County`s China Tour 2004---- Part 4
County's China Crisis.
The evening before the final game of their amazingly successful tour of China saw a major incident throw the whole operation into crisis.
Having spent 12 hours in the air and having had the team plane turned around on the Shenyang to Beijing leg due to storm conditions in the Chinese capitol things went into freefall after midnight as the Stockport party attempted to check in to their excellently appointed hotel in Urumqi in North West China.
Tired and weary after the multiple flights and having consumed a light buffet the attempts to check in were foiled by the word that the Kazakhstan team that County were due to meet were threatening not to play as the Edgeley side had a superior hotel to themselves .
Deep into the night, heated negotiations involving Stockport Chairman Mike Baker and the local representatives were no nearer a solution, as at 2.45 a.m, as the County team and sponsors were refused booking facilities at the lushly appointed Hualing Grand.
They left to seek alternative accommodation and meanwhile the small band of County fans(8 in number) held out for check in facilities,with Pete Collins the first to obtain his key, refusing admirably to sign for his key until his 7 comrades achieved a similar result.
I was very very tired but proud of the way the Stockport party had stuck together particularly the supporters.
At this juncture it was not clear as to what was about to happen next, and whether the next match, which had now morphed to a round robin tournament of 2 games each between County, Kazakstani Army and local side Xinjiang Urumqi, would even take place.
But.....with casualties mounting and still 2 games to play the exhausted team had to re-group and re-charge their batteries quickly!
Xinjiang Urumqi v County
This was altogether a better experience for the 8 strong band of Hatters traveling with the County side on their historic tour of China.
After the traumas of the previous early hours it was a relief that County were playing again-and indeed playing at all.
For the County fans it was a great experience being left to find their own seat within the 6000 crowd.
The ground was about 85% full but whilst the stadium itself presented a beautiful setting the pitch looked about the worst I can remember in my long and weary existence.
This was the first match in a three team round robin tournament between County, Xinjiang and the Kazakhstan army side.
The locals were well exited about the event which had received massive local publicity.
Once in the ground there was much friendly banter between the small blue army and the Chinese fans who were well amused at the antics of the tiny away following.
Again there was a masterly performance from Vernon Bear (have I spelt it correctly this time?) who has become a firm favourite with the locals at each venue-such a pity that Britain's quarantine regulations prohibit his return to UK with the rest of the party!
Early doors it was the Chinese attempting to impress with a couple of high wide and not very handsome shots disappearing into the crowd, and a third header that went straight at Coppinger.
There were a couple of corners for the locals to cheer before Le Fondre sent County's first effort narrowly over the top.
The pitch was proving a great leveler and it was 15 minutes into proceedings before the Hatters had a real chance and once again the lively Le Fondre was the instigator.
His pacy run into the box saw a shot on goal strike a Chinese hand only for the referee to wave play on.
Morrison's follow up lob was better than the keeper thought it might be but went just over the top.
Le Fondre was proving a major handful for the Chinese defense and a through ball sent him down the left to set Goodwin up nicely.
The Irishman's shot had power and pace but cleared the bar.
It was no surprise when County opened the scoring in the 25th minute,
and even less so that it was Le Fondre who did the damage with another surging run that drew the keeper allowing the County number nine to lob the ball into the empty net.
County went in at the break with the score still 1-0 and looked comfortable with Mc Ilroy having played the full 45 looking very effective in the process.
It was a considerable shock then when with only 2 minutes of the 2nd half played the scores were leveled courtesy of a cracking scissors kick from the Chinese number 10.
This stung County into further action and Ashley Williams saw a header cleared off the line and a follow up header from Meadowcroft, who has been quietly convincing throughout the tour, went just wide. Things went from bad to worse for County just before the hour when a sleeping liner allowed a Chinese forward to race clear from a blatantly offside position to beat Coppinger with a rasping drive
The locals were in high spirits now and County had a match on their hands.
Alby came on for Morrison and amazingly kit man Richard Landon had what was to be his longest outing in County colours(20 minutes) as County husbanded their resources with their next game in mind.
A lob from Alby beat the keeper but cleared the bar before the same County forward provided La Fondre with his 2nd and County's equalising goal.
Alby went on a determined run down the right and his cross was a cracker and La Fondre drove it home.
It was the County fans turn to cheer now as their men pressed for the winner.
They did not have long to wait as a shot from Wilbraham came back off the diving keeper to Landon.
Landon did what he has done his entire career and the shot arrowed home from the edge of the box.
An Alby free kick just missed the target in the local equivalent of United time and County had secured a well deserved win.
- winning goal glory!
County line up(4/4/2)
Coppinger, Hardiker, Williams A, Meadowcroft, McAllister, Goodwin, Allen, Mcilroy, Morrison, Le Fondre, McLachlan
Subs used; Landon, Wilbraham. Crowd 5647