County 6 Southport 0
County 6 Southport 0....how good is that? In fact...very good indeed..... bordering on excellent against a club we are used to getting precisely nothing from at times.
Rising numbers of great spotted woodpeckers have led to a utility company spending big dosh, recently ,trying to find a way to stop said bird pecking away their wooden electricity poles.
Their eventual `eureka moment' resulted in UK Power Networks trialling a new wood filler containing a fragrance that repels peckers of wood , and persuades them not to drill!
If there is a footballing equivalent of this solution, the Sandgrounders Manager Alan Lewer , must surely have wished to be able to employ it last night against a rampant County side that were heading off out of sight even before Southport were reduced to 10.
Yes........it likely would not have made a jot of difference to the result, as James Gannon's side systematically and ruthlessly put the high flying Lancashire side to the sword.
Lewer's pre match briefing to his team would have doubtless included mention of Oswell, Warburton, Stephenson, and others, but there was absolutely no sign that his charges had worked out a methodology to cope with the rigours of facing the men in blue, and when one of their number , central defender Alan Dugdale, chose to follow an elbow to the face of Oswell with a crude trip in the box, as the County man headed for goal, the subsequent red card ( well deserved) just served to make the visitors task more difficult.
In the end 6-0 hardly flattered JG's men, who spread the goals around as satisfyingly as they passed the ball around . Oswell and Warburton profited nicking 2 goals each, with one apiece for Winter and Ball, both of whom had excellent games. County had enough in hand to allow them to go the last 30 minutes or so without Warburton and Oswell who were both subbed to quality ovations.
Not all County's stars were on the score sheet however...Stephenson did not score, but played exceedingly well featuring in at least 3 of the County goals. There must have been no one in the stadium , barring the 150 or so from Southport, who were not willing Darren to snatch one!
Duxbury was in similar nick spraying the intuitive through balls, that we missed so much on Saturday, in behind a vulnerable Southport defence- Scott too had a considerable hand in a clutch of the goals.
Add the drive and energy of Harry Winter and Sam Minihan ,and the growing assurance of Jimmy Ball in his defensive mid field role, to the subtlety of Sam Walker's contribution, and with Michael Clarke and the returning Stephen O'Hanlon sorting a shut-out, you have really good fare to put before a decent Tuesday evening crowd of 2700, and I saw no one leaving disgruntled.
I know I have not mentioned Ben Hinchliffe, and for sure he did not have a great deal to do, but when called on he was on top of his game, something we have become rather used to seeing, and after some sterling performances of late Ben was deserving of a lighter load.
In so many ways this was a great result , as I think I might have made somewhat clear, and particularly pleasing was the way County were able to `do a Tuesday' after a tough game just 3 days earlier. This `Tuesday after Saturday' thing has caught us out a time or two whilst in our current part time state, but not last night, and despite all the dosh pumped into the visitors set up this term, from the off last night there was nothing down for them.
There was a small irritation for openers though as County were kicking towards the Cheadle End in the first half.
Both teams set off at a decent rate of knots each taking an early turn to probe the other, but neither keeper was remotely troubled by all this activity.
I had just put to bed the thought that Southport looked neat and businesslike when the whole thing exploded into frantic action as Stephenson turned to send a neat ball to Oswell who was inside the box in a trice.
Not brilliantly placed for a shot, the County number nine chose the ideal solution a quickly dispatched ball across the box to Warburton who did the rest, firing home to ignite a wave of cheering from the County faithful.
Two minutes gone....one up.....simply excellent, and Oswell was of a mind to cause visiting keeper Mark Halstead a problem or two, and the Southport man sliced his clearance ,just a minute later, with Oswell under his nose.
Halstead did better shortly after, holding onto Oswell's header after Sam Walker had provided a neat cross, but already the keeper looked to be not on the top of his game.....jittery in fact!
Stephenson however had definitely found his game , and the 13th minute saw Andrew White do really well to dive and head Darren's dangerous cross out almost on the line!
I was enjoying watching Halstead's travails meanwhile and he even took 2 goes to handle a gently delivered routine type cross from the feshly energised Jimmy Ball. This promised much I told myself not at all compassionately!
With over 15 minutes gone, County were finding space and room to get in amongst the Southport back line, but no one in blue was on hand to convert Warburton's cross from the by-line into anything more than another `oooooo moment' for the County faithful.
Another 5 minutes and the word was more `ohhhhhhhhhh' than `ooooooooo' as, with Oswell looking on to cause a ripple or to , his marker Adam Dugdale, chose to fling an elbow back into Oswell's face. The Referee Mr Gareth Rhoades would not have seen it , but the main stand liner and around 2600 others certainly did, but the liners refusal to respond and acknowledge the foul was truly contemptible. By way of contrast Oswell's response was exemplory....a long look at the liner from some 10 yards off...and he carried on playing- a classic example of how to behave- get on with it and make `em pay with a goal or two!
On it went though...County brushing past the Southport cover nicely , and in response Dugdale could only head limply clear to a County man. The man was Warburton but this time he disappointed by lifting his effort high into the Cheadle End.
That was 22 minutes in... just 3 minutes on from that and County doubled their advantage.........again Stephenson started it , and his pass teed Duxbury up to produce a peach of a through ball that had `goal ' written all over it as Oswell latched onto it and made his way into the box beyond Dugdale's challenge. There was only the bu now deeply traumatised Halstead between Oswell and glory, but Dugdale made this thought irrelevant as his tackle, from behind, sent the County forward crashing to earth.
Mr Rhoades acted quickly pointing to the spot before drawing Dugdale to him ( and every man jack in green and white it turned out) eventually pointing to the nicely cleaned dressing room with a flourish of his red card!
That was how it should be....and Warburton added to the Sandgrounders angst by drilling the mightiest of penalties home as the hapless keeper dived the other way.
Southport responded following the trauma of the goal and Dugdale's departure, and Yves Zama found the target with his effort, at last giving Hinchliffe something to do- he did it with no problems!
Mainly though it was a case of County doing the attacking as Oswell was denied at the last gasp by some nippy defending from the diminutive Bradley Jackson.
Stephenson was still on fire and ,on the end of some excellent play from Winter and Minihan, was inches away with a shot on the turn.
The message boards were full of word that `Southport had signed striker Dan Cockerline in time for the game with County' and Southport response , with 32 minutes gone, was to bring him on for Steve Jennings.
Would this see Southport go for broke/ Well...they first off needed the ball to go for anything, and County seemed reluctant to let them have it- Oswell and Warburton just unable to apply the finishing touch to the latest in a series of beefy lung bursters from Minihan.
Disappointment from that one did not linger long, as the blues were constantly pressing and that magic Stephenson/ Duxbury link up worked like a charm once again - Stephenson's foraging and neat ball setting Duxbury up for the cross, and it was another belter, being somehow kept out by one of a bevy of harassed defenders .
It was only partially cleared though, and the ball sped to County captain Harry Winter whose reply was a glorious strike that almost ripped the netting from its substantial moorings!
There were 5 minutes left of the half when that last one went in. Another 5 minutes, and on the stroke of half time, County made it 4-0 . Again Stephenson started it, his run earning his side a corner. This was played short by Minihan to Sam Walker who picked out Oswell ghosting in at the back post ,and it was 4-0!
It was half time too not long after, and the second half opened with hopes that County would not relax in control but push on high on my mind. At first ,with Southport pressing this thought looked pertinent as County conceded a free kick in not too bad a scoring position. A small flurry followed and with Hinchliffe in difficulties for once, O'Halloran had to usher the ball off the line with the Southport forwards gagging to get to it.
They did not get it, and instead , within another 5 minutes , the Lancashire side went further behind. Minihan and Stephenson were instrumental in the build up and there were appeals for a penalty as Darren went down in the box. It was not awarded ,but a corner was and Sam Walker's precise delivery was hurried home at the near post by the bullish Jimmy Ball.
With County now 5-0 up, JG made a change bringing Cowan on for Minihan who left to an ovation.
Whilst Zama did his best to give Hinchliffe something to do, he could not make much of an impression on the County keeper who dealt easily with the latest effort from the forward 10 minutes into the half.
Two minutes on from this and County went 6-0 up, as with County now playing it about nicely, Ball was brought down giving County a free kick. Sam Walker, who had done well with his set pieces , stepped up again to take the kick lifting it neatly to the back post where Oswell headed home!
Brilliant ........ and so great to see us getting the set pieces right!
Southport looked to have collapsed completely now as free kicks piled up against them- the latest seeing a nervous parry by Halstead from Warburton's kick keep it at 6-0.
Cowan meanwhile was getting forward nicely in Minihan's absence and a series of low crosses from him caused near panic in the visitors back line, but neither Sam Walker or Matty Warburton could improve the score line with efforts that missed the target.
That was Warburton's last action of the night, as he then gave way for Tom Walker, and Oswell followed him in collecting an early ovation being replaced by Connor Hampson some 5 minutes later.
County were now playing the ball around in the time honoured fashion for teams faced with 10 opponents, and Cowan's kept pinging those crosses over, albeit without any further addition to the score.
Indeed....Southport might have reduced the arrears , with 13 minutes left. The initial thrust by Zama was blocked by County, but only partially and the loose ball set Steve Schumacher up with a chance that he spurned by missing the target unimpressively.
Zama seemed to still be Southport's best bet, but only if you ignore Michael Clarke, and he pretty much had the beating of the number ten , another couple of interventions , with less than 10 minutes left, confirming this.
With four minutes to go Tom Walker skied his effort over the bar , after more Southport angst saw the ball cleared off the line by the inconveniently monikered Jacques Kpohomouth.
The game's dying embers saw Stephenson unlucky not to get on the score sheet , and County hit the wall with a late/ late free kick.
Into added time there was just time for the much heralded Dan Cockerline to threaten to rob us of that `third clean sheet in 4'. His run through the middle was covered by O'Hanlon, and with Hinchliffe adding to the mix and sorting the issue a potentially irritating end to proceedings was avoided. The liner's flag was up ( for offside) as it happened ,so it would not have counted anyway which was reassuring.
A late Jimmy Ball shot...blocked en-route to goal and that was the game put to bed.
It had been a very good game too, and an impressive County performance.
I am really pleased with that win which sets us up for York on Saturday, and we might just need some more of last night's mix this too against the Yorkshire side who, at least at half time, seemed to be flying in their game last night.
See you all on Saturday then!
Stockport County line up;
Hinchliffe, Minihan( Cowan 54), Clarke, O'Hanlon, Duxbury, Ball, Winter, S Walker, Stephenson, Warburton( T Walker 65), Oswell( Hampson 69).
Subs not used: Smith, McKenna.
Southport line up:
Halstead, Merrie( Kpohomouth 45), White, Jones, Dugdale, Smith, Jackson, Jennings( Cockerline 32), Roberts, Zama, Sang( Schumacher 60).
Subs not used; Fletcher, E Jones.