County Slump at home to the Boro
County slumped to a dismal 1-0 defeat last night at Edgeley Park , where a toothless display from the blues, against Nuneaton Town, made the quest for a play off place as difficult now as it has ever been.
Was the reverse an unlucky one?
Well the winning goal certainly had more than a hint of ill fortune about it from a County point of view, but overall Dino Maamria`s Nuneaton side always looked the part, looking wholly sharper than County, from start to finish- their full time set up sustaining them and keeping their current impressive unbeaten run going at County`s expense.
Yes…..County did play some neat football themselves at times but not often enough or on a sufficiently sustained enough basis to make inroads into the Borough hegemony.
County started without Stephen O`Halloran in defence, and crucially perhaps ….top scorer Jason Oswell up front. The latter change was a move I guess to give Jason a breather after taking an awesome buffeting from marker after marker all season.
A reasonable gamble to take then, but still a gamble, and whilst I could see the logic in the move, the chosen alternative of Jimmy Ball in the number nine shirt just did not work forcing JG to bring Jason on with half an hour left.
Nuneaton were in a groove by that time however, and whilst their propensity for a dive and their appalling time wasting tactics annoyed greatly, they never looked at all capable of losing this one, being well worth the full haul of points in the end.
Just 2 changes then at 7.45, as Harry Winter and Scott Duxbury came in for County in place of Stephen O`Halloran and Jason Oswell.
Straight from the off, it was plain that Nuneaton meant business as some eye catching well worked training ground drills were put into practise on the pitch.
It was worrying really, but I cheered up as Smalley`s neat intervention prevented the predatory Ashley Chambers from opening his account.
Not even 5 minutes had gone by when that last one went down, but within another minute Daniel Nti joined in down the left, being stopped by more excellent defending, this time from Dan Cowan.
Add a probing run from James Ferry on the other flank that required good work by Scott Duxbury to stop it, and the first 6 or 7 minutes did not augur well for County`s chances.
It didn`t get much better either as Nti switched flanks to ping in a cross that thankfully Chambers could not get anywhere near.
Chambers did latch onto the next chance, 8 minutes in, but Hinchliffe had it covered and keep it at 0-0.
The attacks from Nuneaton did not abate however and it took a really fine challenge by Stott to block Nti as he burst into the box.
In the midst of all this attacking from the visitors County were trying to put some moves together , and when they did , the likes of Warburton and Stephenson looked capable of doing something, the latter seeing a shot on the turn blocked after a promising link up with Ball.
However…..the blues could not sustain the pressure when they had the chance to, and Dino Maamria`s side , even at this early juncture, looked well able to take full advantage.
Thankfully….County`s back line were in top trim too, so …so far …..no real damage done.
I was still wondering about the Ball role, and it might have declared an early dividend, after 16 minutes, when Stopforth sent the former Stalybridge man through with the neatest of through balls. It looked good until the Pop Side liner, for whom `selective myopia` was to prove a game long problem, flagged him offside.
From my prime vantage point in the Cheadle End that looked a poor decision, but again I cheered up as the tireless Adam Thomas`s energy won his side a couple of corners. Neither came to anything, but it was a start.
Thomas proved his value to the team again next as he tracked back to rob Tom Elliott who had stolen a march on County`s back line.
That was good work, and more followed this time from Stott as still Nuneaton would not take a breather. Thankfully the visitors had still not perfected their finishing and I found myself ducking in a vain attempt to avoid Elliott`s follow up shot that headed at pace directly for me in Row R!
Having avoided that one narrowly, I then wondered if more evasive action might be needed as Nuneaton had a free kick, gained via some deft work by George Green, a performer with some rare vaudevillian talents just acheing to come out. Like M Chandler the 19th century trooper `The Great Bottle Equilibrist` who just could not resist displaying his talents ( juggling blindfold on bottles being just a part) so the case was with Green whose brilliantly executed dive almost brought the EP house down…well referee James Bell like it and gave Dino`s men the free kick not that far out.
I prepared to duck….but the kick found the target, albeit Hinchliffe`s arms as well, so all`s well……..
The first half hour ended with Elliott still to the fore but inches away from reaching Nti with his pass in the box.
We needed a reply from County, and also seeing them spending time on the ball. Duxbury was doing his best in this respect, one cross causing some alarm in the visitors ranks as it headed in from the left, but there were no takers and any chance was gone.
I was just settling down for half time with County still on level terms , slightly cheered by the fact that keeper Ross Etheridge had at last been required to make a save after Ball had latched onto Hinchliffe`s long high one, when things went sadly wrong for County.
There were 4 minutes left of the half, and Nuneaton were heading Hinchliffe`s way again through Green. Before a challenge could come in from County the ball was quickly transferred to Chambers who let fly from the edge of the box, the ball thudding into the angle of bar and post before dropping like a ticking time bomb onto the line. Hinchliffe wanted it and grabbed for it, but the ball brushed the base of the post before spinning back to hit Ben`s outstretched hands before crossing the line!
That was fantastically disappointing, and plainly County needed to find renewed energy from somewhere in the second half to turn things around.
Meanwhile James Ferry was skating on very thin ice in my view having been spoken to earlier for a poor challenge on Warburton, he now did similar on Duxbury only for the referee to content himself with a free kick.
County finished normal time with a small flourish - Etheridge having work to do to cover Adam Thomas`s cross, but it was a final…vaudevillian flourish from George Green that impinged itself on my memory most as the players trooped off at the break.
The Stand Side Liner had just given us a comedy moment to cherish in tandem with Mr Bell, flagging for a clear County throw only for it to be taken by Nuneaton. Enter George Green, whose sumptuous dive teed up another tasty free kick for his team. Their finishing was again no better than it should be and it was still 1-0 as the whistle went for half time.
The re-start saw County under the cosh again, and it was 5 minutes before they replied, when Winter`s shot just missed out.
It began to look promising for a while with County spending time in their opponents half- Ken Digie doing well to block Stephenson`s shot at one point, and Etheridge managing somehow to smother the loose ball from the corner that followed.
Hinchliffe had work to do too, and it took him 2 go`s to hold onto a Chambers shot 8 minutes into the half.
County were giving it a go for sure- Thomas making Etheridge make a save……..Digie again to the fore foiling a move involving Stephenson and Duxbury.
The hour mark saw Oswell on for Thomas, with Turner replacing Stopforth not long after, having been booked ironically for a challenge on the crudely unfussy Ferry.
Twice Warburton saw shots charged down as Nuneaton tracked back in numbers to defend with a rare tenacity.
County were not exactly enjoying Mr Bell`s input in this game…..true he took time out to talk to Dino presumably about the ludicrous time wasting tactics of his team that were making a mockery of proceedings. But there was no real sanction applied as player after player in Nuneaton red sunk to the floor to take a breather.
Nuneaton had defending to do now choosing to find touch when needs be under pressure. County just could not get a proper shot off- Warburton again seeing an effort come back out off a defender ( Ryan Johnson) with 10 minutes left.
With Dixon on for Winter, County prepared for a last effort, but Dixon would not provide the answer County needed, we needed Winter`s strength in the tackle and that is just not in Bohan`s locker. He does offer possible attacking options, but again he found it difficult to impose himself. He was not alone though in that respect.
Nuneaton, taking advantage of the referee`s largess, having neglected to punish a foul on Turner with a free kick, then surged up the park to lay siege on the County goal - Hinchliffe making a decent save to deny Nti at one point.
Five minutes added time offered County a possible life line, and another came in view as Stephenson`s cross struck a red shirted arm in the box. No penalty resulted……and when Dixon spilled possession lamely Nuneaton were on the attack again.
County did come back at Nuneaton- Turner trying to use his speed to advantage, but the visitors defended as well at the games end as they had done throughout, and their small band of real fans at the far end could celebrate 3 vital points.
That was disappointing, but against a team in such good form as Nuneaton, not wholly a total surprise, especially given their full time status.
We still have a shout albeit an outside one for the play offs…is the FA Trophy a distraction?…..maybe…..but it`s an earner too, and just may serve to light County`s fires in the run in.
The team will need us there on Saturday in good voice, as the youngsters were again in the Pop Side last night, so see you at Edgeley Park for another toughy against Brackley Town.
Oh…..and the Brackley match report is likely to be delayed until Sunday morning as the writer will be helping out at the Supporters Cooperative Quiz Night at the Spinning Top directly after the game.
See you Saturday.
[ Pictures you say? Find 'em here! ]
Stockport County line up
Hinchliffe, Cowan, Smalley, Stott, Duxbury, Winter( Dixon 80), Thomas( Oswell 60), Stopforth( Turner 69), Ball, Warburton, Stephenson.
Subs not used : Ormson, Clarke.
Nuneaton Town line up
Etheridge, Wildin, Heaton, Elliott, Johnson, Digie, Ferry, Beswick, Chambers, Green( Mitchell 85) , Nti.
Subs not used: Wright, Dielna, Chechlacz, Ashton.
Attendance : 2679