A visit from the league leaders, can sometimes be a traumatic experience for the host club- one laden with worry, among other things, about whether your side will get the expected tonking at the hands of perceived superior opponents.
Last night saw Lancashire League table toppers FC United of Manchester at Edgeley Park, but worry was not on the menu for a County team, without a single first team regular on show- quite the youngest team I can recall turning out this season in fact! But they performed magnificently, as sometimes only an untried young side thrown in there and trusted, can!
County lined up 3/5/2, but faced with an FC attack of real menace in the shape of prime movers Frank De Vils, Trude Owowabi, and Justin Johnson, who all had pace to spare, this quickly morphed into 5 at the back, but an effective one...Callum Cooke, Wesley Benjamin, and Connor Hancock central with Dean Hitchens and Jordyn Fitton on the flanks providing excellent cover for new keeper Billy Worthington. Wesley Benjamin in particular had an awesome game, in the old fashioned stopper mode- cutting moves off at source with a `no frills’ businesslike approach that oozed confidence and spread to those around him.
Further forward the engine room of Kieran Crosthwaite, George Blackwell and live wire Charlie Russell functioned well, particularly in the first half, providing ammunition in abundance to the dual strike force of Jordan Rogers and Mike Hampson who both had impressive games as a consequence sharing the goals, in a 3-2 County win, between them.
The visitors went straight onto the attack from the whistle De Vils, Owowabi and Johnson darting about like Dervishes prompted by Liam Gibson who was managing to get forward to good effect down the left.
This lasted for 4 minutes or so....interrupted only by Crosthwaites run down the right that was cut off decisively by an intervention by Nathan Chorlton...... then....in the 5th minute County hit their opponents brilliantly on the break as a terrific through ball from Charlie Russell sent Jordan Rogers clear. In a trice Rogers was past his marker and facing keeper Chris Taylor, the only obstacle to an early County lead. I have seen these missed ....many times ......so have you......but Rogers put any doubters to shame with a lovely finish that gave Taylor no chance at all of saving it. Unexpectedly then.....County had a 1-0 lead......could they hold onto it though?
Well.....FCUM, urged on by Gibson, did their best to answer that one in the negative, but Gibson`s cross from the left found no one in red available so any chance was gone, as it was again shortly after as Tom Brown lifted his shot over the bar when better was on offer. There was a lot to do for County`s defence at this stage as Crosthwaite and Russell leant a hand in the cause. Another great team effort was unfolding before our eyes with Benjamin providing the steel, whilst the equally promising Connor Hancock added unflappable coolness and an eye for a pass, as did Callum Cooke, who I was somewhat surprised to see given a deep lying roll, and I was impressed to see him step up to the mark and block the burly Tunde Owowabi as he prepared to convert a cross from Chas Doyle into a goal.
It still remained largely FC doing most of the attacking, punctuated by two breaks that saw Taylor in last gasp dashes from his line to keep Hampson out, but the visitors finishing was woeful and Worthington only had to stand and watch as John Pritchard missed a real sitter, laid on by van Gils who had been left in oodles of space for once!
The first response to that escape from County came via George Blackwell, but a lively run by him, was cut short near the box when van Gils tracked back and stole the ball with a good bit of work. The County reply had not finished however, and following
another attempted raid by FCUM, the blues doubled their advantage. It started with Callum Cooke whose nicely weighted pass saw Hampson and Rogers in and amongst it deep in FC territory. In a flash Hampson transferred the ball on to Rogers, but the first shot from the Stockport number ten was saved by Taylor. The keeper couldn`t hold it however and Rogers pounced again burying his shot deep in the net!
This stung the visitors into further action but van Gils found Benjamin growing in confidence and just impossible to pass. A free kick did offer the Lancashire side something of a chance, but Pritchard`s kick was pushed over the bar at the last second by Billy Worthington!
County kept their cool meanwhile......hitting on the break, but excellent work by George Blackwell , and Mike Hampson ended with the latter`s shot beating the keeper but missing the goal by a yard.
It was back to defensive work for County after this, with Jordyn Fitton getting a timely clearance in with red shirts snapping at his heels like hyena`s around a corpse. He kept his cool as did Benjamin who did enough to ensure that the dangerous Owowabi`s shot went the right side of the woodwork! Gibson headed over when well placed, and Benjamin was again on hand to make a decisive clearance as Justin Johnson cut inside at pace down the left.
It was a decent game, and both sides had a go next....Owowabi again for FCUM.......Rogers for County, but despite all the visitors pressure, it was County who troubled the scorer next, and it was something of a gift. But.......I have seen such largess spurned more than once in the past, but thankfully not on this occasion! The gift came via keeper Taylor who, with the predatory Mike Hampson looking interested, in the vicinity, contrived to make a complete hash of an attempted clearance, allowing young Michael to snatch the ball and dispatch it into the empty net!
3-0....game over then......er......I think not!
OK....County did put FCUM under some pressure immediately after the third goal.....Rogers being foiled by Taylor, who looked no worse for his recent experiences reinforced by a mass of red shirts called in to defend as Hampson and Rogers in particular pecked away at FC`s apparent corpse.
But the presumed cadaver twitched as County won a corner thanks to Blackwell, but then allowed their opponents to mount a counter attack. It was a good one too, and County were in disarray as Owowadi prepared to head home in an untidy melee in front of the County goal. The forward`s attempt to score failed.....but Gibson was at his shoulder and his header was spot on and it was 3-1, and game on!
I lost count of the good defensive work that followed from County in the period to half time....Blackwell...Fitton.....Russell...Benjamin all did a good job, and one such example involving Benjamin, who had just blocked Owowabi, resulted in a break by Rogers that took a brilliant bit of defending by goal scorer Gibson to deny the County striker. That was the first half over ....the second 45 minutes awaited us ,and the prospect was eagerly anticipated.
A decent effort by van Gils opened the second half- it missed out, but as a token of intent from the visitors it was suitably chilling, and Billy Worthington had to pull off a good save to deny Owowadi as he and Pritchard threatened!
Jordan Young was now on for Dean Hitchen as County prepared for a concerted rearguard action to keep FCUM out. To be sure there was a lot for the blues to do in this respect and County were grateful for the offside flag more than once in the next 10 minutes or so that passed with blue backs largely pressed up against the wall, but that said the closest the visitors came to a second goal in this period was via a shot from Brown, and this thudded into Billy Worthington`s chest reassuringly, so it stayed 3-1.
The visitors kept the pressure on, but County, with Benjamin and Hancock growing ever more confident, were standing up to the test really well, but on the hour the almost inevitable happened and FCUM scored. A run by Brown won his side a free kick just outside the box. Brown took it lifting it into the cool night air towards the far corner of the net. It took a deflection en route off one or other of the County wall, and thereafter looped in an alarming ark into the net!
Now it really was game on at 3-2, with the league leaders on full revs and giving it some, and with 30 minutes or more remaining to play!
Thankfully however the FCUM finishing remained way short of their approach play and twice Johnson missed the target when well placed. County in contrast had fewer chances arguably, but always looked more likely to.......with Hampson and Rogers around. But it was neither of these two who featured next it was George Blackwell and his shot crashed into a post with Taylor nowhere after Young and Hampson had prized the FCUM defence open nicely.
County were shipping free kicks with growing regularity now which was increasing the pressure, and it was good to see Worthington on his toes stopping the rot as Owowadi threatened.
A Russell shot signalled that County were by no means a spent force attacking wise, but as another raid developed an awful `tackle’ on Rogers laid him out.
It was a clear foul and one perpetrated right under the refs nose, but with he and the near side liner unconcerned, the ball was transferred up the park by FCUM and a break was on. Surely the ref would call them back......as Rogers was still down.....but no.....the counter attack was very much on- the danger being eventually averted when Cooke headed clear from a corner! That was a truly appalling example of refereeing......ANOTHER appalling example, and the potential seriousness of the incident was underlined when goal scorer Rogers was promptly replaced by Will Hartley.
A further period of defensive angst would surely now beckon, but instead Taylor almost gave away another gift – unnerved no doubt seeing the white`s of Mike Hampson`s eyes not far away! Mainly though time passed with County defending as Benjamin got in mighty tackle after mighty tackle...joined by Fitton who headed out under pressure, and Young who put his body on the line to hold FCUM up.
Into the last 6 or 7 minutes we went with no strikers on board the County boat , as the busy Hampson was replaced by Connor Thompson, and it was good to see Billy Worthington in position to keep a Ryan Saxon strike out with only 5 minutes left to play.
To their credit, County kept looking for an opportunity to relieve the pressure and put some on FCUM, Cooke and Hancock doing particularly well at one point combining with Will Hartley to push the visitors back. The resulting throw brought Cooke to the fore and his cross teed Thompson up nicely only for him to be denied by Gibson at his most determined. Russell had a decent run.....Thompson an even better one, only to be denied by the same linesman who had gazed myopically at the assault on Rogers not 20 minutes earlier!
Yes......County were taking the game to their opponents rather well and Gibson did brilliantly to stop Young as he ran onto a neat pass by Thompson. County weren`t done after this either, and Taylor did extremely well to stop a Thompson shot, smack on 90 minutes, with his legs!
|Late action involving Will Hartley & Jordan Young.|
This was heart warming stuff, and again a fourth County goal looked on as a Blackwell run ended with Taylor clawing another shot, this time from Young, out.
A Cooke tackle did enough to keep van Gils at bay, as a blast of the referee`s whistle told us that that was it and that the points were County`s.
That was a really good game and a credit to both teams, and County should be well pleased with their performance!
Next week`s Cup game at Warrington being cancelled ( not good news for Chris Sharp) ,the next Development Squad game now will be the League Cup match v Curzon Ashton next Wednesday at E.P. k.o 7.45!
County line up:
Billy Worthington, Dean Hitchens( Jordan Young 50),Jordan Fitton, Callum Cooke, Wesley Benjamin, Connor Hancock, Kieron Crosthwaite, Charlie Russell, Michael Hampson ( Connor Thompson 82), Jordan Rogers ( Will Hartley 72), George Blackwell.
Substitute not used:
FC United of Manchester Reserves.
Chris Taylor, Charlie Doyle ( Jason Fowles 83), Liam Gibson, Mike Brewster, Nick Truglove( Ryan Saxon 27), Nathan Chorlton, Frank van Gils, Tom Brown , Tunde Owowabi( Sam Sumerbee 66), John Pritchard, Justin Johnson.
Substitutes not used:
Leo Magnone, Gareth Moore.