FC United 1 County 0
There was humiliation in store for County and its supporters at Broadhurst Park, where County exited this season`s FA Cup at the hands of FC United of Manchester last night by the wafer slim margin of 1-0.
The margin of defeat may have been slim, but the disappointment was huge as ….despite FCUM being reduced to 9 men for over 50% of the match, County proved unable to penetrate a resolute home defence.
The nine of FCUM defended as if their very lives depended upon it, and the result was that, despite much attacking from County, the lone goal ,scored just after half time by Tom Greaves, was enough to see the yellow shirted blues off.
Before the start I had County clear second favourites, having failed to hold onto a 3 goal lead on Saturday, and the news that Matty Warburton had joined Sam Minihan, Scott Duxbury, Michael Clarke and top scorer Jason Oswell on the injured list, only made this valuation seem spot on. These are all key players , but that said…. with a two man advantage for over 45 minutes I would have expected better from County, but despite them enjoying almost all the possession after the goal in the second half, it never really looked 9 against 11 - a measure of how frustratingly well FCUM defended!
Dixon and Thomas were employed up front, with Stopforth and the returning Harry Winter providing runs from deep, but apart from an obvious desire to make something happen, collectively the ability to achieve this seemed beyond them. For long periods no one in yellow ( please let it be the last time we play in this kit) could find the target, and by the time we did, FCUM keeper Lloyd Allinson stepped up and kept everything out with a string of game saving saves for his side.
Substitute Ben McKenna did his level best to inject some life into the County effort, linking up with Don Cowan, providing cross after cross, but to no avail as the goal shy nature of County`s performance persisted to hinder the effort.
So…. County were out…… and deservedly so after having squandered a 3 goal advantage on Saturday.
Before the kick off, there was an odd mood abroad midst County`s following. Around 400 had made it to Moston, but I found no one overly confident that the blues would come away with a win, and a look at the starting eleven, shorn of 5 key players, served only to increase this lack of confidence.
If anything the first 10 minutes saw this feeling ebb a little though, with both sides takings turns to attack the other. Neither keeper was troubled to make a save in the first 9, but the 10th saw Allinson in action keeping Dixon`s effort out. The liner`s flag would have ruled it out had it gone in, but it was a start.
As at EP on Saturday it was noticeable that FC were keeping the ball on the deck to good effect, and this aided their willingness to strike on the break ,and following a run from Cowan ,this is what Greaves did going close to an opener in the process.
This pattern persisted…..County attacking…then hit on the break, this time by a Logan/ Wisdom combo, and I was relieved to see Stopforth eventually run the ball forward out of deep defence and relieve County`s angst. From Stopforth`s run, Dixon was brought into the action only to be fouled by the bearded Mike Connor, but ridiculously……. from the free kick County were back on the defensive and Hinchliffe had to dash out of his box to stop the rot with red shirts abounding in the vicinity. It was a dicy moment , and one not likely to boost confidence, but we breathed again when Logan`s follow up effort climbed up and over the terrace-less away end.
This was a sparky affair and County were continually in referee Scott Simpson`s ear complaining about some perceived injustice or other, usually involving Connor, and his latest foul did for Stopforth`s break when all looked a tad interesting. The interest ebbed quickly though when Cowan`s free kick cleared everyone and the goal as well.
The end to end stuff continued - Smalley`s last ditcher serving County well one minute, and Winter unlucky with his strike on the end of Walker`s neat through ball next.
We were 27 minutes in when Connor received a booking, and the referee pointed at multiple areas of the pitch to make his point to the FCUM number four. But it was not Connor who was first to an early bath, this dubious honour fell to Matt Hughes whose unceremonious dumping of Dixon as he darted clear, was enough for Mr Simpson to show him a red card. The home crowd were incensed, and only slightly less so when a truly abysmal free kick from Ball sailed harmlessly over the bar!
Hughes` removal did nothing to deter the home side`s aggressive approach to proceedings, but County needed to reign in the angry responses and concentrate on the essentials, but instead Winter`s run through the middle saw him lift another desperately poor effort high and wide.
County`s confidence seemed boosted none the less and Zac Corbett did really well to block Winter`s next run albeit at the cost of a corner, but the flag kick was another lulu…soaring up and over all and sundry- another waste from County!
If we needed to up the ante as far as our set pieces were concerned, we also needed to not give away needless fouls, but that`s what Ball did and the resultant free kick saw melee after melee ensuing in front of Hinchliffe`s goal, before eventually the County keeper claiming the ball to stop the rot.
Smalley did have the ball in the net, 5 minutes from the break, finishing a move down the left nicely, but the flag was up and the effort was ruled out.
Less than a minute later and Connor received his second yellow for a foul on Stopforth and County now looked set fair having to face 9 men for 50 minutes +.
That was encouraging then…..what followed was precisely the opposite. County were attacking and Ball was in possession just inside the box. He was also clearly a yard or so offside, but the young liner was several yards behind play and failed to pick this up, therefore a real chance beckoned ! But….Ball , possibly expecting a flag, dithered , and when he had decided on action it was too late and a good chance had been spurned!<<
Ball`s first 45 minutes continued in the same vein unfortunately, as the last action of the half saw him loft another effort into the covered terrace at the home end.
Still….we were still level….and playing against 9….so……
The re-start saw no personnel changes for County, but FCUM brought Mike Jones and ex Hatter Jordan Fagbola on for Gilchrist and Logan to shore up their defences.
Unaccountably however it was County on the back foot from the off with Hinchliffe busy as free kick and corner came his way. County were in severe difficulty clearing their lines…in fact they didn`t and the home teams undoubted passion, whipped up by an equally fervent home crowd, paid off when Tom Greaves punished County by forcing the ball home from close in.
County looked shell shocked…certainly I was…..but it was another 5 minutes before they managed to see the white`s of Allinson`s eyes, and when he did Smalley sent his header away from goal to the dismay of the County following.
It did not improve, and should have….because Wisdom`s foul on Stopforth teed up a decent scoring opportunity from the free kick, but this went the way of other set pieces before it Ball heading over the bar with the goal gaping.
Thomas went down in the box under pressure from Fagbola, but the referee saw no foul, so the fact that I did counted for nothing.
Then I was reaching for the BP pills with the sight of Greaves taking on the whole of the County back-line with a brave run. He almost did it….almost. Greaves was on fire, and more good work from him saw Hinchliffe in action denying Steve Irwin.
There was about 30 minutes left, but we needed urgently to tighten up and step up the attacking, but despite racking up a series of corners none of these were delivered or finished off with the required nous, enabling United to hit us again on the break forcing another save from Hinchliffe to stop Irwin getting on the score sheet.
Mc Kenna came on for Winter with 63 minutes gone, and he had an immediate impact setting up a string of crosses that should have set those inside him up, instead a pass out to Hampson and a decent ball in from him saw Walker`s shot nicely saved by Allinson.
FCUM were now all back behind the ball in their last third as County pressed ,winning more corners, but the blues frustration mounted when a thunderous drive by Hampson was somehow kept out by the diving Allinson.
On it went…..McKenna showing all his skills down the right , sending a constant string of crosses over aided by Cowan, the latest picking Hampson out who again saw his effort negated by the keeper`s excellent work.
With just over 15 minutes to go, County replaced Smalley with Brazel, as the County attacking continued with a Dixon header flying over the bar.
It desperate stuff from FCUM, but brave defending as Corbett pulled out all the stops to deny Hampson and Cowan in quick succession.
There was desperation from County too as attack after attack came to nought. Mc Kenna was still the provider along with Cowan, but County just could not beat Allinson and he did ridiculously well to keep Walker`s shot out, and a follow up header by Cowan.
That was 9 minutes from time…another minute and another Mc Kenna run split the FC defences, teeing Thomas up for a strike that was inches from success.
More McKenna magic followed…… but Brazel was unable to make anything of it in the box…..then Cowan profited from Mc Kenna`s excellence only to see Allinson rise to tip his shot over the bar!
The corner from that last action saw Hampson tripped in the box, but although the referee thought about it, he did not give the penalty that County desired.
Into added time we went with another Cowan shot whizzing narrowly wide, and Walker similarly disappointed to see his shot charged down by one of an army of red shirts called into action in front of Allinson`s goal.
Allinson had the last word saving the last shot of the game from Dixon, after McKenna had again set things up.
Game over…County were out, and the recriminations started , but despite the disappointment I am not joining any move to oust our Manager.
Jim Gannon remains the man for the job in my view, and we should resist knee jerk reaction to what is a difficult situation we find ourselves in. There is clearly time for JG to turn things around and with the 5 key men back in action we have every chance of doing just that.
Another leap in the dark and grab for the latest managerial flavour of the month is not what is required- that approach has been tried and found wanting by countless clubs including ours.
Get to Darlo and get behind the team- please!
[ Cracking night photos, including County's longest-scarf-in-the-world on tour(!) can be found here! ]
FC United of Manchester line up:-
Allinson, Brady, Wisdom, Connor, Corbett, Hughes, Mantack, Irwin, Gilchrist( Fagbola 46), Greaves( McCarthy 83), Logan( Jones 46).
Subs not used: Nicholas, Lingfield, Baird, Senior.
Stockport County line up:-
Hinchliffe, Cowan, Smalley( Brazel 73), O`Halloran, Hampson, Ball, Winter9 McKenna 63), Walker, Stopforth,Thomas, Dixon.
Subs not used: Ormson, Downing, West, Whitty, Czubik.
Attendance : 1688