Stalybridge Celtic 0 County 0 ; Conference North 21.9.2013
Backed by nearly 900 travelling fans, County came away with a welcome point from their encounter with Stalybridge Celtic at Bower Fold today. I fully expected another defeat before the off, but that fate rarely threatened to befall Alan Lord`s men, indeed, if forced, I will admit that the point was a fairly comfortable one. They defended well ....surprisingly well actually thanks in part due to the re-introduction of James Tunnicliffe at centre back. He gelled immediately with Charnock , and with young Scott Duxbury ( my M.O.M)playing an absolute blinder out on the left flank whilst Fagbola dealt with the right , there was little of the abject awfulness so prevalent of late from County.
It was not perfect, not by a long chalk and I would say that, of the two teams, Celtic looked the more comfortable on the ball, but if we can address the continuing tendency to `pass without thinking’, and fine tune those shooting boots, maybe there`s hope for the immediate future, on the field at least.
The sun blazed down on the large and lively County contingent, as the teams were announced, and there were surprises for followers of the blues.....out were O`Halloran , Moke, Hand and Howard whilst Tunnicliffe ,Duxbury, Turner and Moses replaced them.
When the teams prepared for the kick off, it was apparent that County were going with a back four of Fagbola, Tunnicliffe, Charnock and Duxbury with Jacobs joining Gosset and Moses in offering cover in front of the back line!
It was an interesting set of changes.....bold even, but would the players chosen respond appropriately?
The first move of the game came from Celtic, and Ormson did well to nip out and deny Obi Anoruo as he darted onto a through ball. The liner`s flag then told us that the forward was offside, but the County keeper wasn`t to know that and earned applause as a result.
I was wondering at this point just how young Duxbury was going to fare at left back , and I soon got my answer as determined work from him stopped Kelvin Bleau`s run despite the assistance coming his way via Tom Buckley. Not only had an attack been foiled but County had been primed to reply themselves, but Jacobs shot came back out off a defender and was ultimately cleared.
Andy McWilliams meanwhile was finding room for himself down the left and Tunnicliffe did well to head a cross from the Celtic full back clear under pressure. Like Duxbury before him, Tunnicliffe then launched an attack. Taking the direct route he launched the ball long for Dennis to chase, but he didn`t quite have the legs for it and any thought of a chance quickly disappeared.
Back came Celtic through Conal Platt, but he found Duxbury every bit as doughty as had others before him and the home team`s raid fizzled out on the edge of the box.
Ormson went long next and his kick put County`s opponents in difficulties ,so much so that they had to concede a corner. Unfortunately ...there the difficulties ended as Matty Urwin , the home keeper, claimed the ball with such majestic ease that his team must have got a lift from it!
Well..........maybe......ex part time full time Hatter Sean McConville certainly looked to be boosted as a typically intricate dribble ensued from his direction. On reaching the box however he promptly plunged to the ground. It was no penalty and the referee indicated as much in no time at all, and with Mc Conville still intent on appealing, County had a break on and Turner looked well set to capitalise! Yes.....he did....but he went into dither mode on reaching the edge of the box and, when Dennis`s follow up went to safety off the keepers chest, the chance was gone.
County were playing a containing game at this point, keeping Celtic confined to activity outside the last third in County`s half. It seemed to be working and they even had time for a bit of attacking albeit Urwin was not particularly troubled with Charnock`s header, from a corner won by Dennis. Then.....it definitely did not seem that way as the ball was given away to Tom Buckley who promptly ferreted his way clear before beating Ormson with a shot that thudded loudly into the keepers left hand post. Thankfully County survived that one, but not by much!
I told myself that that last action was a brief aberration....a blip, and it certainly looked like it might be as more excellent work from Duxbury added to more from Fagbola and Tunnicliffe, ushered in a sense of security. We just needed something to come further forward, but instead Jevons poor first touch undermined a decent move in embryo.
Celtic meanwhile looked comfortable on the ball, and rather adept at getting cheap free kicks out of the referee, and Buckley did just that 15 minutes in presenting his team with a half decent chance. Callum Warburton took the kick picking out Conal Platt nicely, but the shot found Ormson in position to deal with it, and he did.
Action switched flanks next as McConville`s cross headed for Anoruo in front of goal. A goal looked on the cards until Tunnicliffe intervened diving headlong to head the ball over the bar for a corner! That was excellent, brave defending and more followed when the kick came over as Jacobs blocked the kick allowing Turner to hook the ball clear.
Twice ,after this, Ormson did well to deny McConville the rare treat of a goal against his former Club, with the assistance, it must be said on the second occasion, of Duxbury who did just enough to ensure any shot was delivered off balance.
We were now at the half way point in the first half and it was still anyone`s game, a fact that was emphasised as both teams tried their luck in their opponents half.
County firstly through Turner, and he looked to be well set, but having done the hard bit he proceeded then to lose his footing and that was that!
This brought Ormson into the picture again as Celtic went long and Anoruo charged through after it. This was another brisk bit of work, but Ormson`s reactions were spot on and allowed him to snaffle the ball off the advancing forward`s toe`s to applause from the packed terrace behind him.
The next few minutes were notable for more good work from Duxbury who linked up well with Jevons down the left. Two decent raids came from this but the first fell flat due to the older player`s duff first touch, and the second when his final ball was far too strong for Dennis the intended recipient.
That was disappointing, but more followed on, in the 28th minute, as Jacobs received from Gosset and proceeded to send a shot thudding into the keeper`s right hand post from way out.
The goal kick that came after that last action provided more evidence of County defensive improvement as Duxbury did some really fine work under pressure from Bleau and others, as did Jacobs who bamboozled Platt with some relentlessly forceful defensive work. But...............after Jevons had come excruciatingly close to getting to Gosset`s through ball at one end......the defensive prowess or otherwise of County back line was back in question at the other, as Ormson was forced into action keeping a shot by Anoruo out, after no one had reacted and cleared the ball when it came over from the right.
Bad old habits?
Maybe, but we needed some action in the home half to deflect these doubts and concerns , but Dennis came off second best in the contest with Urwin .
It went on with both teams working half decent chances for themselves before finding that essential final ball wanting...............
Buckley did ever so well and was unlucky to see his shot deflected for a corner- which his team mates promptly wasted......
County proved themselves no better in response as, played through neatly, Jevons failed to test Urwin with a really poor quality finish with just 5 minutes of the half left.
Moses did his best to lift his team in the closing minutes of the half, setting Dennis up with a chance which he looked like taking until his shot was beaten out by Urwin.
It that was good from Moses he followed it with some of the other earning himself a yellow card with a rather tasty challenge in the dying seconds. He was off the field, having received treatment, as the free kick was being taken, but Kristian Platt lifted this over the bar and that was that for the first half.
The re-start saw County concede an early free kick which Warburton lifted into the box without seeing any affective response from his forwards.
I was pleased to see that Duxbury was still very much on song, setting up a move involving Turner and Jacobs, but when it reached Jevons, who was reasonably positioned, an under powered effort gave Urwin no trouble at all.
This brought Celtic back on the attack, and twice Duxbury did the biz to thwart Buckley or McConville down the right, but Ormson still had to work minor miracles to keep Greg Wilkinson`s shot out!
We were approaching the hour mark now, and a booking for Duxbury, for `studs up’ told us that he was still very much involved. Much of his output was excellent too, which augers well for the immediate future.
I am not entirely sure what future beckons for Sean McConville, he maybe has options on the stage as he showed us to good effect when going to ground in the box. This was a shame from Celtics point of view because they looked the more purposeful of the two teams to me, but needed to create chances and put them away every bit as much as we did, and McConville falling about just made a mockery of this!
A startling moment`s action came just after the hour as Fagbola burst through the middle like yer old fashioned centre forward. He obliterated the challenge from Joel Bembo-Leta and was unlucky to see the ball fly inches wide!
AL then brought Moke on for Turner, and within seconds we were on the outskirts of Transformation City as the ball fell at Jevons feet with the goal at his mercy. `1-0’ I thought, but no....Jevons lifted his shot over the bar, when he had options to his left in terms of passing it on.
The next minute Moke was in the thick of things sending a neat through ball for Jevons to chase- Urwin got there first- but this was better......definitely better!
Our hosts were not going away however , but their finishing was no better than County`s , as a toe poke from Conal Platt missed out, as did a pass from Kristian Platt when McConville swung a boot at it and missed in the box!
County were hardly yer archetypal irresistible force, but an improvement was in the air, and more than just me felt our chance had come when a cross from Moke slammed into a defenders hand in the box. The referee however was unimpressed and waved play on- chance again gone!
County were actually making chances for themselves ,which is a change- it`s just that they were not going in......not via Moke, who lifted his shot over the bar on 75 minutes.......or Jevons who reached a tempting cross from Fagbola a minute later only to balloon his shot high over the bar!
Still County tried as Jacobs and Fagbola pressed down the right as did Moke and Duxbury down the left. A corner resulted as did an almighty tussle involving Wilkinson , for Celtic, and Jevons. Wilkinson just got an important touch, and before County could follow this up, the referee hallucinated and blew for a free kick to Celtic.
From the free kick the home side regrouped and Ormson was busy for the next 4 or 5 minutes fielding shots from McConville, Buckley and McWilliams as County`s Tameside rivals got more and more anxious for that winner!
Dennis was anxious too but his first time effort was beaten out in brilliant style by Urwin smack in front of County`s giant army of supporters!
There was work to do for Duxbury next after Fagbola lost the ball. Duxbury did it well so much so that his onward ball had County very much on the offensive through Jevons who looked on to snatch the game for County. He did......and he tried but the shot crashed into the bar with Urwin nowhere!
Off a defender apparently but it mattered not as County wasted the corner that resulted!
It was nervy stuff for the last few minutes and the referee found 4 of them to delight us with!
On it went with Ormson punching decisively out from a corner won by Conal Platt................then Urwin pulling off another almighty save to stop Jacobs from getting the winner!
Lots of mini skirmishes followed on after this with both sides striving, without success, to break the deadlock.
It ended 0-0 and that was about right I suppose, and based on my pre-match expectations it was a good point.
Now for that Cup run......see you Saturday!
County line up:
Ormson, Fagbola, Tunnicliffe, Charnock, Duxbury, Jacobs, Gosset, Moses, Turner( Moke 63 ), Dennis, Jevons.
Subs not used: Jones, Howard, Lofthouse, Craney.
Stalybridge Celtic line up;
Urwin, Bleau, McWilliams, Warburton, Bembo-Leta, K Platt, Buckley, Wilkinson, Anoruo, McConville, C Platt.