Stockport County 3 Kidderminster Harriers 0
Stockport County majestically strode into Round 3 of the FA Trophy, and a tie against National Leaguers Maidenhead United, last night with an emphatic 3-0 win against 16 game unbeaten Kidderminster Harriers.
It was a beast of a night…..and I wondered whether Dante had imagined such a foul backdrop to the game as thunder…lightning….snow and sleet hammered at us to the accompaniment of a lethal wind that pierced to the bone and threatened the extremities!
Thankfully County paid the prevailing conditions scant heed, and proceeded to do a job against a Harriers side that had come to win and thought they knew just how to do it.
Kidderminster did more than their share of attacking, but John Eustace`s side were just unable to add the essential ingredient on the end of all the stylish passing….a decent finish.
Great credit in this respect must go to County who defended like lions all evening.
With winger Adam Thomas pressed into service at right back, it was reasonable maybe to wonder if County would be in difficulties, and they did have to endure a lot of pressure from the visitors at times.
This was particularly so in a first half that might have seen us behind had Kidderminster brought their shooting boots with them up the M6, but generally James Gannon`s side coped well with awkward opponents, and whilst they attacked less than Harriers …when they did they looked 100% more likely to produce something.
And they did too…. thus…. as in the first game, County led at the break, this time through the neatest of goals from Rhys Turner. A second from Ben McKenna with 15 minutes left told us who was likely to progress to a tie in darkest Berkshire, and Bohan Dixon applied the coup de gras with a late/ late penalty after sponsors M.O.M Darren Stephenson had been felled in the box( for the second time in the match!).
There were 2 changes in the County line up as snow swirled ominously around the players shoulders. Adam Thomas slotted in at right back for the injured Dan Cowan, and Stopforth was rested giving Bohan Dixon a rare start.
It must be said at this juncture that massive credit is due to the small but irrepressibly magnificent County ground staff, as the pitch, despite the weather, looked pretty good….played pretty well….and stood up to the game really well. Fantastic work lads!
Harriers went straight onto the attack from the first blast of referee Dan Middleton`s whistle, but James Pearson`s cross following a decent run, flew out over the heads of all and sundry.
It was a taster of much that was to come from the visitors.
It was noticeable that JG had set County up with Rhys Turner occupying a position wide on the right, and his pace and determination would feature prominently later, but for now the forward movements were largely from Harriers , Andre Brown wasting Emmanuel Sonupe`s good work by heading wide when decently positioned.
Sonupe , a sub on Saturday, started last night and he looked by far the best performer of all those in red and white.
Turner surprised us with a couple of long throws that I had not previously seen in his armoury, and these served to put some pressure on the visitors for a while, but this was ended when Brown managed to dart clear setting himself up with a chance. It was a chance too, but with Clarke at his shoulder he snatched at his shot hurriedly sending the ball flying off wide of the target.
Brown was looking lively, but he was way wide of the mark with his end product, and he again failed to convert, not long after, as a ball from Sam Austin came to him in the box.
All this early attacking action from the visitors was slightly worrying, but entirely consistent with the way that they had gone about their business on Saturday, and County had weathered that storm and for a time looked likely winners . We needed more of the same with perhaps an added ruthlessness, but I looked left to see Winter spoil some good work by spilling possession to Sonupe .
This was not good as the ball was soon heading for Don Bradley who was in position to apply a finish in front of goal. Bradley had the company a number in blue shirts and one such got a touch to send Bradley`s shot over the bar when worse was definitely on the cards.
County defended the corner well…cleared it via Turner who then proceeded to probe the Harriers back line in a manner that really began to instil confidence. We just needed to cut out the slack passing, but bugger…..Dixon did just the opposite gifting the ball to Bradley. He shot wide…but………………….
This was serious stuff now from Harriers who were clearly intent on keeping their 16 game unbeaten run intact, but again they just could not convert good approach play into anything worthwhile- Liam Truslove firing over the bar, after good work by Clarke had stopped Ryan Croasdale from opening the scoring.
Twenty one minutes had gone, and Harriers had done most of the attacking, and must have thought they were on to a good thing if they could just get a goal.
Well Truslove tried as heartily as anyone in red and white but his chosen methodology , 22 minutes in, left a lot to be desired as he launched himself onto the deck in the box with no one in blue showing a sign of making physical contact. It was the sort of `flopper` that might have earned a 10 at the Olympics , but at EP …..Mr Middleton remained unimpressed and waved play on!
Disconcertingly…..twice more after this….Dixon went to sleep on the ball gifting possession to County`s opponents. We just could not keep doing this, even with Harriers finishing being so sub standard…we needed to tighten up and quickly!
Duxbury showed us the way with some top notch work winning and using the ball stirring the small crowd to applause.
Then just 25 minutes in and JG`s side got the breakthrough they sought and it stemmed from excellent work from Turner. Sam Austin was routinely ushering a long ball from County out of play near the corner flag with no one within a country mile of him. Enter Rhys Turner whose speed took him to the full back`s shoulder in an instant…..and he was away with the ball the next with Austin dumbfounded.
County had the whip hand now as Turner sent the ball across the box where Harriers back line were hard pressed to keep Oswell and company out. Eventually the ball came back again to the County number nine and his pass set Turner up nicely and he showed County`s opponents just how it is done, sending a fine drive beyond Brandon Hall into the net!
Made and executed by Turner, with a neat assist from Oswell….simply excellent!
Credit to Kidderminster, they kept plugging away and Ian Ormson did really well to dive and push Truslove`s shot around the post after a dangerous link up twixt him and the still lively Sonupe.
O`Halloran and Winter sorted the corner, ushering in a period of attacking from County with Duxbury again very much in the van of the action.
It began to look very promising indeed when Stephenson powered beyond the last line of the visitors defence in the box, but he was clattered from behind ushering in a welcome penalty…except it didn`t as the referee, who was overly fussy on anything remotely resembling physical contact throughout, did not think that this blatant rule breaking and physical assault was worthy of sanction! Poor stuff Mr M….poor stuff!
As County raged about that one, and perhaps concentration lapsed somewhat….Kiddy hit us on the break through Bradley, but he again frustrated the loyal batch of true supporters who had followed their team from Worcestershire, by missing the target again.
That again pointed to a need, from County, for continued watchfulness, a point that no doubt JG would be making with knobs on at the break!
Then County almost made it 2-0…again…. And it was that man Turner at the helm with a lovely cross that Oswell met in front of goal. Oswell made good contact and the ball was on its way in, when Hall somehow managed to grab it and thwart County`s number nine.
Much of the last 5 or 6 minutes left before the break were taken up with Harriers on the attack , but it is quality not quantity that counts and in this respect the finishing of Sonupe and Bradley in this period continued not to pass muster.
It was 1-0 to County at the break as I looked for some warmth via the flask of black tea in my bag- it hardly made any difference!
The second half opened, as the first, with Kidderminster attacking, and County were indebted to Clarke whose good work rescued County after they had again aided their opponents with a loose clearance.
Not long, after Sonupe had a real chance to equalise- a yard out and a site of goal, but he lifted a poor effort high and wide…. him and Declan Weeks following the miss up with further inglorious efforts that failed to test Ormson.
A Winter free kick put some pressure back on Harriers but the corner that followed from this was a poor one from Thomas which was disappointing.
Kiddy replied with some neat football, but with nothing on the end of it although Ormson did have to pull off a decent diving save to thwart Bradley at one point. County struggled to clear their lines, but did enough to ensure that any shots from the visitors had minimal likelihood of troubling Ormson- a fact underlined when James O`Connor lifted a shot toward the Bung Bowling Green.
Turner gave way to McKenna on the hour as Kiddy continued to seek that equaliser, but Austin thoroughly wasted Sonupe`s good work by emulating O`Connor`s effort with something similar.
There was waste at the other end next as Duxbury won a corner that Thomas ( who I thought did well generally) lumped high over everyone`s head.
Sonupe meanwhile continued to prove a threat….until within sight of goal that is…whereupon the threat disappeared and two more such efforts came and went without the need for any action on Ormson`s part.
County were still attacking on fewer occasions than Kiddy, but still looking ever more capable of doing something when they did, and Hall did well to keep Stephenson`s shot out with 20 minutes left to play, as lightning raged over Hardcastle Road making the apocalypse look more likely than an appearance in Round 3.
And then Round 3 looked decidedly on again as a foul by O`Connor on Winter set County up. Payback arrived pretty quickly from that last action, Winter tearing into the visitors back line with a vengeance, seeing the ball to Oswell nicely. A neat one/ two followed between the duo before the ball reached McKenna who slammed it into the net to make it 2-0!
That was excellent, and hearteningly, County were now very much on the front foot and, with McKenna on a high, looked on to put the game beyond Harriers. Dixon added a finish to Mc Kenna`s good work, but Hall did enough to keep the shot out and the score at 2-0, with just under15 minutes left.
It went on with a McKenna cross cum shot almost creeping in at back post after a neat link up twixt him and Dixon.
Oswell joined in winning a corner in cooperation with Stephenson. The kick from Thomas was better, but Kiddy cleared it, forcing County onto the back foot for a time with some neat play.
In response, County defended ever deeper, but with a growing confidence- attacks from the blues were not that frequent but…still….when they materialised….. they were decent , and a Dixon shot whistled inches beyond Hall`s left hand post with 3 minutes left.
Kiddy kept trying to get something from the game, but County`s back line was up to the task, and when they weren`t Ormson was, and another save , with 2 minutes left, promised to prevent us having to endure a nail biter for what remained of the match.
Dixon tried his best to make the result more emphatic as well, breaking from deep and shooting wide, and Stephenson was in the mix also being scythed down in the box by Pearson.
This time Mr Middleton made no mistake, and pointed to the spot. Dixon made no mistake either and it was 3-0 as his kick beat the keeper!
Mr Middleton managed to annoy all and sundry by conjuring 4 minutes added time from somewhere forcing both teams to have to attack and keep warm in what remained of the game.
County brought youngsters Adam Etches and Jordan Downing on for late cameo`s during this period before Mr M finally blew for time and we could head off home.
A good win that, against a team in good form, so County and their Manager can be proud of their efforts.
I cannot wait to board the Flyer for Berkshire …..meanwhile its Southport on Saturday…see you there!
[ Brrr... photos here! ]
Stockport County line up
Ormson, Thomas, Clarke, O`Halloran, Duxbury, Ball, Winter , Turner( Mc Kenna 60), Oswell( Downing 90), Dixon, Stephenson( Etches 90).
Subs not used : Hinchliffe, Whitty.
Kidderminster Harriers line up
Hall, Pearson, Austin, Croasdale, Horsfall, O`Connor, Sonupe, Weeks( Ironside 61), Brown( Smith 89), Truslove, Bradley( Vaughan 75).
Subs not used: Stratford.