County 1 Curzon Ashton 0 (FA Cup Q2)
County worked hard to progress to the next round of the FA Cup this afternoon at the expense of Curzon Ashton .
It was not a vintage County performance by any means, and I felt that their group mojo was not quite 100% back and firing ...but this is a start, after a difficult week or two.
If the result was good....some of the execution, from County, took a time to emerge with the necessary quality.
It was not yer traditional FA Cup Tie, in fact I thought that the first half would never end.
Of the two teams, the visitors showed more ability ,in the first 45, to pass the ball about effectively, whilst County struggled doing this, looking disjointed for much of the time and unsure in possession.
The result was that first 20 saw neither keeper troubled at all, and for much of the rest of the half Hinchliffe was the busier of the two keepers .
With Stopforth on after the break things perked up somewhat, to the extent that Adam Thomas was able to open his FA Cup account with County with a goal of some quality. Thomas won the sponsors M.O.M award, but whilst he did show up well at times and offered us previously elusive options, I felt that either of Cowan or Duxbury should have received the honour- Cowan defended consistently well throughout, and Duxbury had the visitors in knots at times.
County searched for a second goal that would have put the game to bed, but it just would not materialise, indeed ...the concession of a late/ late free kick, in a tasty scoring position, by County, ushered in a scary situation in the games dying embers that almost saw us making an unwelcome pilgrimage to Tameside on a dark dank Tuesday night... but it was not to be thankfully..... largely due to Hinchliffe's continuing excellence.
Pre match saw John Cowles and his wife visiting Edgeley Park from Oz. Mike O'Brien showing the couple, the playing surface prior to kick off was a nice touch!
Sadly however ,before the game could start, there was the sad duty to acknowledge the passing of yet another County stalwart- the Club's Safety Officer Gordon Taylor, after a short illness. The minutes silence that followed was beautifully observed by both sets of supporters.
With no one stuck on the motorway system, there was an altogether sturdier look about County's starting line up against a Curzon Ashton side that had started the season flying. In this respect Duxbury, Smalley and Minihan, were in, replacing Hampson, Stephenson and Ball( who unlike the other two was not even on the bench).
That looked a solid enough line up to me, but there was an early flurry or two at Hinchliffe's end straight off as Cowan had to look sharp and clear his lines after Max Leonard had burst through into the box.
Leonard was then joined by Joe Guest and the duo thought themselves unlucky to lose out - the latter's shot coming back out off Cowan.
This was slightly disturbing and more so as Guest again stuck his head above the parapet , his run and cross setting Leonard up sweetly, only for him to spurn the chance with an extravagant bicycle kick that saw the ball join us half way up the Cheadle End.
Nothing had come back from County ...OK.....a free kick 10 minutes in....but this was cleared without undue hassle by the Tamesiders.
James Baillie made inroads with a run , but despite Curzon Ashton having the greater bulk of the attacking, after 20 minutes, neither keeper had needed to make a save.
The very next attack by County, did threaten to change all this and give Cameron Mason something to do. But a neat move involving Oswell and Thomas saw Warburton kept from getting a shot off by Steve Howson's tasty last gasper. It was corner....then a melee ensued with County straining to force it home, but the referee Simon Mather, had seen something and the visitors had the welcome oxygen of a free kick.
We were almost 30 minutes in now and I was encouraged to see Dixon announce himself first with a neat pass...and then a tackle.
Things were looking likely to stir at the sharp end for County too, and Duxbury was inches away from getting to Oswell's deft header. Contact with the keeper stopped Duxbury's progress.
That was good, the next bit wasn't as Guest was allowed to carve a massive hole in County's defences, setting himself up for a chance he really should have put away. He had done the hard bit, and left his marker trailing, before firing beyond the far post. Bad miss....probably....but I also credit Hinchliffe who got his angles right.
Half time was not far off now, and County were still not looking confident on the ball, in fact they found difficulty in keeping possession at times and the result was more attacking from the visitors- Dan Shaw being denied by good work from O'Halloran.
The pressure from Curzon Ashton continued, and the last couple of minutes saw Hinchliffe as busy as he had been all the half- being called on to make a good save from Paul Marshall on 44 minutes, and another to deny Baillie a minute later.
Into 4 minutes added time we went, with County getting some relief via a couple of ( unproductive) corners, but then it was back to defending again as Chris Rowney surged through the County back-line to pick out the onrushing Niall Cummings with his pass. Cummings was in on goal, but had company, and an added irk for him was that the ball had bounced wickedly and he was about NOT to control it. An `arm to ball moment' sorted that one as he guided the pill home, but his jubilation and that of the small group of Curzon Ashton fans at the far end of the Pop Side was brief, as the `goal' was quickly ruled out and its `scorer' booked.
There was time still for a run by Guest , and another bit of good work from Hinchliffe, and that was that as far as the first half was concerned.
When the teams returned, Stopforth was on in place of Warburton, who had sustained more than one knock earlier.
The first 8 or nine minutes of the half were nip and tuck with both sides probing, but with no great confidence or ideas.
It changed a minute later, started by Cowan's run and cross that Walker dispatched goal ward. It was a decent effort and Mason just managed keep it out. The set piece that followed was neatly executed and, with the ball at his feet, Thomas smashed the firmest of drives past the keeper into the net!
County were one up!
Hinchliffe had work to do not long after, doing well to see off the combined efforts of Guest and Rowney, but County were slowly beginning to warm to their task, and Oswell was unlucky not to get on the score sheet as Duxbury fed him with a delicious pass.
Seconds after this, Duxbury was back again , and again he picked Oswell out nicely. It was all going on at 100mph however, and Oswell's shot , delivered quickly, went a foot wide of the angle of bar and post.
It was now undeniable...County were getting better and keeper Mason had to locate Reservoir 1 in a hurry with O'Halloran charging in on goal in unlikely fashion.
Oswell and Walker were linking up quite well, but the major change was Stopforth who was getting forward nicely and doing the required verbals to boot. The result was the ball sped from Stopforth to Minihan from whom a decent cross came, one that neither Oswell or Thomas could put away....but it was close!
That was Thomas's last action, as he was replaced by McKenna with 66 minutes gone.
McKenna won a corner straight off, as did Smalley whose shot was deflected behind by a defender after Mason had flapped more than somewhat. Mason did better for the follow up corner, rising to tip the ball over the bar for another which was cleared without fuss.
Cowan and Smalley drew applause with good work next, both going above and beyond to keep County's ship afloat.
Oswell went close more than once in the minutes that followed with Duxbury having a hand in much of it, and Scott was millimetres away from a second goal with a decent strike after Dixon had kept a flagging move alive.
Hampson came on for Dixon a minute or so later, which meant Duxbury dropping further back in the games closing minutes.
There were just 5 minutes left to play and it was still on a knife edge at 1-0, but Sam Walker was advancing to the edge of the box, so ` shoot...shoot' came the cry from the stands, so he did....but it went wide although not by that much.
Another two minutes and all that County striving might have paid off....first Duxbury won it....then Stopforth pushed it onwards to Oswell...who sized up the situation before getting his shot off, only to lift the ball over the bar!
There were another 4 minutes of added time to deal with and O'Halloran had just cut off Sam Madeley as he bore down on goal with Hinchliffe exposed. The visitors were certainly looking for that equaliser still , despite the lateness of the hour, and I was relieved to see a run by Rowney cut short by the liners flag.
We were now in the last minute of added time...just the time not to concede a free kick...anywhere.....but County leaked one right on the edge of the box and fairly central. It was a desperate situation and it got worse as Hinchliffe could only parry the kick as it came at him in the vastly overcrowded area. A gruesome melee followed and another as a second shot saw Hinchliffe somehow push the ball onto the bar!
Desperate stuff indeed , but with bodies strewn all over the place and BP's soaring, referee Mather ended our agony by blowing for time!
Good enough that....not perfect, in fact a long way from perfect, but a step along the way to better things.
The next step is County v North Ferriby next Saturday, dare you miss that one?!
[ Action pics here! ]
Stockport County line up;
Hinchliffe, Cowan, Smalley, O'Halloran, Duxbury, Minihan, Walker, Dixon9 Hampson 78), Thomas ( McKenna 66), Oswell, Warburton( Stopforth 45).
Subs not used; Smith, Stephenson, T Walker, West.
Curzon Ashton line up:
Mason, Baillie( Madeley 75), Reagan, Hunt, Howson, Shaw, Rowney, Marshall( Crothers 45), Cummins, Leonard( McKenzie 65), Guest.
Subs not used: Wharton, Latham, Thornley, Bianga.