County 2 FC United of Manchester 0
Stockport County offered their hard pressed supporters evidence that things, on the field at least, are progressing in the right direction as we get closer to the Club`s first taste of life in Conference North, by disposing of the challenge from FC United of Manchester 2-0 at Edgeley Park last night.
County`s opponents presented credible opposition, on paper anyway, and in the first half, to some extent, on the park as well, where they opened in lively fashion and pressed with regularity. They needed something to go with the neat play though, and in the box it was missing, thus County merely waited their moment to pounce, and having got to the break level at 0-0-it duly arrived as 2 goals in a 6 minute spell, from Tunnicliffe and Dennis put the game out of the Manchester club`s reach.
The result hinged on the changes made at half time. FCUM made them wholesale whilst County restricted theirs to 3 and mightily effective they were too, as Howard and Craney totally ran the show in the second half, and Tunnicliffe opened the scoring. Craney was particularly impressive whether it was contributing at the back or feeding the forwards- it was easily his best game for us so far- excellent stuff!
The defence looked solid with Jacobs, Fagbola, Charnock and O`Halloran looking coolly effective as a four in the first half, with Tunnicliffe replacing Jacobs for the second half, which saw Fagbola pushed forward as a wing back.
In midfield, Hand stuck to his allotted task well throughout, and gave as good as he got, against a visiting side that did not hesitate to tackle often and hard. Turner started with Dennis and Jevons up front, and it was good to see Dennis get another goal, and Jevons 90 minutes of action during which he showed me that things are just about beginning to stir with him. Turner`s pace was a potent weapon throughout but particularly in the second half as County attacked the Cheadle End. OK..............they were aided perhaps by some iffy defending, but having made due allowance for this factor I am driven to conclude that we have the basis of a decent side emerging now.
The obvious caveat to this is that it was clearly not FCUM`s first 11 out there after the break, but.......CLICHE ALERT!......County can only play against those players sent out to compete against them, and that they did well, leaving us to contemplate an interesting season in Conference North !
Edgeley Park looked a picture at 19.45......pitch a lush green just begging to be trampled underfoot....stands freshly painted and scrubbed.....with 1700+ gagging for a meaningful game!
Within a minute we knew we had one as Jerome Wright and Charlie Worsley brought the best out of ex team mate Kyle Jacobs with a neat combo, and this was followed quickly by a decent ball in from the right from Rhodri Giggs who looked on aghast to see Jordan Fagbola prevent Mike Norton from reaching it.
Giggs was to the fore again shortly after, and this time he was successful in linking up with Norton down the right, but Charnock and Bateman saw the threat off with some neat defending.
It was 6 minutes before anything came back from County as Jevons sent Dennis running clear. Dennis then sent the ball hard and low across the box, but Fagbola could not work his way through a veritable forest of white shirts to get a shot on target.
Still.....it was a start and Fagbola only took a minute to make up for his last disappointment, with an alert bit of work that saved County`s bacon after Bateman had surrendered possession limply to Norton.
Eight minutes into proceedings and County had a free kick to defend when O`Halloran`s slider upended Worsley just outside the box. FCUM had the whiff of something of a chance from this and they all piled in as Wright`s kick hugged Liam`s glorious pile on its way into the box. It was a tasty effort to be sure, but it cannoned off central defender Tom Davies before whizzing out for a goal kick.
So far there had been much to do at the back for the blues, but they had manned up well enough and it continued much in the same vein with King smothering a somewhat lack lustre effort from Giggs, and Wright firing a blank over the County bar.
Fifteen minutes had passed without any real alarms for County, who saw their former keeper Jamie Spencer get down quickly to keep a snap shot from Jevons out.
County had thus far not been attacking that much, but things started to change after Jevons effort as, in rapid succession, Turner darted clear only to be flagged offside, and Hand saw his free kick ushered off the line by Davies.
If FCUM were alarmed at all, they certainly weren`t cowed, indeed it started to get a bit tasty for a minute or so as Lee Neville earned himself a lecture for a two footed tackle on Fagbola, and Norton rather made my old eyes water with a late/late tackle on Charnock, whose knees need a week`s warning of such atrocities!
Midst this mayhem County kept their cool admirably with Jevons setting Dennis up neatly for a shot that cleared the bar, but the Manchester side kept trying to impose themselves on the blues largely via Giggs who, along with Norton, was a mere whisker away from getting to Wright`s cross as it screamed across the box from the left.
King then sorted Giggs` next effort-a vain attempt to reach a long raking ball through the middle, before it was `X Certificate’ time again as Oli Banks went right through Jevons.
Now........... I thought that was probably the worst of the heavy stuff that we had seen, but it was Wright who incurred the referee`s wrath and went into his book, on 31 minutes, for cumulative misdemeanours!
Credit to the visitors though......they kept at it....kept trying for that important opening goal, but Norton could only watch as his header carried King`s bar after he and Davies had gone AS trying to get to a free kick in the box. County did not help themselves that much at this point, being apparently unable to work the ball clear and worse still...............conceding another free kick ( Fagbola) just outside the box .Banks lifted this tamely over the bar, but County had a bit of tightening up to do if a small calamity was not to befall them!
A reply was overdue from County and, with the referee applying advantage after Hand had been fouled, one came, and Sutherland seemed set up as he darted clear. He was onside and he only had Spencer to beat but he didn`t......his control for once let him down, and the chance drifted away like so many fondly remembered dreams!
With half time approaching, it was County who were now on the front foot, but we were disappointed to see the Pop Side liner`s flag declare Bateman offside as he raced clear .Bateman again featured not long after- onside this time, but sadly just unable to get to a high ball into the box from Jevons.
Good work from Charnock then set Turner up for a pacy run that foundered on the edge of the box, before FCUM countered through Giggs who rather wasted a decent chance by lifting his shot over the bar on the break.
A save by Spencer to keep a strike from Jevons out......a fine intervention from Fagbola that kept Norton from a dangerous ball in the box.................a header by Norton from the resultant corner and that was the first half put to bed!
It was all change after the break- at least as far as FCUM were concerned.....no Spencer....no Giggs ....no almost everyone who had done the first 45. County contented themselves with swapping Craney for Bateman, Howard for Sutherland, and Tunnicliffe for Jacobs.
It was not long before the implications of these changes started to become apparent as County ,urged on by Craney, increasingly forced their opponents onto the back foot- Turner and Dennis working well together and unlucky to see Jon Worsnop, the replacement keeper, recover from a handling error to just keep Dennis out at the last gasp! Turner......Dennis both pressed on and went close again, whilst Jevons got the opportunity to test the visitors metal with a free kick, which was hurriedly hacked out in the general direction of the large `London Eye` type wheel that had suddenly appeared on Booth Street car park!
It went on and on with Craney getting better and better, sending Turner scurrying clear with a near perfect pass. It was a belter and Turner obliged, setting it off with a brilliantly weighted cross that had Kristian Dennis`s name etched boldly on it. Whack!..................Dennis had hit it, and it fizzed its way goal ward, but Worsnop was up to the job and beat the shot out in fine style to deny County!
Cue a cheeky shot by Hand that was worth a try but missed out, and it was time for County to give their supporters something to cheer!
It started again with Craney who once more located Turner, sending him clear with a slide rule pass. Turner`s speed laid the visitors defences to waste but somehow a defender managed to block his shot, and another did likewise as Dennis tried to force the ball home at the near post. It was a corner and Craney took it planting the ball right in front of Worsnop`s goal where Tunnicliffe`s firm header made it 1-0 to County.
FCUM tried to respond but found Craney as affective at the back as further up the park, and I was simply loving it now!
Dennis then dashed clear next, but was apparently offside, and no sooner had we registered disappointment with that one, than it was celebration time again as Fagbola sent Jevons clear with a fine ball down the right. The pass inside saw Craney`s shot blocked but, following up, Dennis hurried the ball into the net like only a seasoned striker can- excellent stuff....it was 2-0 and happiness abounded in and around Row R.
It needed a response from FCUM if the game was not to die, and one came via Astley Mulholland whose initial run was checked on the edge of the box, but King had to make a decent double save to prevent Mulholland, who was following up, from reducing the arrears.
If that encouraged the travelling fans, they must have been mortified moments later when Mathew Wolfenden, apparently set fair in front of goal, decided not to shoot, instead opting to pass wide and sending the ball out of play to boot! He should have had a go and he probably knew it!
The mortification was ours next as Turner`s speed shredded the FC cover again allowing him to chip Worsnop deliciously. It looked to be 3-0, but the stand side liner thought otherwise-offside thought he, but I beg to differ!
Craney was simply awesome at this point doing excellent work under some pressure one moment at the back, and then doing equally well shortly after sending Turner away once more, this time down the left. A decent cross came in from Turner but this was deflected for a corner which Tunnicliffe could not force home despite two attempts.
The pressure was very much on the Manchester side now, and Wolfenden was relieved to see his sliced attempted clearance fly over the bar for another corner.
A save by King from Wolfenden offered counter point to the County pressure, but the bulk of the play was now going on right under the noses of the Cheadle End patrons who looked on disappointed to see Worsnop snatch the ball off Turner`s toes after the young Hatter had, for once, failed to read the situation and respond quickly enough to good work by Jevons and Dennis.
That was Dennis`s last contribution and he left the scene to a generous ovation from the County support, with 10 minutes or so left to play.
Turner`s speed continued to cause FCUM problems in the dying embers of the game, and I cannot wait to see what he....Dennis and Jevons can do to Conference North defences.
Meanwhile County were faced with a side desperate to get a goal but there was nothing of substance on the end of some very neat forward play from them and County were able to defend their lead without undue difficulty.
A late flurry of activity as Fagbola tested County`s opponents with a deep cross from Turner`s lay back, and that was the end of what had been a rather satisfactory game from County`s perspective.
It`s probably as well not to get too carried away, but to instead remember the caveats previously mentioned........but I`m tempted!
See you on Saturday at Halifax then!
County line up:
King, Jacobs (Tunnicliffe 45), Fagbola, Charnock, O`Halloran, Hand, Turner, Bateman ( Craney),Jevons, Dennis ( Windsor 79), Sutherland ( Howard 45).
FCUM line up;
Spencer, Brownhill, Neville, Stott, Davies, Raglan, Giggs, Banks, Norton, Wright, Worsley.
Attendance ; 1707