Southport 0 Stockport County 3 ( FA Trophy 3rd QR Replay )
We had not won at Haigh Avenue since 1957 when a goal from Player Manager Willie Moir gave County a 1-0 win, and the bookies weren`t fooled were they, we were second favourites in this the second clash with the Sandgrounders in 5 days, and I was probably not alone in a decent County following, in expecting a difficult game this time around.
That was how it looked beforehand…..when the game commenced…… a whole other scenario unfurled itself as County imposed themselves on a Southport team that had looked in decent nick on Saturday , never relinquishing control from the moment that Jason Oswell`s opener went in after 18 minutes to the game`s last gasp some 75 minutes later.
It was a towering performance from County who made me eat my words early about `being up for it` on Saturday- a really top showing was this!
Loads impressed me in County white! First off I thought it was an immense team performance, and a particularly good defensive showing within that, as Chris Smalley seamlessly re- inserted himself into a back three( Cowan, Smalley and O`Halloran) that simply oozed confidence throughout.
They were supported magnificently by wing backs Mantack and McKenna who did not shrink from getting back and mucking in.
In this respect it was excellent to also see the likes of Warburton( so lively and inventive up the park) and others willingly tracking back to do defensive work, and this told against a Southport side that , faced with a County side firing on all cylinders, just could not reproduce the decent form of just 5 days earlier, no matter how they tried, and they did a bit late on.
If Warburton was my M.O.M, others shone as well….in attack Oswell did great work throughout, whilst at the back my good opinion of Dan Cowan was confirmed by another fine performance- Dan again did excellent work in support of the County attack.
Bohan Dixon gets a mention also, as his composure on the ball, coupled with a determination to win it back when he did not have it, served his side well.
I am already thinking that I am doing this County team a considerable disservice by naming top performers within it , whilst failing to mention the likes of Stopforth , Ball and Hinchliffe whose hard graft is easily but recklessly overlooked, as it truly was a top notch team showing from our lads!
Back at 7.45 the priority was keeping warm as the cold Southport evening air started to seep through my 8 layers ( woolly hat, gloves and two hoods). It was a bit cold!
On the park however neither team looked to have a care about the weather, as both took turns in probing the other.
The first 5 minutes came and went with neither keeper required to do much, and from a County view point it was gratifying to note Smalley`s seamless re-introduction into the white shirted blues back line.
The sixth minute ushered in a change, as County suddenly went up a gear and Oswell was distinctly unlucky to see keeper Jon Worsnop keep his goal bound effort out.
Just one minute later and more of the same followed, with Oswell again in the van…onto Cowan`s nicely weighted cross in front of goal. The box was crowded however and the County striker could not keep his shot down, thus Worsnop, on this occasion, was not troubled.
Much County pressure followed on from that last action, but despite forcing a series of corners, nothing more than that was forthcoming…..until the 16th minute when another County raid saw the relentless Oswell latch onto Warburton`s through ball in the box to beat Worsnop with an immaculate finish.
If thus far John Paul- Kissock and Nathan Lowe had looked to be the Sandgrounders likely lads…..…all 11 for County were vying for a starring role with Warburton impressing more than most up front, and Dixon drawing fouls from the home side like confetti at a wedding.
It went on…McKenna`s run blocked by weight of numbers in the box….Warburton seeing a shot charged down.
Eventually Southport halted the County attacking and made decent headway for a time down the right where Kissock succeeded in lifting a couple of crosses over. Hinchliffe was under a bit of pressure from the second of these, but a brave punch out under the cosh proved the springboard from which County doubled their advantage.
It was so…….so good to see County hit their opponents on the break as they did next, and panic abounded in the home defence as Warburton looked well placed to score. He did not get the chance though, being body checked, by Howson, before he could get his shot off.
Referee Gareth Rhodes, who I thought had an impressive game, pointed to the spot without hesitation, and Warburton resumed the vertical to slide his spot kick beyond Worsnop into the net.
Thirty two minutes gone, …..Southport 0 County 2….excellent!
Southport were stung by the score line, and came back at County pushing them back, but they found Jim Gannon`s boys in great nick in response, as Dixon worked his socks off in front of County`s last line…Warburton did likewise earning plaudits for unselfish tracking back, as did McKenna whose neat block stopped Hinchliffe having some work to do.
There was no doubt that Southport were trying to get back in it, but when they did at this point, two separate breaks from deep by first Jack Simpson and then Curtis Jones , ended with tame shots going straight into Hinchliffe`s waiting arms.
We were just 5 minutes from half time, and Southport were leaking free kicks at a rate of knots now. Mr Rhodes was not at all tempted by Warburton`s easy fall to earth in the box, but Dixon fared better having been upended on a run for the umpteenth time.
The free kick was in a good position, but came to nought when Ball lifted his effort high and wide.
County were so much faster….livelier than their opponents and this possibly explained why the Lancastrians shipped so many free kicks.
The half ended with McKenna testing Worsnop with a decent shot, as I headed off for some refreshment buoyed by the 2-0 score line.
Southport rang the changes for the re-start, Sampson and Kissock replaced by Gilchrist and Hallam, whilst JG left things as they were for County.
Saturday`s scorer, Jason Gilchrist fancied an early sniff, but found Smalley on his case and unwilling to comply- it stayed 2-0.
Dixon had just sent Mantack clear before that, and the County momentum continued with Warburton giving the keeper nightmares with a shot that whizzed mere inches from the goal.
I liked the cut of Dixon`s jib here and again he came centre stage with a through ball to Oswell that promised much with the County number nine heading goal ward. A neat flick from Oswell and Warburton had the ball , but Howson did just enough to stop the rot and prevent Warburton getting his shot off.
Bradley Jackson, another of Saturday`s heroes for Southport, got in a run down the right next, only for a diving headed clearance by O`Halloran to see his cross off on the end of it.
Southport now had all their subs on ( Anderson having come on for Dugdale) but County`s original 11 continued to do the biz, and why not as Warburton vouchsafed with another shot that brought a top notch save from Worsnop.
We were beyond the hour now, and Southport were making ever more feverish efforts to get back in it- being constantly thwarted by County`s team ethic that saw all 11 back to defend at times.
It was just such a defensive effort from County that I was witnessing, with 64 minutes gone, and Hinchliffe did good work rising to punch clear with a clutch of Southport men on his case.
From Hinchliffe the ball found its way to Warburton who scurried up the park into home territory, doing absolute wnders to thwart 2…3 attempts en route to derail his run, before releasing a short pass to McKenna, who did not dwell on the ball for long, instead releasing a neat pass to Ball whose first time shot was kept out by the keeper ,dining to his right.
Worsnop could only parry it however and Warburton was still running….. latching onto it to slot it home!
Another `hit em from deep on the break` ala Brian Clough, and again executed to near perfection…great to see!
Harry Winter and Scott Duxbury replaced Jimmy Ball and Matty Warburton not long after, and the ground resounded to the happy noise of County fans applauding as the players went off.
County`s forward push was not affected at all by the changes, neither was the Southport response, as both McKenna and an increasingly lively Mantack were felled by fouls as they made progress.
County`s final change saw Darren Stephenson on for Jason Oswell with 15 minutes left to play.
Stephenson was soon in action combining with Mantack to set Dixon up for a shot that Worsnop watched carefully before saving.
We were into the last 6 minutes now and County were still looking for more goals- Mantack unlucky on the end of a jinking run that saw him bamboozle 3 defenders before getting his shot off. It was a good effort too, if possibly lacking a touch of pace, but Worsnop kept it out.
He kept another shot from Stephenson out not long after, albeit at the second go to keep it at 3-0.
Southport kept trying though- Hinchliffe on his toes to deny Gilchrist late on, and County generally having too much nous for their opponents.
It was 3-0 at the end, and a thoroughly deserved victory sets up an intriguing tie in the First Round proper against Lancaster City.
Celebrations over…..it was time to board the Flyer again for the return journey, and before we set off, the mood was lifted even further with the appearance of Alan Lord, County`s Director of Youth Development on the coach, as he greeted everyone and wished us a safe journey home.
I am sure that sort of stuff is not in Alan`s job description, but it is so…so County family! How can you fail to love a Club that takes time out like that!
See you all at Brackley on Saturday then!
[ The pics from this chilly fixture, and including Ian 'Hedgegrower' Brown rocking a hoodie, can be found here! ]
Southport line up
Worsnop, Jackson, White, Lowe, Howson, Dugdale( Anderson 57, Kissock ( Hallam 46), Lynch, Hine, Sampson( Gilchrist 46), Jones.
Subs not used; Doyle, Croft.
Stockport County line up
Hinchliffe, Cowan, Smalley, O`Halloran, McKenna, Mantack, Ball( Winter 57), Stopforth, Dixon, Oswell( Stephenson 75), Warburton( Duxbury 70).
Subs not used ; Ormson, Etches.