County 1 Blyth Spartans 3
In a week when a Dover Sole jumped down a 28 year olds throat in Dorset......... when Jeremy, the left leaning gastropod ( snale)pegged out after fathering 56 offspring in double quick time ( well you would wouldn`t you!)......... and a dying moose in Newfoundland summoned up enough last gasp energy to clout hunter Rodney Buffet , about the head hospitalising him with one glorious swipe of his hoof, I suppose I might have expected this !
With third placed Blyth Spartans in town , and them firing on all cylinders in their first season at this level, I certainly expected a tough battle, a close run thing possibly....but one maybe we might just nick if we played all our cards correctly.
Therein lies the tale unfortunately....the tough battle materialised all right, but County just failed to bring the necessary fire to the party when it mattered.
That said......County did take a first half lead, via a Matty Warburton penalty, but this was almost immediately pegged back by Adam Wrightson's lethal strike.
One all then....and that was it at the break, and I thought , when Oswell ushered in Cowan's cross early in the second half, that we were on our way, but bafflingly the goal was ruled out.
County tried after this to right that wrong but were consistently undone by their lack of precision. At times the defending was iffy at best, and some of the passing loose and slack . Add a propensity to lose possession to a Blyth Spartans team who kept it neat and tidy and hit us ,when they could, on the break , and it was probably pretty good to see us still 1-1 as 4 minutes added time was announced.
Thereafter County's cup of woe overflowed, and when Mike Liddle and Jarrett Rivers , two Spartan's substitutes, slammed two past us in the games dying embers, the game was up and the points lost.
The visiting specs celebrated their team's triumph, as the boos rang out from some of the County fans, which was both unwelcome to hear and unhelpful to County's cause.
We certainly have work to do , but then we always knew that didn't we?
Back at 3 o'clock there was a rousing reception for Alun Armstrong on his return to Edgeley Park as the Blyth Spartan's manager, as County did most of the attacking early doors.
The first action saw Oswell on a run...his shirt given the heftiest of tugs by Ryan Hutchinson. The free kick brought Ben McKenna to the fore and his cross ended with Oswell's header being deflected behind by Hutchinson. The corner continued the visitors angst and I am still wondering just how keeper Peter Jameson kept out Oswell's follow up effort.
At this point, Spartans were relieving the County pressure by launching it long , but to no great effect , as County just piled it back on- Duxbury and McKenna both testing the north- easterners back line to the full with runs down either flank.
It went on, much in the same vein.....Nathan Buddle working wonders to head Cowan's shot off the line from Warburton's neat pull back. Warburton and Oswell kept Spartan's under the cosh - Ball joining in and unlucky perhaps to see his shot charged down midst the County attacks.
Did we have to look out at all for breakaway's? I think it was not unreasonable to think so, and one came about 8 minutes in through Adam Wrighton whose skilful run almost nicked his side an opener. Instead his shot flew wide so County had survived. Would they take heed of the warning though?
We would see on that one, but for now the blues were in a mood to maybe get a goal- forcing Jameson to punch out under pressure . I was thinking that Jameson looked a capable keeper, but Spartans had conceded 24 goals before this game, so he was clearly not unbeatable.
McKenna caused a ripple or two with his latest run, and Buddle did well to clear his lines with a brave diving header.
Fourteen minutes in, and County were hit on the break again, and once more it was Wrighton doing the damage. Hinchliffe was able to push the shot round the post and snaffle the corner when it came over, but we had again been warned!
The fifteenth minute saw another run from McKenna make waves in front of Jameson's goal, so much so that I swear that Sean Reed handled the ball in the box. Well....I would have given it....but the referee Mr David Underwood did not.
I was still reeling from that last one, and I guess so were County, as they were caught napping again and very lucky to escape still level as Dale Hopson's strike came back out off a post.
Play switched ends with regularity for a time after this....Ball going close twice for County.....Buddle narrowly missing out at the other end with a header....and then getting back at speed to clear up after Warburton had made it to the by-line inducing panic as he went.
The County pressure continued , but still without a goal....McKenna seeing a shot blocked , and Stopforth similarly hard done by. It looked like another case of County being close but not close enough , and then their luck changed as Buddle handled under pressure from Oswell.
Up stepped Warburton, and it was 1-0 to County, but barely had the celebrations died down when 150 north easterners were in ecstasy. Hinchliffe seemed to have sorted matters with a decent save as County were caught on the break again. The ball was parried however, ending up with Wrighton who slammed it home to make it 1-1.
County replied after this setback...Oswell and Smalley not far away with efforts, but in response, Spartans were beginning to shape up with some neat football to feet- the sort that County seem to find difficult to counter. Thankfully Wrighton's latest wizardry ended with no one in green/white able to apply a finish with half time approaching.
The minutes that remained of the half were largely spent in the visitors last third, Stopforth unlucky with one run and adamant that he should have won a penalty on the end of another. Need I say that I would have given it? But again the referee thought otherwise.
There was time still for Oswell to be foiled at the last gasp- his effort coming out of a defender. He had been off balance when the chance arrived , so no issues at all, just ill fortune.
The half ended with Spartans breaking , and Hinchliffe diving to make a save- we really did have to watch the visitors ability to strike with purpose on the break in the second half.
Both sides went to it upon the re-start, Hinchliffe doing well for the blues, but I really thought that we had taken the lead , just 5 minutes in, as Oswell's cool finish to Cowan's neatly drilled low cross beat Jameson. The ball was in the net and I saw nothing wrong with the goal at all, but it was ruled out!
It was back to nip /tuck for a time after that one.....Duxbury not far away with an effort after a run took him into the heart of the visitors defences. The visitors countered via Wrighton and County were indebted to Ball and Duxbury who sorted the issues in collaboration. From this....County `did a Blyth' as Warburton burst clear sending a beautifully weighted pass into the path of Oswell. He was clear and clearly it would be 2-1, but the latest of late flags from the pop side liner saved the day for the north-easterners!
Not long after, County were caught out again, and had O'Halloran to thank for a terrific tackle to stop Wrighton who had engineered yet another lively break.
A small comedy of errors came next as Hinchliffe's long ball almost put Oswell in. Almost...but not quite, but ...no worries...as Hutchinson and Buddle then took turns to very nearly give County the lead. They didn't which was good for Blyth...and better followed as County went into doze mode allowing Hopson a run on goal. He really should have scored....he didn't....his shot climbing high into the Cheadle End!
The hour mark saw Warburton usher the ball home, but be flagged offside, which then brought Adam Thomas on for the fading McKenna.
County came under some pressure next....saved one moment but a wonderous tackle by Cowan on Reid who had fashioned a break...then by Hinchliffe's diving save the next. Slack passing was creeping in now for the blues , put into sharp relief by the growing neatness of the visitors work.
Perhaps County could nick a goal and make light of their difficulties, and Thomas did terrifically well, 73 minutes in, with a run that took him deep into the heart of the visitors defence. Thomas ended his run with a fine shot , that deserved better, but instead Jameson's dive saw him beat the ball out!
If that was disappointing and encouraging in equal measure......relief was the emotion I was feeling next as Wrighton again tormented us picking out Hopson with the neatest of balls. Hopson responded instantly, but his shot crashed into a post with Hinchliffe a spectator, so it stayed 1-1.
With 15 minutes left, Dixon came on for Warburton, but again I was relieved to see the otherwise excellent Wrighton volley over the bar with Hinchliffe beaten.
We desperately needed a goal to insure against these irritatingly regular breaks by Blyth Spartans, but despite winning corners, and putting pressure on their opponents, they could not force the ball home.
With 3 or 4 minutes remaining, County replaced sponsors M.O.M Stopforth with Hampson, whilst for Spartans....Liddle and McDonald came on for Dale and McTiernan.
County kept pressing but without that much conviction, and into added time they were made to pay for some loose play. They had just repelled one attack, but failing to put a coherent clearance or move together from this, were quickly back under the cosh. Eventually the ball reached Liddle and he drilled a sharp finish home to give Spartans a 2-1 lead.
That was 2 minutes into added time....just one more minute passed before County were dealt another hammer blow, and all hopes of getting anything from the game vanished as Rivers rifled home after Hinchliffe had kept out a strike by Wrighton.
It was 3-1 to Spartans, and it looked like Xmas....New Year and a whole lot besides for the 150 north- easterners in the far end of the Pop Side.
Not long after the game was over, and some booing rang out.
For myself ...I would never boo my team...my choice...nothing more... but I cannot see how booing achieved anything- it certainly will not encourage the team. Credit Blyth Spartans for their diligent play whilst looking to County to do better next time!
Lots to do obviously starting with the visit to Nuneaton next Saturday , and I back Jim to get it done
Catch you there then.
[Pictures from the game can be found here! ]
Stockport County line up:
Hinchliffe, Cowan, Smalley, O'Halloran, Duxbury, Ball, McKenna( Thomas 60), Walker, Oswell, Stopforth( Hampsion 86), Warburton( Dixon 75).
Subs not used; Ormson, Clarke.
Blyth Spartans line up:
Jameson, Cartwright, Watson, Reid, Buddle, Hutchinson, Wrightson, McTiernan( Liddle 87), Maguire( Rivers 46), Hopson, Dale( McDonald 87).
Subs not used:
Attendance : 3423