Southport 3 Stockport County 1
County took their supporters on a white knuckle ride today at Haigh Avenue , where……leading Southport by 1-0 at half time, a score that, despite a last 20 minutes period in the half where Southport took the game noticeably to County, hardly flattered them.
With Stephenson and Thomas showing great skill down the flanks ,and the defence looking sound, things were looking up as the teams headed off the park at circa 3.45. However….the re-start saw a complete turn around as Southport tore into County with a zeal and energy almost totally absent from their game in the first 45 minutes.
In response County, whose defence, had shut the Sandgrounders out in the first half, imploded big time thereafter shipping 3 goals without reply to a Southport side rejuvenated by the inclusion of several new faces in their numbers , all of whom were motoring considerably in the second half.
In the end, despite a valiant effort late on from County, it was almost impossible to argue that the 3-1 score line was anything other than a fair reflection of how things panned out. Disappointing….for sure….but then life is that at times is it not!
The early exchanges saw County get forward nicely, putting together some neat moves spearheaded by Oswell who was looking to prosper as Stephenson and Thomas tested the home side down the flanks.
Thomas did particularly well, and continues to impress me, and Dazzer gets more in his opponents faces with every game that passes.
It took County fully 8 minutes to make their apparent superiority count, and it was a run from O`Halloran that was the catalyst. Surging clear down the left, the former Irish international then sent an inch perfect lofted cross to the back post where Oswell headed it back across goal to Turner who made no mistake from close in.
That was simply excellent , but the large County following had no time to celebrate when Elliot Osborne ( one of the new faces)hit back , a decent drive from him requiring prompt attention from Hinchliffe( back in between the sticks for Ormson) to keep it out.
Southport kept up their spirited response, and ex FCUM man Jason Gilchrist tested Hinchliffe fully, a couple of minutes later, with a shot that had the County keeper diving urgently to his left to keep it at 1-0, dealing with the follow up from the impressive Adam Dawson for good measure.
Stephenson ran the ball clear from this action, and all seemed well from a County viewpoint, although County could not make anything from the break.
I must say ,that Southport were clearly looking in better shape than when last we were in these parts, and Michael Clarke did well to deny Jack Sampson as he lined up a shot in front of goal, and thwart the same player not long after as he strove to reach Gilchrist with what would have been a dangerous ball.
David Morgan, another one in yellow who had a good game in my view, blotted his copy book 15 minutes in, by clattering Adam Thomas thus earning himself an early card.
County eventually got their mojo back, and with Thomas flying in excellent fashion hugging the touchline down the right, and Oswell sniffing energetically for the resultant scraps, they racked up a series of corners - Jon Worsnop, the home keeper, doing particularly well at one point to tip an Oswell effort over the bar at the last gasp!
It was disappointing to see scorer Rhys Turner limp off after 23 minutes, being replaced by Gary Stopforth, and hindsight installs this moment as pivotal to what happened thereafter.
Notwithstanding Stopforth`s obvious and abiding energy and verve, County found replacing Rhys a difficult ask! Arguably a crucial factor in the County demise then…..but there were other factors as well so….to use a Scottish legal term…. ` not proven`
With 25 minutes gone though, things still looked OK for the white shirted blues, as Stephenson and Thomas continued to take the game to County`s opponents.
The 29th minute however saw County almost pay for their slackness, as Winter lost the ball to Morgan. Morgan was only denied by a neat save from Hinchliffe , and County breathed easy again.
From this….Southport put more pressure on the County keeper, who had to punch out as Caleb Richards` lofted cross headed into the crowded box. Dawson`s follow up found Hinchliffe able to deal, which again was a relief.
Southport kept the pressure on, and Clarke did well to block a raid, with 8 minutes left of the half. Ball was able to run the ball clear from this and twice in rapid succession Stephenson was almost in.
At the other end, Gilchrist was not far away with a nifty effort, as was Morgan whose shot saw an involuntary stop by Hinchliffe keep the ball out.
Worsnop meanwhile……did well to keep a Stephenson shot out, after the liner allowed him to carry on when well offside( even I would have flagged that one- the locals were not best pleased!)
The half ended with Morgan shooting wide when well placed, and Dawson stopped in the box by County debutant Jamie Stott.
Southport had shaped up well in the last 20 minutes of the first half, but with the game re-started it was possible to think that maybe County could win this one.
Well….it took about a minute for me to be disavowed of that one…..there seemed no real danger when Sampson stole the ball midway inside the County half.
Even when he strode forward to the edge of the box…I thought the same, and then it was `quick re-think time` as Hinchliffe took an age to react to Sampson`s shot when it came and the ball slowly headed goal ward, a late bobble beating the keeper`s attempts to keep the ball out. That should have been avoided!
Southport were suitably buoyed by that last action, and captain Dave Lynch saw his shot go narrowly wide after snatching possession in the County half.
A tense moment or two followed for County, but I again allowed myself happy thoughts, as Winter sent a veritable rocket of a shot screaming inches over the top!
I liked that…..but not the next bit …as Morgan and Dawson were joined in County`s last third by Jordan Richards, who proceeded to ping a succession of dangerous balls into the box, causing County real issues dealing with same.
County were under the cosh, and it was a relief to see Hinchliffe react swiftly to claw a shot from Lynch out of the air as it sped goal ward.
He was under pressure again shortly after as Gilchrist surged clear to set up a real chance for Kevin Davies` side, but despite an almighty scramble at the foot of Hinchliffe`s left hand post, the ball stayed out!
Duxbury was on now for Thomas, and was soon in the fray, earning a lecture, along with Dawson, from referee Dean Hulme.
County stepped up their search for a goal that would give them back their lead, and Stephenson was unlucky to see Worsnop rise to push his shot around the post , with 25 minutes left.
O`Halloran and Stephenson continued to probe for that vital second goal but without success. That said…. I was moved to think that we had in fact achieved a measure of success when Oswell went down in the box under pressure from Lynch amongst others.
The referee pointed to the spot( or so I thought), but when he reached in his pocket and produced a yellow , waving it in Oswell`s face, we knew differently. I rated that an iffy decision, that was not made any better by the referee`s booking of Lynch ( for verbals).
County fans were still seething, when less than a minute later their team were behind as Gilchrist shrugged off a couple of ineffectual challenges to fire the ball home off the far post.
Bugger….we were 2-1 down……and not long after it was 3-1 when the ball was lifted into the box from the left touchline. It had snow on it when it came down , but it also had accuracy and picked out Sampson precisely at the back post.
Hinchliffe`s ball?.............arguably……but he stayed on his line and Sampson did the rest heading home from close in.
County tried to reply but, with around 10 minutes left, attention was diverted to off the field where a group of individuals within the County following, who had refused previously to move away from blocking the view of the disabled ( County ) fans, erupted in a welter of foul language, before one of their number, having hurled a cone ,along with some vile abuse, at a player, elected to run onto the pitch .
This was quite simply outrageous behaviour which is likely to cost the Club. What is the point of me railing about segregation when this sort of stupidity reins….. albeit from the smallest of minorities!
I almost missed Dixon coming on for Clarke because of the unsavoury goings on to my left.
I was able to see that County were trying to get back into it……Duxbury was trying particularly hard………. winning corners…pinging crosses in…drawing fouls from the opposition. Stott went close with a header, and keeper Worsnop was a busy lad in the minutes that remained of the game , but it stayed 3-1.
County put a lot of pressure on Southport in the remainder of the game, but the last laugh was very nearly the home team`s, as from deep defence they broke .
It was a bit of a shoo in really….but somehow Sampson managed not to hit the target with Hinchliffe severely stretched.
That was it then….no fairy tale come back, just disappointment, but we have been there before ….and we can come back from this…starting Tuesday at Harrogate!
See you there!
[ Love the white and black away kit? Judge for yourself here! ]
Southport line up
Worsnop, J Richards, C Richards, Morgan, Howson, Priestley, Dawson( Charles 81), Lynch, Gilchrist, Sampson, Osborne.
Subs not used; Smith, Kpohomouh, Doyle, Halstead.
Stockport County line up
Hinchliffe, Cowan, Clarke( Dixon 80), Stott, O`Halloran, Ball, Winter, Thomas( Duxbury 61), Oswell, Turner( Stopforth 23), Stephenson.
Subs not used: Ormson, Mc Kenna.