Stockport County 2 Salford City 2
To say that County supporters ran the gamut of mixed emotions as they trooped off home after today`s game would be to grossly understate matters.
They had just seen their team take on and come within seconds of beating runaway league leaders and media darlings Salford City in front of a bumper gate of 5129 at a perishingly cold Edgeley Park.
Disappointment then……but pride also in a terrifically wholehearted 90 odd minute effort from James Gannon`s lads.
It was a cracking game illuminated by two sides that definitely wanted to win, and County will consider themselves unlucky not to have done so!
The league leaders opened the brighter of the two teams, testing County pretty thoroughly early on…if only their finishing had matched their approach play….but it didn`t , and the result was that it was County who opened the scoring when Oswell headed in from close range 31 minutes in.
County led 1-0 at the break, and could have made it 2-0 not long after the re-start, but fluffed a real chance to tip the game their way. The miss was costly as less than a minute later Salford equalised through danger man Jack Redshaw.
The visitors could not improve on that effort however, despite much in the way of effort with Redshaw and the equally impressive Nottingham leading their charge.
Then…with James Gannon ringing the personnel changes , his move to bring Bohan Dixon on for Adam Thomas, with 9 minutes left paid a massive dividend when he scored with his first touch .
The place was buzzing, and Salford fans were heading off home, when those remaining went AS as a late/late corner saw the visitors snatch a draw as Nottingham capped a powerful showing with a clinical finish.
There was time only for the ball to be placed on the centre circle and kicked off before referee Amy Fearn blew for time.
Earlier, it was a bit of a rush to get to my seat for kick off, as I had bobbed into the Bung to see James Gannon receive a cheque for £4000 from David Wright of Help the Hatters, being the latest contribution from the Players Fund, in support of marquis signing Rhys Turner, who showed us what he could do later in the afternoon on the pitch.
That was a great start to the afternoon, and a big game was in prospect as County prepared to do battle with the BBC 's favourite `non league` team.
Although both sides worked hard for early openings, it was Salford whose efforts looked the more likely to sort something, but after a fair amount of attacking in the first 6 or 7 minutes, all the visitors had to show for their possession was a shot from Lois Maynard that flashed across goal and out after Redshaw had sneaked a soft free kick from Referee Amy Fearn , causing a melee in front of Hinchliffe`s goal.
Hinchliffe announced his good form with a firm punch out under pressure from ex Hatter Carl Piergianni, not long after, and the first 12/13 minutes had gone by with Salford definitely shading possession and looking more assured on the ball.
The next action underlined that last opinion somewhat, as Salford continued to attack- Redshaw down the left….Nottingham the right….but County, with Smalley and O`Halloran in good nick, were defending well and when the moment came….they sprung from deep defence.
Stopforth did the initial graft ferrying the pill to Stephenson who won a corner. County`s set pieces have improved of late, but this one was poor, and the blues had Cowan to thank as his quick wits and cool head saw off the resultant break by Redshaw. That was excellent from Cowan and stopped a clear chance at source!
Salford continued to dominate possession, without any sign of an end product - Augustin Mafuta sending his shot way wide ruining some decent approach play from his team. But….a foul by O`Halloran on Redshaw tipped the balance the Lancashire side`s way again.
The kick was whipped over at pace by Ibou Touray-Maynard`s header taking a deflection off a defender, before going out for a corner. County`s angst was eased as Richard Allen then leaned back and fired over the bar from the kick.
A horror tackle by Hogan on Ball got him into the referee`s book- County fans thought `red` …but Amy went for yellow and Hogan breathed easily again.
County came back at Salford next and keeper Max Crocombe did well to grab the ball from Thomas`s cross after some neat hold up play by Stephenson. Crocombe was in action again not long after saving from Warburton, after O`Halloran had raised a brief Salford siege, and sent Stephenson charging clear.
This was better from County, but Cowan was called urgently into service stopping Allen`s gallop as he ran the ball clear from deep.
The tackle from the County back was top class and seemed to have stopped the rot, but it hadn`t…not quite anyway, and the follow up effort from Mafuta brought a save from Hinchliffe. Great stuff….danger sorted….err….no….the ball was loose and a Salford man was onto it…Redshaw…and his shot was heading goal ward.
Curtains for County then?.....but again…no…as Cowan had positioned himself in front of goal and was able to clear the ball off the line to a massive ovation from the Blue Army!
At this point let me say that the lads and lasses in the upper tiers of the Cheadle End were again in magnificent voice- it must really help the team! Well done….again!
A corner followed, then another, as Smalley just beat Piergianni to the ball- the pressure ending with a Stephenson/ Warburton break that took Nottingham`s best work to thwart.
County were doing their best to counter some pretty confident stuff from the league leaders - it was less polished perhaps than the neat passing that Salford were putting together, but the home crowd could see that the blues were working at changing the game`s pattern.
A foul near half way helped County`s cause no end, and a deft free kick by Stephenson added to the effect sending Duxbury dancing to the by-line from where he whipped the neatest of crosses over. It was directed at Oswell….and he does not miss those…heading home from half a yard out.
It was 1-0 now and the place was a veritable cauldron of noise as a result- Warburton adding to the excitement with a neat dribble that was just snuffed out on the edge of the box…and a somewhat disappointing shot a few minutes later that failed to test Crocombe.<
Stephenson and Nottingham were having a rare battle, and I give Darren top marks for this as I rate the Salford fullback/ defender highly.
Generally speaking… County were doing rather better, with half time approaching, so much so that Thomas was taken out as he sought to hit Salford on the break. The more than occasional crudity was not good to see from the visitors, and the result was a free kick that Touray did well to hack clear.
County kept going…..Stephenson thwarted by the diving keeper one moment -his stinging drive just being kept out…..and again by the same man who rose to tip another decent strike over the bar at the very last gasp!
That was disappointing, as was Piergianni`s attempt to decapitate Oswell( a feat I vaguely recall him looking to bring off at their place earlier in the season). I am not sure if the referee booked him, but soon enough it was half time and time for a warming drink and contemplation of what is to come in the second half!
Not long into the second 45 minutes, and the game seemed up for Salford as County carved them open down the left…or to be more accurate Stephenson did , making it to the by-line before threading a lovely ball low across the box where County forward`s were queuing for a shot at goal.
Oswell was first up, but he could not force it home…no matter….Stopforth was following up and the keeper was doing a `rabbits/ headlights` stare in response, but Stopforth`s side footed effort went the wrong side of the post.
Less than a minute later Salford had equalised, as Redshaw strode clear to send a powerful drive home beyond Hinchliffe`s dive!
Redshaw upped his work rate after that looking a real threat at times, as ….joined by Nottingham and Maynard they contrived to make County`s afternoon an unhappy one.
For County however… Thomas and Stephenson were doing pretty well down the flanks, and only excellent work by Hogan stopped Oswell profiting from a neat cooperation from the duo.
It looked time for a change for County, and JG did not dither in this respect bringing Winter and Turner on for Warburton and Oswell.
Turner`s pace was immediately apparent and he was inches from connecting with Cowan`s cross not long after coming on. Cowan`s crosses were causing City a nervous moment or two, and there was a hint of `hand to ball` as Allen moved to block a County raid in the box.
I have said that Redshaw and Nottingham were the threat for Salford, and into the last 20 minutes, that is how I still saw it, and County were hard pressed to keep them out. That said they did and great credit goes to the defence.
Meanwhile….Piergianni and Crocombe had trouble dealing with a Stopforth run and cross, and Piergianni managed to irritate once again by upending Thomas as he darted clear down the left. The free kick offered an opportunity, but despite the tasty position, Ball`s kick was poor soaring high over the bar.
The end to end continued…Nottingham running at the blues…..a counter by Thomas for County being halted by a crude assault on Thomas by Mafuta .
The free kick was better and Salford found themselves under the cosh to such an extent that keeper Crocombe I swear gathered the ball inches over the line at one point. It looked like it to me, and most of the crowd, but the liner`s flag stayed down and the referee allowed play to continue.
With 9 minutes left JG moved to replace Thomas with Dixon, and within a minute this move paid off as Dixon surged clear onto a lovely ball from Jimmy Ball before sending a beautifully weighted shot out of the keeper`s reach into the net.
Cue….pandemonium as County`s following went AS…….what a strike that was…what a tactical strike by the County Manager also!
Ball was warming up nicely now…..spraying the neat forward passes about…..getting an occasional blocking tackle in as well…and Turner`s speed was frightening me never mind Salford- he will do us very nicely indeed in the season`s run in!
Both sides probed the other as we went into added time with the score still 2-1 to County.
County were trying for a third goal…Hogan thwarting Turner ……Stephenson foiled at the last gasp from another Ball pass.
We were almost done with added time, when County lost the ball in the middle of the park, allowing Redshaw to run it clear- somehow Hinchliffe managed to punch clear under pressure. Salford immediately sent it back via the long/ high route the visitors managing to scramble a corner from it.
Over it came…up went Nottingham in an untidy knot of bodies in front of the County goal, and that was that as he headed home to the utter dismay of the County supporters.
There was time only to kick off and that really was that…..game over … league leaders Salford had snatched a point at the death!
Very disappointing, but no one would have sniffed at a point at the start, and there was much to be pleased about in the County performance.
After you have first cheered them on on Tuesday at Edgeley Park in the Cheshire Senior Cup against Barnton, I highly recommend a trip to Kidderminster next Saturday for the next round of the FA Trophy. Do not be tempted to bet against a County win!
See you there !
[ Photos from the game? Look no further than here! ]
Stockport County line up
Hinchliffe, Cowan, Smalley, O`Haloran, Duxbury, Ball, Thomas( Dixon 81), Stopforth, Oswell( Turner 60), Warburton( Winter 60), Stephenson.
Subs not used: Ormson, Clarke.
Salford City line up
Crocombe, Nottingham, Touray, Maynard, Piergianni, Hogan, Walker( Phenix 67), Mafuta, Allen( Askew 78), Redshaw, Shelton( Beesley 87).
Subs not used: Livesey, Dieseruvwe.