Maidenhead United 1 Stockport County 1
Wow………what an absolutely excellent performance County laid on today, at York Road in far off Maidenhead, against a team from that borough that currently sits a division higher than them.
If the National Premier side fancied an easy victory they were soon disavowed of that illusion as County, urged on by some magnificent midfield play from Harry Winter, and excellent support from the travelling County fans, slotted smoothly into a rhythm that saw them leading within 8 minutes of the start.
The weather was abysmally cold, play being enacted to the accompaniment of a constant drizzle, but County by contrast were on fire, and clearly the better of the two teams, particularly in the first half, where United`s power play took a time to come into the picture.
Maidenhead had clearly underestimated County. They then tried to make up for this in the last 5 minutes of the opening half only to be denied by first class defending from County that kept the score at 1-0 at the break.
County, with Michael Clarke on for the influential Matty Warburton upon the re-start, came under lots of pressure thereafter from the home side, who eventually snatched the equaliser just before the hour mark.
That was as good as it got though for Alan Devonshire`s side as County`s superb rearguard action, underpinned by a fantastic string of late saves from Ben Hinchliffe, saw County home for a replay at Edgeley Park, which based on today`s showing they can face with some confidence.
Back to 3 o`clock, and County were quickly into their silky stride from the off, and it was soon clear that both Harry Winter and Matty Warburton were carrying their excellent recent form into this game too. Down the flanks Adam Thomas had wings still, and Scott Duxbury continued to show everyone just what a good player he is.
But this was also a top team performance and Stephen O`Halloran chipped in with a terrific tackle to dispossess Harold Odametey as he darted clear, following this up by bravely charging down an effort from Sam Barratt with just 7 minutes gone.
If that was good, better followed ……and at the other end where Stopforth took Duxbury`s pass to surge forward planting the ball neatly in the box for Oswell and company to go for.
Chief amongst equals in this respect was Matty Warburton who, taking advantage of some sloth like reactions from the home defence, swept the ball home to delight the good following of travelling County supporters at the other end of the ground.
Less than 10 minutes gone, and one up……how good was that…………
Well…..County kept their foot down after that excellent opener, with Stephenson and Duxbury causing United real issues. That said….the locals were howling for a penalty like so many demented banshee`s, just a minute later, as a Maidenhead free kick landed in the box. I guess the wheeze was 'handball ref' but referee Samuel Allison stepped up for the first of several times in this game to show his metal and stare down the home team and specs appeals.
All this time, County were supplementing real…..positive forward play with some 11 man defending , a spring board from which Harry Winter could launch attack after County attack.
Winter was majestic, but inches off with his shot,18 minutes in, after Duxbury had been fouled by Odametrey as he tore into the home rear guard.
Back came County giving Maidenhead no rest, and another foul , this time by Massey on Warburton, set the County number ten up with a free kick that was only kept out at the very last gasp by keeper Carl Pentney who twisted in mid air to tip the ball over the bar!
The first 22 minutes had gone, and County were every bit as good as, if not better than their opponents thus far, and Hinchliffe`s first real action came a minute later as another free kick forced him to punch clear under pressure.
That was to an extent a routine bit of work from County`s keeper, but his next work was different class, as he launched himself to his left and somehow pushed a shot from Marks around the post! Simply excellent! Odametrey then headed wide from the corner and it was even better!
At this point I made Rene Steer the top man for United, but Hinchliffe`s next job was to deal with a shot from Harry Pritchard, and this he did with ease and precision.
Stephenson…….Duxbury…..then Stephenson again reminded United that County were still there and looking to increase their lead, but luck was no where to be seen for the County boys as the drizzle started to seep into my very bones!
With 32 minutes left of the half, County were still taking the game to their hosts, with Thomas and Duxbury combining brilliantly down the right to split the home defence. The cross that followed was good, but so was the home rear guard`s covering and Oswell was denied the chance of a shot at goal.
It went on…Thomas carving out another opening, but more frustration followed as both Stopforth and Stephenson saw shots charged down in the box.
Into added time we went, with Maidenhead at last mounting a concerted effort to snatch that lead back from County.
They looked OK doing it too….but they made the mistake all sub standard vaudevillians make….they went over heavy on the ham! Well at least Marks did…twice making it into the box before plummeting to earth as if mortally afflicted.
The home specs erupted…..twice…..and on both occasions ( and I give him massive credit for this) Referee Allison resisted the temptation to please and waved the appeals away!
I liked that, and I liked the half time whistle too and it sent County in 1-0 up.
Michael Clarke was on for Matty Warburton when the game resumed, but although County came under a lot of pressure early on in the half, they responded well to it, the defensive work from the re-shuffled back-line firm and reassuring.
Oh…..and O`Halloran kept United on their toes , his run 5 minutes in deserving better than it got.
The County attacks throughout the second half were less frequent than those of United, but in quality terms held much more menace than their opponents, and Jake Goodman did terrifically well to block Oswell not long after. Clarke and Smalley both vied the resultant corner without success.
Some lovely football was emanating from County now, and it was something of a shock when United snatched an equaliser around the hour mark.
One of several corners applied initial pressure on the Blues( who really were the blues today…blue shirts/ blue shorts), and from one of the consequent melees Upward was able to hook the ball home from close in.
County came back at the National Premier side and were unlucky to see a Winter shot charged down from a free kick, and Oswell narrowly beaten to the ball by the keeper from the corner that followed.
There were real chances emerging for County….if they could just hold their nerve….and take one………..
I was liking what I was seeing as, despite a disparity in the relative sizes of the two teams( County being County sized….United….several feet taller man for man) County could still, (as I looked on with an hour gone) be said to be capable of winning this!
But….we needed an expeditious swing in our direction of Lady Luck`s handbag, but in Mrs May`s constituency ,was that ever on?, and instead the fashion accessory hit us amidships as first off Thomas`s electrifying run beat the keeper but just missed the net, and then the liner went walk about to halt a Stephenson run with a wave of his flag best described as way off.
Keeper Pentney excelled again next saving from Oswell who had been brilliantly set up by Winter.
JG rang the changes with around 15 minutes to go, bringing Dixon on for Stopforth, but it was the home team who were pushing on best at this point, Hinchliffe doing well to deny Pritchard twice.
The pressure was on….corner to United…..ref sees a foul…relief as County get a free kick…..another corner follows ………………Dixon beats Pritchard in a vital moment as the United man prepared to shoot.
County`s responses were getting fewer, but they were still sharp enough to give their followers a boost and hope of better, and Duxbury excelled himself several times winning balls in dire situations before trying to instigate a County response.
George West came on for Darren Stephenson with less than 10 minutes left, as County came back at Maidenhead through Cowan whose run and cross cum shot almost saw Oswell notch than much sought after second goal. Instead Pentney just beat County`s number nine to the ball to keep it at 1-1.
County continued to do well…..defending deep….yes….but doing so with some assurance , and Duxbury once more emerged with the ball from a moment deep in the County half, steeped in dark possibilities.
Max Kilman, not long on as a sub, tested Hinchliffe next, and the County keeper passed with flying colours, his save more or less the last action before 5 minutes……yes 5 minutes added time was announced!
Maidenhead, perhaps not fancying a trip north on a cold dank Tuesday night, pushed on . Clarke was unlucky to be penalised for minimal contact as he and Kilman cme together just outside the County box. The free kick was loaded with ill omens, but it hit the wall, and somehow County kept that ball from finishing up in the net.
It was not the end though, as Maidenhead piled forward again ,and twice in rapid succession Hinchliffe pulled off saves of blinding quality to thwart our hosts.
But County resisted bravely, and indeed West was not far away from getting to a couple of balls on the break.
Surely the time was up now….but it wasn`t and worse….United were attacking…corners were coming their way, but in response there was Hinchliffe, and the fourth minute of added time saw him pull out another stupendous save .
It was simply that such collective and individual bravery and honesty such as County had exhibited, would fall at the last, but the power of the attacking from the Berkshire big boys was growing with every passing second.
Shots rained in…..crosses…..headers….corners….but County kept `em all out, the final whistle confirming a replay was next up on Tuesday at Edgeley Park.
This is another impressive result from County and when all our injured players are back , some teams are going suffer in the run in to the season`s end.
Catch you on Tuesday then for a very winnable replay.
[ Photos! Get 'em here! ]
Maidenhead United line up
Pentney, Clerima, Steer, Odametrey, Massey, Comley, Marks, Barratt, Pritchard, Upward, Goodman.
Subs not used: Owuso, Clifton, Smith.
Stockport County line up
Hinchliffe, Cowan, Smalley, O`Halloran, Duxbury, Winter, Stopforth( Dixon 74), Thomas, Oswell, Warburton( Clarke 46), Stephenson( West 84) .
Subs not used; Ormson, Brazel.
Attendance : 853