Skelmersdale United 0 County 2
Last year, a County side still encumbered with the remnants of the Dodo`s social loafers ,struggled to cling on for a draw under massive late pressure at the West Lancashire College Stadium! Similarly they just managed a 1-0 win at Cheadle Nomads. This year....new set of players....different attitude for sure and what do County do? Well........clock up an 8/1 win at Cheadle for starters, before heading off today to Skelmersdale to test their metal against their tormentors of just 12 months ago.
In the event we got a decent game for our money, one in which Skem were, for long periods, far from cowed . Indeed the first 25 minutes or so saw them play some good stuff- defensively tight and fairly incisive going forward.
But....County held firm,and the game took a dramatic switch on 27 minutes when Kristian Dennis scored another belter. He added another late on and ,despite Skem, doing their best to get back in it the game, stayed 2-0 to County . Not even a penalty awarded to the home side in the last minute, nor an injury to Keiran Charnock , that forced County to play on with 10 men for the last 5 minutes , could wrench the victory from their grasp.
The spot kick was brilliantly saved by Ian Ormson and the 10 men held out heroically despite much pressure!
A result then......and a decent one too in my view!
Back to 3 o`clock then and I arrived to see groundstaff removing a sign which had been placed on the edge of the box. ` Keep out of the Penalty Area' it said, and County must have wished that it was still in place as within a minute a poor ball from Jamie Hand put Gary Burnett through. It was an early worry right enough, but only until Charnock arrived on the scene and a neat bit of work by him kept the forward at bay, and the follow up shot from Joe Holt flew off wide.
County tried their best to respond but a run by O`Halloran hit the buffers on the edge of the box with Kenny Strickland`s intervention. Verma and Howard had a go as well, but they faired no better thanks to some resolute defending from Peter Wylie and Alan Burton.
I was hoping ,at this point, that this was not going to be a repeat of last years struggle.....County`s midfield of Craney, Hand and Verma looked as though they were wanting to get the ball down and play it about, but Skem were just not letting this happen and a couple of corners came their way in fairly rapid succession. Then Burnett was played in behind the County back line by Dale Wright and things began to look even gloomier, until we noticed that the near side liner had his flag up and we were asked to believe that Burnett was offside!
At last, 11 minutes into the game, something materialised for County as the industrious Craney found Howard down the left with a neat ball. Cutting inside Howard ran into Strickland and the referee saw this as a foul on Howard and thus a free kick on the edge of the box. This caused something of a melee in front of the Skem goal, but County could not force the ball home and the excitement quickly died down
Skem had come into this game with a reputation for solid defending, and that for sure looked to be on show, but their attacking was not lacking either ,only a finish was missing as Hughes shot wide and Charnock blocked a Burnett strike after a neat one /two with Holt had seen the home number nine spin clear.
Yes....Skem looked up for it, and although County were defending well themselves they were prone to the odd lapse or two and one such might just prove costly, as the 22nd minute arrived with Ormson diving to his left to stop Hughes from scoring on yet another break.
It was worrying to see us surrender possession and it was only poor finishing by Strickland that kept one of these bloopers proving to be expensive!
It was not looking at all wonderful and an attempt by the admirable O`Halloran to raise the seige had just failed , when he launched another run down the left ending it with a neat ball into the box where a cluster of players lurked. Chief amongst lurkers however was the prolific Kristian Dennis, and no soon had he latched onto the ball than he had turned past his man and fired it, sweet as a nut, under the keeper`s dive into the net!
Against the run of play?.............yes.....A typical strikers goal?......again definitely yes, but strikers invariably miss a few as well, but Dennis just isn`t doing!
The goal had an immediate impact on the game as ,with O`Halloran on fire down the left, they pushed their opponents back on their heels, then....just when I thought that the proper order of things had been restored ,County almost imploded again as Charnock gave a free kick away some 5 yards beyond the box. It hit the wall and came to nought but...........
The attacking from County was however looking a tad more effective and Craney was a real force to be reckoned with in midfield , but when Dennis- repeated the turn/ shoot bit in the box minutes later this time Zac Hibbert , the home keeper, was on hand with a diving save to keep him out.
This was followed by a Moke/ Jacobs collaboration down the right that ended with Craney sending a deliciously weighted lob into Verma`s path smack in front. He was clear and would have scored had it not be for the offside flag from the liner opposite.
This was altogether better from County but they could not add to their tally- Howard no more than the proverbial whisker away from reaching a Moke cross that had his name inscribed well and truly on it! The keeper snaffled it instead and the scene was repeated almost instantly at the other end as Ormson acted swiftly to deny Leadbetter as he ran onto Burnett`s through ball.
Add to this two fast and furious late runs by Howard , the last of which just failed to tee Dennis up with his second , and that was that for the first half.
There were no changes for County as the game resumed after the break, with Skem attacking and Dale Wright treating us to a neat dive just inside the box- it wasn`t a penalty and the referee did not give it despite the locals protestations!
Verma then had a shot that did not miss by much, but we were soon looking towards Ormson`s goal again as Burnett was played clear again by a beaut of a ball from Hughes. It was a corker and Burnett was favourite despite Ormson`s presence and that of Fagbola to the strikers left. On he strode deep into the box but Fagbola did just enough to ensure that the shot was less affective than it might have been and Ormson was able to push the ball around the post for a corner, which County would take with knobs on!
The corner was cleared and not long after Fagbola found himself on the ball again , before launching it long to Moke. The ball landed in his path and he only had Hibbert to beat, but the trialist fluffed the opportunity, sending a weak shot straight into Hibbert`s arms.
Again things were beginning to look a bit iffy for the blues as Skem redoubled their efforts to get that equaliser-Leadbetter sending Burnett through with a terrific ball down the right. Ormson was in difficulties with this one as was Charnock, but the referee noted a foul on the County centre back and the blues were saved.
We needed something different, in fact we needed Rhys Turner ,instead just before the hour Tunnicliffe replaced Howard, as County went 3 at the back with Moke moving inside.But....although Jacobs went close with one effort it was County largely on the receiving end as Charnock saved their bacon twice ...once stopping Burnett from getting to Mike Simpsons first touch( a fine cross)after coming on as sub, and then thwarting Hughes with some excellent work as the dimiutive forward surged clear down the right.
Eventually Turner did come on , for Moke,but for a few minutes thereafter it looked like nothing was likely to change as Skem kept the pressure on with some lively play- Burnett again unlucky to find Fagbola in fine form blocking his path to goal.
Then....just 4 minutes after he had come on...Turner`s speed turned the game as ,in an instant he was at the by-line and beyond the floundering Shaun Holden. A neat low cross followed and it went straight to the feet of Dennis who stroked it home with his accustomed practised ease! Terrific stuff and down as much to Turner as the goal scorer!
We got a corner not long after, and I think it was our first- it looked like it as we wasted it!
Then Skem applied themselves again to getting a goal back and Fagbola did well to prevent Burnett from putting a cross from Hughes away.
That was good work from the young County central defender but the next minute he lost the ball to Simpson and Tunnicliffe had to come to the rescue to stop the predatory Burnett from snatching a vital goal.
County had soaked up a whole lot of pressure the whole game long, and ,entering the last 6 or 7 minutes ,at last, they looked to have stayed the course the better - had Skem simply run out of steam? Well....possibly.....maybe.....maybe not, as Charnock then went down and had to be taken off with a facial injury which necessitated the blues playing on with 10 men!
This was all the incentive the Lancastrians required as they piled forward- Hughes and Wylie both sending headers into Ormson`s hands.
It was slightly desperate stuff, although they did manage to break clear at one point only for Craney to lift his shot over the bar.
Despite the pressure it seemed like 2-0 would be the score and a very satisfactory one at that ,until Jacobs stuck out a leg and one or other of the men in red went down over it.
The referee pointed to the spot instantly and it looked certain to be 2-1, but when Leadbetter stepped up and sent his kick to Ormson`s left, the keeper reacted brilliantly diving the same way before pushing the ball around the post.
There was some action after that, but not much and a blast of the referee`s whistle ended the game and the County pre-season, which despite a little local difficulty here and there, had gone off rather well.
See you at Edgeley Park for the Conference Nortn opener!
County line up;
Ormson, Jacobs, Fagbola, Charnock, O`Halloran, Hand, Craney, Verma, Moke( Turner 68), Howard ( Tunnicliffe 57), Dennis ( Windsor 80).
Skelmersdale United line up;
Hibbert, Strickland, Holden, Hardwick, Wylie, Burton, Hughes, Wright, Burnett, Leadbetter, Holt.