County 0 BPA 0
County were distinctly fortunate to come away with a point today at an Edgeley Park that was again bathed in warm sunshine for the whole ninety odd minutes .
It was not that their opponents, Bradford Park Avenue ,were that great a team, they absolutely weren't, but they were prepared to look for a win throughout a game where County struggled for the most part to put together a decent threatening move.
Indeed had Mark Bower's Avenue side contained so much as one in their midst with even a scintilla of an idea as to how to round off a move, they would have been out of sight by half time, when in fact they weren't and County as a result were still in with every chance.
Bradford missed a shed load of chances, and then some.....in both halves, and County's Ben Hinchliffe needed to make a clutch of saves in the first half to keep County in it. Mostly though it was Avenue's wayward shooting that kept it at 0-0- a disappointing share of the points in the end, but it could very easily have been worse!
Winter and Oswell, for Duxbury and Stephenson were County's only changes from Tamworth, as the game got underway in glorious sunshine.
County started the game in a forthright manner, and visiting keeper Stephen Drench had to claw Minihan's spectacular goal bound effort out at the near post. Hampson and Warburton had done good work in the build up but neither got any reward as consecutive shots came out off a defender.
I was already feeling a tad upbeat on seeing that opening, and Warburton added to the effect being inches away with another effort just 3 minutes in.
More attacking followed from the blues ,with Minihan, Warburton and Cowan all involved , but Ball failed to test Drench with his shot on the end of it all , and that was disappointing, and more disappointment followed after as County won a corner and a free kick , wasting both.
Ryan Toulson was a busy operator for Avenue and by the games end would , I guess, be cursing his team mates profligacy more than most as it was his passes that were being mangled, for now though Toulson had to endure the sight of Clarke rising to head his cross clear from under the bar.
We were 18 minutes in now, and still I could not rid myself of the idea that County looked likely to get one soonish......and yes I have remembered to take my tablets!.......but Warburton saw his shot deflected wide.....Oswell was thwarted by ex Hatter Mark Ross ( who irritatingly was wearing an unannounced 17 shirt).... and Smalley almost headed in from a much improved corner .
By this time another former County lad, Gianluca Havern, having sustained an injury, had to be substituted, and I thought maybe that this might prove to be a turning point in the game- I fancied that Avenue might struggle without him( I told you...I have taken my tablets!)
County did offer me some encouragement though as a neat 1...2 twixt Winter and Warburton finished with the former just pipped by the alert Drench.
Minutes earlier Adam Boyes and the other former blue Oli Johnson, had combined to muck up a perfectly decent half chance , sending the Cheadle End into hysterics in response, and the duo quickly replicated their ineptitude as Boyes made good headway into the box before releasing his pass inside to Johnson. It looked a sitter.....it was a sitter... but somehow Oli screwed the poorest of efforts wide of the gaping goal.
Oswell was on the end of a break by County after that last escape, but Drench excelled himself diving to push the shot around the post. Nothing came from the corner .
Back came Bradford and within a couple of minutes County were thanking Hinchliffe for his continued excellence as he somehow kept a fierce drive from Boyes out. That was a cracking shot and a superb save, but what followed wasn't as Nicky Wroe's follow up effort failed to hit the target by a distance.
For Avenue....I was still impressed with Toulson, and it took some good work from Michael Clarke to stop his gallop as the visitors eyed a strike on the break.
Hampson and Warburton's good work went unrewarded next, before County again had defending to do , and they were in difficulties as Johnson bore down on goal at speed. It again looked a dicey situation for the blues, and worse as Johnson's eventual shot took a wicked deflection en-route to goal . It could have gone anywhere , but Hinchliffe was in the right place at the right time and grabbed the ball to his chest to the enormous relief of almost all the 3000+ crowd.
If that was a chance, and it was, County got themselves one also around 5 minutes later. It was started by Minihan whose run took him into the box . Once there however, Sam passed across the box to Cowan who proceeded to run into trouble- chance gone.
The last real excitement of the half ( if you exclude the mysterious booking of Sam Walker almost on half time) came at the wrong end again, and involved Boyes and Hinchliffe. Boyes again probably should have scored, and made Ben's dive irrelevant, but as it was ..whilst the shot was on target....Hinchliffe's dive saw to it that it stayed 0-0.
Eventually a blast of Referee Scott Simpson's whistle, told us that it was half time. Unbelievably it was still 0-0 and I looked to JG's half time chat to work a small miracle or two.
Boyes was in amongst us straight from the re-start and County had to be at their best to keep him out.
That storm soon abated though , and 5 minutes into the half County looked on to do something. , as runs from Walker and Minihan threatened to open the visitors back line up. The Bradford defence was in a tizz for a moment or so, to the extent that Drench took a shot smack in the face. If that was another chance arriving, it soon vanished as Mr Simpson ( not a bad referee at all) `saw something' and awarded BPA a life saving free kick.
County kept the pressure on, but Oswell was thwarted by Drench whose quick reflexes did for the young County strikers chances.
Back to Toulson....and he was next seen heading a cross from Winter out, and as with so many of County's attacks in this game, a rapid response came back from Avenue, and Smalley did really well to block Boyes on the counter.
If both teams were attacking , I noted to myself that it was Bradford who were getting the more clear cut chances, for how long could we rely on them screwing matters up in the final third?
County meanwhile kept plugging away, Minihan's runs causing Bradford no end of hassle, so much so that Matty Hill was moved seek out Mercian Way and beyond at one point with Sam on his case. When the ball returned, it perhaps offered something to cling to , but not for long as County's lack lustre movements failed to penetrate their opponents defences.
Another half chance offered itself up when Johnson was carded for a foul on Cowan, but Walker sent this down Dredge's throat- half chance gone!
Back came Avenue via Toulson, Clarke heading clear under pressure...then County replied, but they failed to test Drench, and Bradford were able to hit on the break as a consequence.
Under pressure County conceded a free kick in a decent scoring position, and Bradford looked on to take the lead when the ball found its way to Johnson a yard or so out. He was well set and then he wasn't as he missed the target with a hopeless effort that belied the skills I remember him having when with us.
County were beginning to leak free kicks now increasing the pressure on them, and JG opted to ring the changes with around 20 minutes left, bringing on Stopforth and Stephenson for Walker and Cowan.
Minihan was now operating at RB and instantly in the action denying Oli Johnson.
Johnson combined next with Toulson , but again with oodles of room , catching the bug, Toulson failed to hit the target with Hinchliffe well and truly exposed.
Warburton was inches away with a neat effort next, but the same player then fouled his man putting his team under the cosh again unnecessarily.
A foul by Adam Novakowski turned the tide a tad, and whilst Hampson's run down the left to the by-line raised hopes again, they quickly dipped as Stephenson's first time effort climbed up and over the bar!
We were into the last 5 or 6 minutes now, and an almighty fracas burst forth in front of the main stand dugouts. Staff ....players all had handbags to the fore as the Bradford contingent appeared to want to keep the ball and prevent play from resuming. After a conference...JG....Bower...the Officials...WW3 was averted , and no one booked or sent to the stand.
With Tom Walker on for M.O.M Minihan County were severely under the cosh , as Bradford continued their policy of hitting on the break.
I must confess to feeling a touch uneasy now, as Avenue again turned defence into attack via Boyes who sent Johnson clear again. It was another chance....but unbelievable it was scorned, the forward's shot going tamely into Hinchliffe's arms.
County did win a breather....a free kick....but when Stephenson's shot was charged down it was back to County defending again as Bradford won a corner and brushed the bar from it before Hinchliffe grabbed the ball and cleared it.
Five minutes added time was announced as Toulson surged clear teeing substitute Jamie Spencer up with a routine chance. It was another real chance but ridiculously the shot went wide!!!
If that was unbelievable....more of the same followed and from the same source as Toulson won the ball off Winter and scurried up the park. This time he had Boyes for company ,but when he passed to him the result was the same as previously as the shot missed the goal by a yard or so with Hinchliffe in difficulties.
County pressed late on but Tom Walker could not force the ball home from Stopforth's cross- enabling Novakowski to hook the ball clear from pretty much on the line.
A late foul, by Knowles on Oswell, gave County a sliver of hope, but Walker hit the wall with the free kick, and again with another a minute later from a better shooting position.
Mr Simpson eventually called a halt to proceedings and the decent crowd of over 3000 made their way home, or to the pub.
Few would have been smiling broadly, or remotely happy, but that is football for you, results cannot be ordered or wished into reality-they have to be worked for, and that's what County will be doing ahead of Tuesday's clash with Southport.
Do not doubt it- see you there!
[ No goals to see in the pictures, but instead BPA's very colourful kit. See it here! ]
Stockport County line up:
Hinchliffe, Cowan( Stephenson 69) , Clarke, Smalley, Hampson, Ball, Winter, Minihan( T Walker86) , S Walker( Stopforth 69), Oswell, Warburton.
Subs not used; Smith, Duxbury.
Bradford Park Avenue line up:
Drench, Ross, Hill, Wroe, Havern( Knowles 22), Toulson, Brooksby( Spencer 55), Vidal, Boyes, Johnson, Clee( Novakowski 78).
Subs not used: Hall, Knight.