County 2 Harrogate Town 2
County came back from the dead today to earn a share of the points with unbeaten full timers Harrogate Town at Edgeley Park.
It was a superb , typically James Gannon side performance from the Blues, who in the end would not have been flattered had they snatched a third to add to Jason Oswell's second half brace, after a heart warming comeback after the break.
I say `heart warming' advisedly, as the first 45 minutes had seen the blues stretched beyond reasonable limits by a side clearly thriving on full time training and up to make it 3 wins in 3 at County's expense. Two brilliantly taken goals from Simon Ainge seemingly putting the game way beyond County's reach.
JG's chat at half time I am guessing sorted any thoughts in that direction as the blues second half verve and energy completely discomforted a North Yorkshire side that had looked well in charge up until the re-start.
In this respect ,Sam Minihan was in superb form, and deservedly ran away with the M.O.M award, although having said that , two goal Jason Oswell might have other thoughts, but there again having benefited twice from Minihan's power play, so maybe not.
I liked the input of Hampson and Owan when the chips were down, and also the added grit and b***s Harry Winter brings to the County party is really adding something to build on this terms going forward.
Back at 3 o'clock , County took the field without Darren Stephenson, who was not on the bench, but with Sam Walker welcomed back in the number eleven shirt. This saw us form up with 3 at the back Cowan , Clarke and Smalley with Hampson and Minihan offering a five when needs must.
It was not long before Harrogate stretched their full timer's legs in County's half and some impressive passing saw them notch up a free kick, a long dangerous throw and two corners in rapid order. Thankfully Clarke marshalled the County defensive response perfectly and Hinchliffe was not unduly bothered by this early action.
County did find time to launch a response to all this, and a neat move initiated by Minihan and Winter , saw Ball unlucky with a snap shot that was no more than a foot wide.
It was 5 minutes before any further ,goal worthy , action occurred and again it came from County with Minihan once more in the van stretching the visitors rear guard to the limit. Minihan's pass created space for Warburton, but his shot was charged down by Josh Falkingham. A corner followed ,then another, as Hampson's run and cross saw Walker and Warburton foiled with efforts on goal.
If that was good, we really and fairly obviously needed to make all our chances count , with Town apparently intent on adding to their run of wins. But instead Joe Leesley was able to scurry clear and almost open the scoring- his shot taking a wicked deflection en-route goal. Hinchliffe was probably wrong footed , but made light of this with a coolly execute catch to calm County's anxieties.
It went on with Harrogate building a head of steam up, and Jack Emmett was unfortunate to see his shot ushered off the line brilliantly by Smalley!
Harrogate looked in impressive nick alright, and there was more than the odd intake of breath on Row R as Ainge was denied in the box with just a hint of good fortune on County's part.
That was worrying.... but I felt my worries lifting like a sheet on a line in the windiest of days, as Oswell scooted clear past his man 15 yards inside the Town half. It was a clear chance in the offing , but somehow the main stand liner conjured up a free kick- earning great derision waving his flag, presumably indicating `offside'.....ludicrous!
Back came Harrogate through Ryan Fallowfield who was in oodles of space out on the right flank. In no time he crossed a near perfect ball to the back post where Ainge was in position to meet it. The forward was just half a yard out, but just could not put the definite chance away, thus Hinchliffe grabbed the ball and ended County's concerns.
County were still trying to get something moving, but Harrogate were immeasurably quicker to the ball and they used it better too , and Ainge demonstrated this again by turning defence into attack neatly before gifting George Thomson with a pass to dream of. Thomson was away and should have done better, instead he lifted the ball high and wide to the disappointment of the meagre crowd in the far side of the Pop Side who had made the trip from North Yorkshire. At this point I ask for your forbearance as I feel a rant coming on- just what do some people need to coax them to follow their team- apparently for Town followers, being top of the league and unbeaten just does not butter any Yorkshire parsnips at all!
And they missed a decent goal too.... it looked anything but a Harrogate party with County pushing on - Minihan's cross just kept out by Fallowfield. Another cross followed from Minihan with the same result along with some tenacious play by the much maligned Jimmy Ball. It was all building nicely with Walker adding his two pennyworth seeing his shot charged down. Then in classical style County were caught with the back door wide open and Ainge took full advantage nipping through to finish with real aplomb!
We were one down then....and within another 5 minutes the deficit became 2, when Ben Parker's left footed cross picked out Ainge unerringly at the back post, and he planted his header across Hinchliffe into the far corner of the net.
Half an hour gone- 0-2 down, there was some unease in evidence around Row R now , and Harrogate did nothing to ease things for us forcing a series of corners.
James responded by replacing Walker with McKenna with just under 10 minutes remaining of the half. McKenna was again quickly to the fore, and two crosses from him seemed to distinctly discomfort Town ,who then proceeded to give away a free kick some 10 yards out. It looked a duplicate of last Tuesday's Warburton classic......but it wasn't to be I'm afraid as Warburton lifted a really poor kick into our midst.
Both teams plugged away in the remainder of the half without success , the nearest being a Thomson effort that required a save of Hinchliffe.
Going in just 2 down in some ways felt a half decent position based on how play had panned out, and then ...there was always JG's chat to invigorate his charges, so nil desperandum then!
County were 4 at the back upon the re-start , and referee Steven Copeland was in early action awarding the blues a free kick as Falkingham went through Oswell. Nothing came from the free kick, but not long after something might have , as Warburton's run out of defence saw Oswell go close after good work from the busy Minihan.
County clearly had a changed attitude add to the different formation now, and Winter did well, 10 minutes after the break, to rescue a lost ball before picking Minihan out with an immaculate pass. Minihan was off, cutting inside before releasing a beaut of a pass that Oswell put away with consummate ease.
It was 1-2 now and was I at all mistaken...were Harrogate looking a tad rattled ?!
I think they were...... and keeper Jim Belshaw did well to advance out of his area to deny McKenna , after Hampson's hard work and Warburton's innovative flick on had set him up.
It went on with Minihan in dazzling form down the right flank, and Warburton inches from putting the cross away.
Yes.... Harrogate were rattled...and showed no sign of snapping out of it as Hinchliffe went long sending Oswell away. Good move for sure, but Ben Middleton undid us by pulling Oswell to the ground. He was booked, and County got the free kick but nothing came of it , which was disappointing as County ,in my view anyway, were worthy of an equaliser.
Panto time came next as Oswell was involved in a minor waving of the handbags, which perhaps surprisingly resulted in nobody being booked.
Not long after however a foul by Winter set Harrogate up with a scoring chance via a free kick some 10 yards out. In response County's defensive work was excellent and Ball was able to raise the short siege and run the ball to safety.
We were into the last 20 minutes now and still County looked the more likely team to......and they did....and a free kick started it , sending Minihan off on a run that saw him again pick Oswell out to perfection. It was 2-2 as Oswell made no mistake!
That was no more than County deserved , but they still had to be watchful and not leave the back door ajar again , and Winter did really well to cut Emmett off as he broke clear from a deep position!
That could have been nasty, and again as Cowan this time did for Emmett in similar circumstances.
The game was roughing up a touch now and it was disconcerting to see McKenna and Winter's names taken.
Harrogate were trying for a second wind , with 10 minutes left, but Emmett missed the target by a distance and Smalley did excellent work to deny Dom Knowles as the minutes ticked away.
With Duxbury on for Hampson County set about trying to win the game , but they also needed not to concede and in this regard the referee did us absolutely no favours blocking a Warburton pass, setting Harrogate up with an undeserved chance which thankfully Hinchliffe saved with his legs. The pressure was not over and Clarke had to then head clear with several Harrogate forwards on his case. A further punch out by Hinchliffe followed by a last gasper from Smalley to stop Middleton and County had a free kick and could breath easily once again.
Harrogate kept trying to get back the hegemony they enjoyed in the first half but Ainge could only find the side netting with his latest header from Fallowfield's deep cross late on.
Into added time and County had defending to do with Ball and Winter getting in a couple of brave interventions to stop the rot with Town trying hard for a late winner. Add to this a neat...neat bit of work from Clarke that stopped Ainge's break deep in added time and JG must have been really proud of his men at this point!
A late late Harrogate corner had me worrying a bit, but George West ( on for Warburton who had been atrociously fouled by Jack Vann and hobbled off) wellied this clear and that was that- a really good point against a team who came here expecting to win!
Well done County, more of the same second half verve and grit please on Tuesday at Salford!
See you there then.
[ Pictures from a sunny Edgeley Park AND an image of some parsnips (yes really) please click here! ]
Stockport County line up:
Hinchliffe, Cowan, Clarke, Smalley, Hampson ( Duxbury 84), Winter, Minihan, Ball, Oswell, Warburton ( West 92), Walker ( McKenna 36).
Subsnot used: Smith, Brazel.
Harrogte Town line up;
Belshaw, Fallowfield, Parker, Falkingham, Burrell, Thomson, Emmett, Ainge, Knowles, Leesley( Vann 71).
Subs not used: Lees, Cracknell, Kennedy, Day.