County 2 Southport 2 (FA Trophy 3QR)
County managed to stay in the FA Trophy today ,thanks to yet another late, late goal this time from Darren Stephenson, against Southport at Edgeley Park.
It was Darren`s first league or cup goal in County colours, and hopefully will mark a turning point in the ex Chorley man`s County career.
Add a magnificent 90 odd minutes from the young lads in the Cheadle End Upper Tiers ( they sang…chanted, and sang again…constantly…… when others were inclined to moan, with the blues trailing deep into the second half).
Those were about the only things for County`s long suffering following to look back on with pride in a game that, at times, struggled to reach the dizzy heights of mediocre.
In short, I thought that neither team looked particularly up for this particular trophy, and whilst I can just about see perhaps that it might conceivably be a motivational problem to gee oneself up sufficiently for a 3rd Qualifying Round….those young lads at the back of the Cheadle End managed it and heart warmingly too, and they had paid for the privilege!
That said I thought that, for the most part, Southport looked the better organised where it mattered namely in their opponents last third.
On the whole though I thought that whilst Kevin Davies` team were a competent outfit, working to a plan, they were no more than that, and County struggled for coherence in response for long periods.
Ahead via a Bohan Dixon goal 12 minutes in…..County saw their lead disappear just 2 minutes later via a smart finish by Southport`s Andy White, then went behind thanks to a goal from Jason Gilchrist ,Southport`s recent signing- a cool strike with 22 minutes left.
It was an uphill struggle after that and a massive relief when Stephenson rounded off Stopforth`s good work by side footing the ball neatly home from close in with just 4 minutes left to play.
Try as they might after that, County could not add another goal, so a Wednesday night trip to the sea side beckons now as a result, which on the balance of play I am forced to say was about right- it`s an absolute pain of course……but about right!
Despite the abysmal weather, over 1000 were inside the stadium as the game got underway with both sides probing the other tentatively for openings.
Warburton was first to show for County, his lively run setting up the first of quite a few County corners, but they were not able to capitalise on any of these, match long, and much the same could be said about the numerous free kicks that came their way.
That was 5 minutes gone…another 2 and the action switched ends with Gilchrist disappearing beyond O`Halloran with alarming ease. Things did look momentarily iffy for County at this point, but puzzlement replaced alarm for me next, as having set up a `one/ two` with David Lynch, the ex FCUM man then elected not to go for the return!
County enjoyed a fair bit of possession after that let off, and took the lead, 12 minutes in, when Bohan Dixon fired home on the end of Jason Oswell`s lay off.
The pressure had paid off, but could County now impose themselves on their opponents?
Well …it took just a few short minutes to answer that question.
Just 60 seconds later Southport might have equalised, had Gilchrist and Kissock been better organised in front of an exposed County goal, but they weren`t and the chance was lost.
No matter…..the visitors came back at us through Bradley Jackson ( who I made the Port M.O.M), and Jackson thoroughly filleted the left side of the blue back line with the first of many imperious runs. This one took him to the by-line where he laid the ball neatly back inside to Andy White who finished with aplomb.
Fourteen minutes gone….1-1 the score, which was disappointing, and more disappointment threatened, and quickly, as first Michael Clarke did well to stop the rot with Jordan Hallam surging clear. Then Jackson made it to the by-line again, but with me reaching for the BP pills, he put rather too much oomph on his cross and found no takers for same.
Add a shot from Lynch that flashed no more than an inch or two wide, following more magic from Jackson, and the game was beginning to drift the Sandgrounders` way.
All this time County`s frustration continued to mount as Adam Herczeg, the Referee, missed a shed load of iffy challenges from the Lancastrians……a foul on Warburton….a mauling from Howson on Oswell ( the first of many) and a blatant body check, 26 minutes in, on Warburton in the box.
Had any of those, particularly that last one, been rewarded as they might and should have been…who knows…..but they weren`t, and JG`s frustration saw him replace Walker with Mantack, something of a shock so early in proceedings.
Dixon and Warburton combined next, to see the latter go close, and several times shortly after, free kicks saw them go close again, but County needed a goal , and that commodity was not forthcoming.
One free kick, late on in the half, after Dixon had been fouled on the edge of the box, saw a decent effort from Warburton evade the wall, but go wide, to leave it still 1-1 at half time.
It was 6 or 7 minutes into the second half before anything of note occurred, and Southport were fortunate to survive the moment still on level terms, when Warburton side footed the ball into keeper Jon Worsnop`s arms close in, on the end of a fine run by Mantack- an involuntary save…but as save none the less.
County redoubled their efforts after that last action, with both Duxbury and Warburton taking turns to torment the visitors down the left.
Warburton was particularly unlucky ( again !!)- his run spreading alarm within the Southport ranks, only for the referee to ignore a blatant back pass to the keeper, with the whole Southport back line hyper ventilating.
County did get some reward of sorts, on the hour, with the award of a free kick after Dixon was carted just outside the box, but County`s kick thundered into the wall- and nobody was in position to apply a finish when Mantack`s follow up effort pinged into the box.
More frustration followed with Oswell oh so close with his header, and Mantack more so, being thwarted by Worsnop`s quick thinking- the keeper snuffing any chance out as the County substitute looked on to score.
County kept attacking, but with no better end product in sight, and( stop me if you have read this before) when possession was surrendered …....with the back door ajar…..Jackson scuttled through it to the edge of the box where his pin point pass picked Gilchrist out with immaculate precision. It was 1-2 in a heart beat as Gilchrist put the chance away!
Southport were suitably buoyed by that action, and very nearly scored again ,within a minute.- Hallam working the ball up field to Jackson who saw Hinchliffe get in the way of his ambition to feed Gilchrist a second time!
That save probably kept County in the game, as with under 20 minutes left JG brought Darren Stephenson on for O`Halloran . This saw a back line for County of Cowan, Clarke and Duxbury , as with County behind and struggling I was struck by the continuing wave of support heading County`s way from the young lads in the Upper Tiers- it was simply excellent!
Southport seemingly had space and men to spare for a time…could County respond though?
Well…..Stephenson tried, but his shot on the turn carried the angle of bar and post by not that much.
Winter was now on for Warburton, as I looked around to see keeper Worsnop smother a Cowan cross under pressure.
It looked a lost cause…until…….with just 4 minutes of normal time left, County at last did the biz- Stopforth`s run and cross being neatly tucked away half a yard out by Stephenson who side footed home to the obvious delight of himself and his team mates!
Ball went close, and Mantack kept pinging crosses in at a prodigious rate, without further reward.
There was a rather depressing panto for us to endure in added time, as with Southport time wasting big style Morgan took an age to leave the field. The change had been signalled by the fourth official eons before, and the crowd were not happy at all seeing the referee acquiesce to all this nonsense.
Mantack kept Worsnop busy right up until the final whistle, but despite scares and alarms galore, the Lancastrians held out to take us to their place on Wednesday for the replay.
We will not be favourites for that one, but I will be there …and you never know!
[ Pictures from a chilly, wet Edgeley Park are here! ]
Stockport County line up;
Hinchliffe, Cowan, Clarke, O`Hanlon( Stephenson 71), Duxbury, Ball, Stopforth, Walker( Mantack 27), Oswell, Warburton( Winter 79), Dixon.
Subs not used: Ormson, Smalley.
Southport line up:
Worsnop, Jackson, White, Morgan( Dugdale 92), Howson, Jones, Hallam, Lynch, Gilchrist, Kissock( Sampson 63), Smith.
Subs not used; Hine, Anderson, Croft.