Play-offs out of reach? County to fall to Brackley Town
Stockport County and their supporters did not need reminding of just how formidably obdurate an opponent Brackley Town are, but the Saints underlined the essential truth of the description by grinding out a win with a last gasp goal at Edgeley Park today.
It had not been an epic encounter, but it was one that demanded your full attention, with both sides definitely on the look out for goals. The fact that none had arrived with 88 minutes gone was more a tribute to the durability and resilience of both defences rather than any glaring deficiencies in either attack.
For their part, County had …without ever enjoying quite as much possession as at St James` Park on Tuesday, done enough to suggest that they just might be the side to snatch it at the death.
It did not work out like that though, and as the game entered its final stages it was Brackley who were the friskier of the two sides going ridiculously close to going ahead twice in rapid succession, shortly before Aaron Williams did the deed and won it for Kevin Wilkin`s side with just a minute of normal time left to play.
That was a real bummer, but…if I am honest…..despite my pre match bluster…" County to win 3-1"…was it entirely unexpected? I think not, Brackley in my view were the best side in the division last term, and have placed themselves nicely to gain at least a play off place this time around, and we have no devine right to expect to win..
Following Tuesday`s result, and probably taking account of tired legs as well, JG rang the changes in County`s starting line up as Winterw Clarke and Stott came in for Smalley, O`Halloran and Stopforth, with Turner replacing Stephenson.
My only quibble was with that last change, I thought with the look of the pitch( heavy and not conducive to fancy football) Stephenson`s power and energy might just be needed.
The opening salvo came from County- an audible `oooo` from the home specs signalling a surprisingly close encounter at the Brackley end.
Brackley were quick to respond and Duxbury did well to contain Shepherd Murombedzi as he made ground down the right.
Brackley were showing early intent that did not augur too well for County`s prospects, and Duxbury was there again a minute or so later to keep Murombedzi from Glenn Walker`s dangerous cross.
A Ball, Warburton, Turner cooperation promised plenty next, but rapidly faded to nothing as the latter`s cross was way too long to be useful.
Soon enough …10…15 minutes had elapsed and neither side had anything to show for it, although 17 minutes in County did go close. A Thomas / Warburton link up started it, winning County a corner( the first of 11 County corners in the half). Despite an almighty melee in front of keeper Lewis`s goal, the danger was only partially cleared as County had themselves a second corner.
Town shaped to break up field from this, but the plan foundered on Harry Winter who snuffed it out before feeding Cowan nicely. Cowan pinged a decent cross over, but it missed Oswell by inches at the back post to keep it at 0-0.
That was promising, and more followed with Stott striding clear before finding Oswell with his pass. The box was crowded and Oswell`s options few, and his shot on the turn rose to clear the bar by a fair bit.
Five minutes of nip…tuck….followed before County again pinned their opponents back on their heels….as…… with all Town men back in their last third….1…2….3….4 corners came County`s way.
But no goal….as Cowan`s cross saw Warburton`s shot deflected behind…….the same fate befalling Winter`s snap shot not long after, and keeper Lewis had his work cut out dealing with one kick, before Turner disappointed by lifting his shot high and wide.
Not long after, Jimmy Ball gave us a glimpse of something better with a raking run that took him from deep to the edge of the box. His shot was a let down though after such a good run- clearing the bar by a bit.
Overall …thus far…County were doing OK…..and indeed were a touch unlucky as a move involving Thomas, Oswell and Warburton saw the trio scrap and fight for a sight of goal, but the cover from Brackley was as infuriatingly comprehensive as it had been just 4 days earlier, and Lewis was not unduly troubled.
County had put in quite an attacking shift so far, but it was time for a response from the visitors, and with 28 minutes gone it came, as Glenn Walker`s cross screamed across the box without anyone being able to get a touch. That might have been serious, and a look left told me that it still may be so as Murombedzi
pinged the ball back across setting Lee Ndlovu up with a prime chance. The goal gaped, and Hinchliffe was a spectator as Ndlovu took aim only to see the ball drift wide of the far post.
Hmm….that was a let off for sure…..
There was a response from the blues though, and the corners kept racking up for JG`s men as first off Thomas and Duxbury tore into the Town back line, and then Cowan joined in almost picking Oswell out at the back post. Lewis was a busy lad again, and again well served by his defenders and their auxiliaries.
It went on as Dean`s foul on Turner set County up with a free kick. This brought all 11 red and white shirts back in their last third, and despite some good controlled passing, most notably Winter`s ball to Thomas, who then fed Warburton ….. and another corner, it stayed 0-0.
Then…Brackley came out of the defensive shell via Ndlovu`s run that set Murombedzi for a shot that was blocked by one of a line of County defenders after good work from Myles, who for some reason that escapes me was being booed by a small section of the Cheadle End Upper Tiers.
Was that it for the half then? Nope…..it was not…and in fact County might…nay probably should have been 1 down going in at the break, as another chance materialised for Town via another run from Murombedzi down the right.
The cross was a belter and Armson met it with the firmest of headers. One nil then!.....Except it wasn`t as Armson`s header saw the ball thud into the left hand post going out to safety.
That was a bad miss…another bad miss as far as Brackley were concerned, so there was still all to play for as the teams trouped off for a break and a word from their respective managers.
The second half started as the first had, with both sides looking for that opening goal- Myles for Brackley was thwarted by Stott, Thomas`s reply being charged down.
With Winter doing well covering any break by Town, County began to exert pressure again as Cowan won a corner, that some felt had declared a dividend as the ball appeared to strike a defenders hand in the box with Stott and Oswell tearing into Brackley.
No penalty resulted, and no goal as Brackley`s instant counter saw Williams head over from close in.
Again County applied pressure, with Warburton bringing the ball clear, but Thomas`s cross found no one and what looked to be something of a chance …ultimately was not.
County were noticeably trying however, none more so than Winter. Harry was the usual heady mix of hard work and solid defending allied to some occasionally insightful balls and the odd stinker, so his inclusion today was well justified in my view.
Winter found Thomas with his pass …a good one…..but the County number seven saw his shot charged down by Gareth Dean- Gudger clearing his lines in the nick of time with Stott dashing in.
The hour mark saw Paul Turnbull return to County action in place of Rhys Turner.
The next action was at Lewis`s end of the park, with Myles stopping a Thomas run, and Oswell unable to test Lewis with his shot.
Things were hotting up now, and JG responded by swapping Stopforth for Ball, a move that saw Brackley counter by bringing Lowe on in place of Murombedzi, with 66 minutes gone.
Brilliant work by Warburton went wholly un-rewarded next, as did Cowan`s incisive cross that suffered from Thomas`s final ball that found no takers.
We saw the first glimpse of what Turnbull had to offer however , with 20 minutes left, his excellent intervention stopping a promising Town raid in its tracks. Paul`s pass up the park had Stopforth pulling a fine ball back to Oswell in the box. At least…it was meant for Jason, but Lewis had other ideas beating the County number nine to the ball before making the clearance.
The County pressure continued with Budger doing well to block Cowan`s run, and likewise Lewis as Winter sent Oswell in.
We were 10 minutes from time now, and still the game was anyone`s!
Williams fancied his chances for Brackley, only for Cowan to deny him with some excellent work.
Winter was replaced by Stephenson next, and was soon in action capitalising on Dean`s wayward ball to win County yet another corner.
Budger did the biz…beating Oswell to it when the kick came over, but his good work in stopping the rot was undermined when another poor ball, by Armson this time, allowed Turnbull to dart clear. His cross was cleared, but for a moment…………..
County were enjoying a fair amount of possession, but the quality of their final ball was less than brilliant.
Inevitably then ….Brackley would reply and the 87th minute saw just that , Williams initial run into the box being blocked before he came again falling to the floor in anguish as his shot was cleared off the line by Clarke, after the mother of all melees.
Dean did for a Stopforth run ( just) next, before Town hit County again, and every raid now from the Saints looked that bit more threatening than the last one had as Armson hit the post when it looked odds on he would score, hitting the rebound straight into Hinchliffe`s grateful arms.
Then, with a minute of normal time remaining, the visitors pressure paid off as Shane Byrne surged forward to pick out Williams with a neat pass. Williams did the rest firing a decent strike into the far corner of the net!
Five minutes added time came and went…not without much effort from County it must be said, but Brackley had done their job, and a blast from Mr Wootton`s whistle told us that the points were theirs!
Obviously a disappointing result, but I will be at Edgeley Park again on Tuesday for the game with Boston United.
See you Tuesday.
[ Pictures.. here! ]
Stockport County line up
Hinchliffe, Cowan, Clarke, Stott, Duxbury, W inter( Stephenson 80), Thomas, Ball ( Stopforth 66), Oswell, Warnurton, Turner( Turnbull 60).
Subs not used : Ormson, O`Halloran.
Brackley Town line up
Lewis, Myles, Budger, Byrne, Murombedzi( Lowe 66), Dean, G Walker, Armson, Ndolvu( Streete 90), Williams( Brown 93), A Walker.
Subs not used: Graham, Diggin.