when it came to corner kicks and Sam's hard work was laid waste, the County number 7 was not down hearted however and he linked up nicely with the ebullient Warburton to push the Nash back- a series of County throws increasing the angst for our visitors.
No goal was conceded though, so John Flanagan's side would be reasonably content with that outcome I guess. For County meanwhile they did manage to work another corner and come close to making it count- Clarke winning it...his shot deflected....Smalley close with a header. `Better' I told myself and I still stand by that assessment!
Back came County through some good work from Winter and Minihan, but the bounce did for Stephenson's attempts to add a finish to the duo's efforts with the Nash back line well stretched.
The 33rd minute saw County still pushing on , but with Winter fancying his chances of doubling his personal tally , with the ball at his feet, and the goal some way off but notionally within his range, he ballooned his shot high into the trees at the Railway End.
County were making good use of the flanks and their raids were causing great unease in the ranks of the Curzon Ashton defence , and twice within a minute this unease saw them hack Hampson to the ground . Surprisingly only one of these two muggings received its due from referee McNamara, the second one, and this saw Stephenson go close as County got the free kick right.
Things evened out in the last 5 minutes of the half and I felt that 1-0 at the break was not at all a bad return with County kicking towards the Cheadle End in the second half.
It took just 4 minutes for County to double their goal tally when play resumed, and it was a run from Stephenson that set it up, aided big time by Matt Regan's foul on the County man as he headed goal ward. Free kick then...and the usual pre kick conference ran its course over the ball, before Warburton did the honours...and how....beating the wall and Mason with an absolute peach!
Credit to Curzon Ashton...they did not lie down after that considerable set back, instead they surged forward , and James Baillie showed good form down the right causing problems at one point with a run to the by-line and cross. A number of crosses then pinged in from the number 7 , and he took a rare Nash free kick too sending the ball flashing just wide.
No goal materialised however for the visitors and County's greater polish in this department told, just 10 minutes into the half ,and it was Oswell doing the biz for the blues, with a coolly executed finish that saw the ball crash into the net through the flailing arms of the diving keeper.
It was not to be Mason's day, but he did well to stop Warburton getting on the end of Stephenson's prompt ,just a minute after the goal.
John Flanagan began to ring the changes now for his side bringing Scott Bakkor on for Dan Shaw just before the hour , and Matt Crowthers for Chris Rowney a minute after.
Midst the 2 changes, County had defensive work to do with Nash showing renewed resolve, and Cowan earned another burst of applause for the mightiest of tackles to stop the rot as Leanoard and Guest threatened down the left on the break.
More hassle followed for County as Hinchliffe did well to grab the ball in a messy melee. There was no one in blue able to block Cummings though as his side , fresh legs now aboard, put together some neat passing movements, and set him up, but his shot was poor and from pretty close in and would have done nothing for the visitors confidence.
County were under pressure a bit now for sure, but whilst Curzon Ashton looked pretty good with the passing.....their finishing was anything but- this was typified by Paul Marshall who, having bullied Jimmy Ball out of possession then ruined his good work with a shot that needed no response from the ever watchful Hinchliffe.
Baillie meanwhile was still causing County a problem or two , and Hinchliffe was a busy lad as a consequence- gathering the pill greedily after Clarke had done just enough to put Cummings off his stroke on the end of Baillie's latest offering. Less than a minute later Hinchliffe again had work to do ,saving well as Baillie's shot came at him at speed.
If his side were to lose, it would be no fault of Cummings , who saw another run curtailed not long after by some neat defensive work by Winter.
The last Ashton sub was now on ( Tyrell McKenfie for Leanoard) and the fresh legs were definitely driving the visitors impetus.
That said, the dangerous work was coming from the blues, and some borderline great football involving Oswell, Stephenson and Warburton threatened to unravel their opponents resolve once again. Hampson won a corner from this. This was cleared but immediately brought back by Cowan who was promptly upended as he neared the danger zone. Nothing came from the free kick.
Having praised the Nash attempts to get back into it, I must also mention a certain increase in the `body count' as County players increasingly hit the turf when looking to make progress. I have seen worse , but it was beginning to displease me more than a touch. The free kick was some compensation but Minihan was just unable to take advantage of this. He might have done had the liner( 2 feet away) shown more back bone after flagging a County corner then meekly doing nothing as the ref signalled a goal kick.
Just why do we have liners if they cannot, or will not do the right thing at times? I allowed myself at this point to fantasise about introducing robot liners, who obviously in this age of technological wizardry would be 100% accurate in their decision making. Being robots they would also be impervious to abuse, and why not include the ability to answer abuse with witty repartee- it must be possible and vastly more entertaining!
I was still fantasising when the all too human main stand liner raised his flag seconds after the ruthless Oswell had scooted clear past his marker- offside.......hmmm......
We were in the last 10 minutes now, and Walker was now on for Stephenson.
Nash had been busy for a time but still without even a hint of lethality about their otherwise neat work, but it was County who were ending the match looking the more likely to.....with Mason taking 2 goes to hold Warburton's shot.
Have I mentioned the Nash tendency to be overly rough? Well they were- Minihan's latest run cut short by a poor foul, and Jon Hunt lucky to escape even a yellow for an awesomely poor `tackle' on Oswell in front of the Pop Side.
Yes.....County looked on to score again, and did....err....well...I thought that they did....Oswell did execute the neatest of finishes on the end of a Walker/ Hampson cooperation , but the main stand liner had his flag up, and although it hurts a bit to acknowledge it, he was correct....probably....
Buoyed a bit by that Curzon Ashton hit back through Bakkor who brought a decent save from Hinchliffe with his run to the by-line.
Marshall came to the fore next for the visitors his involvement with Harry Winter causing a fracas that had the handbags out in no time at all in front of the main stand. Bookings all round sorted the hostilities , which was the signal for James to ring the changes with just under 5 minutes left- Mc Kenna for Warburton / West for Oswell.
Within a minute, as at Spennymoor on Saturday, McKenna was in the action seeing a decent shot well saved by Mason.
County had 4 minutes added time to negotiate to claim their clean sheet and with a minute of that left to play Curzon Ashton were offered a chance to dish that County hope, courtesy of a free kick awarded smack in front and dead central on the edge of the box!
It could quite easily have been 3-1 from this as the kick was really good from Baillie, but Hinchliffe's response was even better, and a fine save kept it out and gave County their sought after shut out!
That was a good response after last Saturday at Spennymoor- not perfect by any means , but a good return for the hard work put in by James and the team.
We need more of the same come Saturday ,so do not be tempted to miss this one as County take on Harrogate Town at Edgeley Park.
[ Pics from what turned out to be a very damp EP can be found here! ]
Stockport County line up:
Hinchliffe, Cowan, Clarke, Smalley, Hampson, Winter, Minihan, Ball, Oswell ( West 86), Warburton ( McKenna 86), Stephenson ( Walker 77).
Subs not used: Ormson, Duxbury.
Curzon Ashton line up:
Mason, Shaw( Bakkor 57), Regan, Hunt, Howson, Rowney( Crowthers 61), Baillie, Marshall, Cummings, Leanoard( McKenzie 69), Guest.
Subs not used: Thornley, Bianga.