Trophy tears ! Brackley Town 2 County 1
County exited the FA Trophy last night, 2-1 to high flying Brackley Town in a pulsating Quarter Final at St James` Park, that for long periods the blues dominated.
Certainly….in terms of possession County held sway almost throughout, but if we have learnt anything from this seemingly unending series of encounters, it is that volume of possession is ultimately secondary to what you do with it where it counts, and in this respect Town pretty much only had 2 or 3 real chances, but crucially scored with two of these.
Add the fact that County made a rod for their own backs early on with as loose a bit of play as you would ever not wish to see, gifting Aaron Williams a goal that the blues struggled, for all their time on the ball, to make up for, and you perhaps begin to see why Town prevailed and County did not.
County put the home side under much pressure for the rest of the first half, without so much as a scintilla of luck or a goal to their name, but an early strike by Oswell within 3 minutes of the re-start after the break, seemed to change matters and signal an irresistible County reply, but within another 3 minutes Brackley had the lead again as Shane Byrne lashed one home from way out.
County attacked…attacked…and attacked some more , after this…right into 4 minutes added time in fact, but Brackley ,despite an almighty battering, held out to claim their semi final place.
Both teams took turns early on to probe for an opening, and it was a real surprise ,and disappointment to see County go behind from the first real chance of the game. It came out of nothing …or more accurately a momentary aberration as hesitation gripped Duxbury and Smalley allowing Williams to capitalise and head off goal ward beating Hinchliffe with something approaching ease.
Four minutes had gone…..County were one down- an awful start for the blues, who now had another mountain to climb.
With Thomas and Cowan patrolling the right flank County made a bold fist of replying, but despite winning a corner, that was all the reward that came their way, and it was Hinchliffe who had the biggest test to deal with as he dived to keep a strike from Williams out with just 8 minutes gone.
County were playing some neat football at times , and Thomas was providing power and drive down the right flank that I thought surely would unsettle Brackley, but despite a fine run by the County number seven, and another corner, no equaliser materialised, and 10 minutes had now gone.
By the 15 minute mark, Darren Stephenson had announced himself, and it took excellent work from Ellis Myles, who already looked on to add to the kudos he earned last time out, to stop him.
It was developing nicely now for County as Cowan and Thomas`s control of the right flank, now was added to as Duxbury joined forces with Stephenson down the left.
It was good stuff, but again Myles chirped up robbing Duxbury before sending Armson clear. That is usually the pre curser to a goal, but not this time as Hinchliffe did enough to see the shot off.
We were beyond half way in the half now and County were piling the pressure on, mainly through Duxbury and Stephenson, but not exclusively, as referee Savvas Yianni gave the home defence the benefit of the oxygen of a free kick, as Duxbury was sold short by Stephenson in the box allowing Byrne to go down.
A pattern was set now………..County would lay siege to the Town goal for a period……Town would break, but neither side could find the net, although County looked the likelier of the two protagonists to eventually square this particular circle, but for now disappointment was the blues only bed fellow as a free kick earned by Oswell, saw Warburton`s shot charged down .Several corners followed for County but no equalising goal.
It went on….a brilliant run by Duxbury let down by lack of support, and Stephenson was decidedly unlucky to see his shot climb over the bar as County piled the pressure on.
Armson and Williams combined to good effect next for Brackley , only for an offside flag to spoil their fun, but mainly it was a case of County spending time on the ball….in Brackley`s half- corner`s proliferating as Thomas turned Town inside out.
One Thomas pass reached Oswell just inside the box - and a goal almost resulted as County`s number nine turned on the ball to blast a shot on target that keeper Danny Lewis somehow pushed around the post. Another bit of `whistle wizardry` from Mr Yianni, who had `seen something` then eased the home side`s angst.
None the less….. the County domination continued through Stephenson…then Cowan and Stopforth, but without even the slightest sliver of luck.
There was a tad at the other end though as the last action of the half saw Armson fluff a chance as a cross from Adam Walker came his was inside the box.
No matter……it was still 1-0 to Brackley and County had 45 minutes to put that right.
The re-start saw County back on the attack, and Oswell was unlucky again on the end of some excellent work from Stephenson and Duxbury who looked to be in scintillating form.
Faced with a mountain of uncertainty Alex Gudger could only find touch, and that looked to be a good enough response, but it wasn`t as County just would not go away, and with more Duxbury brilliance lighting up an evening whose cold crept up to lethally seduce you rather than blitz head on, taking him beyond 2…3…4 men in red/ white.
Then ..... County were level as Duxbury topped the impressive overture with a cross of symphonic beauty that allowed Oswell the opportunity to side foot the ball home from a yard out. A great bit of work from Scott and a fine finish from Ossie that must have pleased him almost as much as it pleased his manager!
Wow……..County were level…that was really no more than they deserved. They certainly did not deserve to be behind, but within 3 more minutes they were as Byrne latched onto the ball way outside the box before sending a screamer into the net with Hinchliffe straining to reach it but sadly beaten.
Credit to County……they were not dismayed, redoubling their attacking efforts as both Stephenson and Duxbury stretched the home defence to its limits. Corners came in numbers……and shots ( a whole load of `em) but without one of these counting.
Meanwhile Armson and Williams hovered just outside their besieged penalty area ready to mount a retaliatory raid, but one or other men in County yellow would inevitably be on hand to deny them, be it Cowan …..Smalley, O`Halloran or Duxbury, so it stayed 2-1.
But…we needed a County goal, and Oswell`s effort just beyond the hour mark was held firmly by the keeper.
With Stephenson and Duxbury continuing to push Town back, a County goal looked imminent, only for Warburton`s effort with 23 minutes left to clear the bar.
County were showing great energy, and playing much good football…….but with no end product unfortunately- Cowan`s shot on 70 minutes not troubling Lewis.
Winter came on for Stopforth not long after, and was soon adding his two pennyworth to the County effort, but with Brackley hitting us on the break it was Hinchliffe earning the plaudits next as he kept Armson`s effort out with just 15 minutes left to play.
That was but a small blip…..it was still mainly County attacking , as Town grew ever more desperate in their efforts to keep the blues at bay- Walker and Dean doing really well to block efforts from Stephenson and Duxbury respectively.
Into the last 10 minutes, County had Dixon on for Ball.
There was the briefest of flurry`s for Hinchliffe to deal with that offered a small counterpoint to the continuing wave of County attacks - each worthy of a better reward that was sadly not forthcoming.
Thomas and Warburton both went ever so close, and the never ending wave of attacks continued deep into added time, but with the same result.
Good luck to Brackley when they meet Wealdstone in the Semi Final.
County can now concentrate on the serious business of looking for a play off place, starting with another clash with Brackers this coming Saturday, and based on last night`s showing I will back them to start with a win.
[ Photographs --> Here! ]
Brackley Town line up
Lewis, Myles, Gudger, Byrne, Graham( Lowe 63), Dean, G Walker, Armson( Streete 93), Ndlovu( Brown 92), Williams, A Walker.
Subs not used: Lucas, Diggin.
Stockport County line up
Hinchliffe, Cowan, Smalley, O`Halloran, Duxbury, Ball( Dixon 81), Thomas, Stopforth( Winter 71), Oswell, Warburton, Stephenson.
Subs not used; Ormson, Clarke, West.
Attendance : 506