County 4 North Ferriby United 1
The English Football Pyramid is a wonderful thing, encompassing as it does over 7000 teams shoehorned into 20 meticulously organised levels.
No matter which level within that vast structure a team resides, they can always anticipate tough games. We are all familiar with games against sides on a roll who put you under constant pressure before dispatching you with practised efficiency.
Other teams arrive at your place and `park the bus' and that is another type of tough encounter, made even more so when said bus parkers emerge to hit on the break and leave with the points.
Then there is the game when the opponents are languishing at the foot, or near the foot, of the division. These are easy aren't they ? Err.....pardon me....no ! We are all familiar with the `play well against big teams/ under- perform against minnows' syndrome, but there was none of that on show today at Edgeley Park where struggling North Ferriby United were the visitors.
No...County took their time, did things professionally, if not always that pleasingly, and took the points on offer as well as anyone might have required of them.
As I say .... County took their time ,in reality, to sort matters out, against a side that tried hard early on without being able to finish things off-twice being denied by Hinchliffe's good work between the sticks. On the half hour mark County sorted matters , first with a close range effort from Oswell ,smack on 30 minutes, and then via a Sam Minihan header nine minutes later, to go in at the break 2-0 up.
Against the run of play and to the surprise of their supporters ( all 8 of them) North Ferriby pulled one back shortly after the re-start, but this revival was short lived and answered by goals from M.O.M Duxbury and Oswell.
The 4-1 winning margin was probably about right. It arguably might have been closer with County down to 10 for the last 6 or 7 minutes after Minihan went off never to return, but even with only 10 on County knew too much for the visitors.
Duxbury was the stand out performer again for the blues, and deservedly took the sponsors award. Others did well though....Minihan, Walker, Oswell and Hinchliffe ,in a performance that whilst not leaving JG purring, will none the less make him a fairly happy bunny tonight.
Stopforth for Warburton was the only County change as the teams took to the field of play with another crowd of over 3000 watching from 3 of the 4 stands.
Straight off Duxbury was in the thick of things dealing with a nippy run by Russell Fry, then he had Darnelle Bailey-King in his face, but both times saw the County defender in top nick!
Duxbury's opening minutes saw him head up the park, as well...... with Dixon, whose shot took a deflection. The corner might have offered us something, but didn't and it stayed 0-0.
The Villagers had clearly come to play, which was OK, but they were enjoying rather too much time on the ball( and in our half) for comfort early on- I was comforted to see Bailey-King's shot , 10 minutes in, fly wildly wide, but at the same time.........
Was I worrying too much?...... I guess so, and Dixon did his best to reassure me again, his run from deep taking him into the box where keeper Ross Durrant ( a decent performer twixt the sticks) saved smartly, tipping Dixon's goal bound effort over the bar. Corner followed corner from that action, but without a goal ,Minihan's effort flying wide to end the siege of the visitors goal.
Did I say `end' ?....well not quite, as within a minute County were back in Durrant's face again, but with the very same result, Oswell's header being pushed over the bar by the keeper.
For sure... that siege had not ended , and Duxbury's run and cross looked to have sorted things for the blues as Oswell awaited its arrival half a yard out smack in front. It was 1-0 .....wasn't it ?...... no it was not as Durrant had flung himself along the line to his left to block Oswell's shot pushing the ball out for a corner.
Nothing came from the corner, and Thomas went close with a decent effort 19 minutes in, but the 20th minute should have seen us 1 down. County were attacking ,and then they weren't as Curtis Bateson cut through the County defences all too easily. He was in the box and only had Hinchliffe blocking his path to goal, so the odds were on a goal, but what do I know as Hinchliffe pulled off a blinder to somehow keep the forward's effort out.
That was an escape...no question, and another one followed within 5 minutes of it as , new Ferriby signing ( from Rotherham) Kurda Muskwe, was allowed to drift across the edge of the box before letting a shot off that headed for goal like an Exocet. It was going in....then it wasn't as Hinchliffe's dive saw him push the ball over the bar at the very last gasp- great stuff!
It was getting a bit messy now, but the 30th minute saw some clarity and order brought to proceedings. It started with a throw deep in the visitors half. This went short to O'Halloran who played it inside to the waiting Oswell who fired home from close in.
That was a relief, and seemed to release the tension somewhat , but Duxbury's latest run and shot saw no further addition to the score.. It went on...a Dixon header blocked on the line....Stopforth's shot charged down... Minihan's flying wide.
Yes....County were warming to their task now, but...hang on.....no one had told Ferriby , and Bateson was in County faces battling his way bravely into the box. An equaliser looked on.....but again Hinchliffe pulled another belter out of his locker and it stayed 1-0.<
Well ...for 60 seconds it did...Jake Picton starting things rolling for County's second with a rather too previous attempted shirt exchange with Oswell, who at that time was looking on to cook Ferriby's pre yuletide turkey!
Picton got a card, County a free kick, and Thomas did well with this, coaxing another top drawer save from Durrant as the ball headed for the top corner. I was still in mid curse from that when I wasn't as the ball spiralled out to Minihan whose effort beat the keeper's despairing dive to make it 2-0 to County.
That was the end of the excitement for the first half, and Ferriby had made changes when the sides came out again, replacing Picton and Cooke with Brogan and Gray.
I was still noting those changes when things went slightly pear shaped for County as Smalley gave the ball away to Muskwe under little pressure. Muskwe made quick and steady progress up the park before slipping the pill inside to where Bailey-King slammed it home.
Bugger.....( sorry folks, we had a PA warning for bad language part way through this game, I just cannot stop it!).....were we about to see County cave in?
Heck no......a pox for thinking so...and Duxbury had us out of our seats with a breathtakingly excellent run that saw him to the by-line - his inch perfect pass thereafter teeing Oswell up to make it 3-1 with another typical strikers finish!
Bailey-King had a couple of attempts to make a dint in County's growing confidence after that last action, but there was nothing down for him, whilst at the other end Duxbury again shredded the visiting defence with another gloriously rampaging run . His cross was another belter ,but the combined efforts of Skelton and Brogan stopped Oswell from claiming his hat-trick.
We were almost on the hour mark now, and County had a free kick deep in their own half for offside. Hinchliffe launched this in traditional fashion, whereupon the mother of tangles in the box saw Duxbury nip in to make it 4-1 to great acclaim from the impeccably behaved Cheadle Enders!
The hour saw personnel changes for County and Ferriby. Stopforth and Dixon being replaced by Ball and Warburton for County, whilst Ambaly took Bailey-King's place for the visitors.
Warburton was quickly into his stride..... his run and shot denied by last ditch work from Brogan, then denied again by the keeper after another run took him to the by-line.
The County momentum was again building steadily, only thwarted next by Simon Russell's good work , and again by Durrant who once more made an excellent save to stop Warburton opening his account, beating the shot out bravely!
Things were building nicely now, but when a foul interrupted a neat one/ two twixt Oswell and Duxbury , and a free kick resulted, this kick...and another not long after were both wasted, and with barely 15 minutes left it was still 4-1.
It might have been 5-1......but again we had that man Durrant to point to as the reason this was not so- his latest quality save ending Warburton's run and shot in the unkindest of fashions. Durrant also did for Ball's follow up for good measure!
With McKenna on for Thomas ,with 12 minutes left, County piled forward on the attack with Duxbury and Warburton particularly catching the eye down the left- a sensational run from Duxbury forcing Durrant to concede a corner. But....before this could be taken...Minihan had to go off, and with County having used all their subs, this meant playing the last 6 minutes or so with only 10 on the park.
This was a test of course , but one that County stood up to pretty effectively barring one last minute blip when the poorest of throws set Johnson up with a run from half way. It was a chance if he had headed for goal, but instead he drifted wide and when he was eventually able to ping the ball goal ward, it was a cross rather than a shot and Hinchliffe ended what had been a very satisfactory days work from him, with the safest of claims.
After the whistle County took the applause of the crowd which was well deserved. The Villagers had tried to make a game of it but were clearly comprehensively out gunned.
A decent foundation for our next outing in the FA Cup next Saturday against FCUM at Edgeley Park.
See you all there then!
Oh...and a final salute to the 8 brave souls who turned out from North Ferriby- its quality not quantity that counts folks- well done you!
[ And pictures from the game, including one of the maginificent 8 away fans ( we salute you !) can be found here! ]
Stockport County line up
Hinchliffe, Minihan, Cowan, Smalley, O'Halloran, Duxbury, Thomas( McKenna 78), S.Walker, Oswell, Stopforth( Ball 60), Dixon( Warburton 60).
Subs not used; Smith, Hampson.
North Ferriby United line up
Durrant, Cooke( Gray 45), Mason, Johnson, Skelton, Picton(Brogan 45), Russell, Bateson, Muskwe, Fry, Bailey-King( Ambali 61).
Subs not used; Dixon, Rzonca.