Alfreton Town 1 Stockport County 3
County took their Xmas points haul to a healthy 7 in 3 today with a commanding performance against Alfreton Town at the Impact Arena, which brought them a 3-1 win.
The margin of victory maybe might have been more, had just one of a plethora of second half shots gone in against an Alfreton side of limited ability, but I found no one in the large County following arguing too forcibly along those lines on their way out of the ground.
County took an early lead via a goal from Chris Smalley - one of two such strikes from the County stopper. It was a real belter too and no less than County deserved.
Alfreton by this time had already settled into a sort of peevish negativity, that thankfully did them no good at all, and in the end gained the reward it deserved from the game - none.
It was no real surprise therefore, when they were reduced in numbers to 10 when the overly verbose Craig Westcarr was sent for an early bath shortly before half time.
To be fair, Alfreton did rally a touch in the second half, but they had no answer to further strikes from Smalley and Duxbury.
They did get a rather irritating penalty deep into added time, spoiling County`s clean sheet prospects , but by that time the large County following, who gave magnificent support throughout, were already in celebratory mode, knowing that the game was won!
The game opened with Boxing Day`s villain, Cieren Keane, going close with a first time cross that almost took County unawares.
It was not long however before, accompanied by derision from the big County following , he regressed to the lumpant demeanour he showed us in the first game- giving the officials verbals as a none optional extra as well, and we were just a couple of minutes into the game!
Oswell returned the compliment almost immediately, turning Tom Allan like he wasn`t about. Nothing came of it, but it was good to see.
Possession was shared fairly evenly twixt the teams in the opening minutes, with neither keeper being troubled, but already County were building up some momentum, stoked by a free kick for a foul on Warburton.
A corner followed , and Stephenson kept the ball in play from the flag kick nicely and long enough for Smalley to send a sumptuous volley rocketing into the net. That was an excellent strike, and a useful early lead for the white shirted blues.
There were corners at both ends next- Mulhern winning the first for Town, and Stephenson following suit for County after Warburton had run the ball clear from deep.
Tom Platt came to Town`s aid next clearing the danger with County on the offensive. The ball went up field to Keane who proceeded to locate the High Street with his effort much to the amusement of the County contingent, which I estimated at around 500.
Cowan meanwhile was again doing what he does so well, cutting danger out and instigating a response- I had already counted 2 crosses pinged over by him, and we were just 13 minutes into the game.
Did I say that the County effort was building its momentum?
Well…it was…Warburton going close on the end of a rakingly long run from deep by Ball. It went on…Stopforth winning a corner, and from it Duxbury saw a shot pushed out by the diving Chris Elliott between the sticks for the reds.
This last action came about after Referee Anthony Tankard allowed advantage as the serially irritating Tom Allan had climbed all over Oswell.
Ok… we did not profit from the referee`s decision to keep play flowing, but overall I thought Mr T did pretty well throughout.
You will be wondering about Keane and just how he was doing….well…the 20th minute saw him sliding through Adam Thomas.
County made nothing of the free kick, and were relieved to see Hinchliffe in good nick…diving to his left to keep a Mulhern strike out as Town hit on the break.
That was somewhat against the run of play , but within a minute Town came at us again through Westcarr, and this was possibly the reds best chance of the game, as Westcarr ferried the ball inside to Mulhern, whose deft lay off set James Baxendale up for a shot which he sent a foot of so over the angle of bar and post.
Alfreton were trying a bit now, and a foul by Stopforth aided their intent, giving the Derbyshire side a free kick in a tasty position. Westcarr stepped up to take the kick but sent it wide.
A couple of minutes later another Stopforth foul saw him booked, and within another 10 Gary was replaced by Harry Winter- a precaution I guess… but there were those in the vicinity who thought they saw Stopforth signal the bench prior to going off.
Meanwhile…short fuses seemed in vogue for the team in red, and Westcarr`s fuse looked to be shorter than most, as……irked by one decision or another, he pursued the far side liner treating him to some ripe abuse as he ran along the line. The referee saw this and acted….showing a red card to the home number nine.
If the Stopforth substitution was a precautionary move on JG`s part…it was a wise one as the home side were hell bent on fooling the referee…particularly Allan who when he wasn`t climbing all over Oswell…was falling down prior to giving a passable imitation of a near death moment.
One such occurred with 3 minutes left of the half, as Ball and the red shirted number six came together routinely in the box. I saw it as no more than that, but Allan was on a mission and lay completely still on the floor as Ball regained the vertical and looked about him in dismay.
Credit to Mr Tankard… he did not plump for the Underwood approach and guess… but consulted his liner, producing a yellow for Ball much to the ire of the locals looking for an evening up of numbers!
Efforts by Warburton and Ball ended the half as the teams went in with the Hatters 1-0 in the lead.
The second half opened up in traditional fashion with Keane taking Oswell out. It was an atrocious assault and merited more than a yellow for me, but Mr T showed him yellow which was a lucky break.
That's where, at least for now, the Town lucky breaks ended, as County were about to double their advantage!
Almost inevitably its roots were in a free kick, and Alfreton's indiscipline was copiously punished, as Smalley emerged from a clutch of white shirts vying for a shot to fire the ball neatly home for his and his side's second goal.
That was good, but around the hour Smalley was replaced by Michael Clarke, presumably another precautionary switch, however it was good to see Michael again and he quickly settled in .
A series of County corners were followed by some pressure on County from the home side, but nothing came of it , the best efforts from both Baxendale and Mulhern going wide.
Duxbury meanwhile was powering up his engine, and several crosses from him induced an element of fear into the reds play.
Ball was not far off with an effort from a Duxbury assist.
Credit to Alfreton however, despite the numbers imbalance they were trying to engage County at Hinchliffe's end of the park, and the County keeper did well at one point to rise and push a header from Baxendale over the bar.
Baxendale had previously headed wide when well set.
County bided their time before responding and a series of corners followed, but it was from a County break from deep that their third goal came.
Warburton was the catalyst running the ball to the edge of the Town box before sending a shot crashing against the keeper's left hand post.
A defender got a touch as it was a corner....another corner....and this one was one to savour as Duxbury curled an immaculate delivery high into the now sodden air above Elliott's head from where the ball sailed goal ward being assisted on its way by the flailing arms of the keeper.
It was 3-0 and about right, but Duxbury did not think so as he continued to pump cross after cross over thoroughly tormenting the stretched home back line.
That said I peered through the gathering gloom to see Hinchliffe dive to push Daniels' shot around the post.
There were just 8 minutes left now, and McKenna was now on for Thomas who left to a decent ovation, as County piled the pressure on, mostly but not exclusively down the left flank.
Twice Elliott was called on for saves to stop Stephenson opening his account, as he joined Warburton and Oswell as Town tormentors..
The corner count continued to rise as County tried without further success to add to their 3-0 lead.
Indeed that lead shrunk....around the fourth minute of added time ( I swear only 1 minute was announced) as the referee saw something in the box awarding our hosts the softest of penalties which Daniels put away.
Eventually the final whistle went and County had the spoils- a very useful 3 point haul.
They had done really well over the Xmas period and only Mr Underwood's `eccentricities' prevented us from taking all 9 from the three games.
Well done one and all.
[ Cracking pictures from the game can be found here! ]
Alfreton Town line up
Elliott, Topliss, Keane, Platt, Shiels, Allan, Wood, Baxendale, Westcarr, Mulhern( Daniels 75), Disley.
Subs not used: Jennings, Everington, Sharp, Johnson.
Stockport County line up
Hinchliffe, Cowan, Smalley( Clarke 58), O'Halloran, Duxbury, Ball, Stopforth( Winter 39), Thomas( Mc Kenna 82), Oswell, Warburton, Stephenson.
Subs not used ; Ormson, Dixon.
Attendance :949 ( 469)