Stalybridge Celtic 3 County 2 ( Conference North) 25 August 2014
Well..............the bacon roll was excellent, but not a lot else...............oh ....alright....I`ll admit that County made a decent fight of it in the second half against Stalybridge Celtic,and definitely deserved at least a point in the end, but by the break they were already 3 goals down, and the game was all but out of sight for them, a situation brought about by 3 defensive lapses, two of them within a minute of each other almost on half time.
It was so...so...sad, because almost 1500 supporters had made the short trip from Stockport with high hopes of witnessing something special after 2 wins in 2. It was not to be however, and despite a spirited come back late-on, and two top draw goals, it was 3-2 to Celtic at the end of a game that was for much of it, not that great to watch, the ball being lofted into the veritable maelstrom above Bower Fold time and time again.
If County had an excuse, it was that Tunji Moses was missing from their list of available players, thus the `5 at the back plus 2’ model was ,by necessity up for change, and so it was that AL opted to bring Nathan Woolfe in, as the only change from Saturday. In the event this never worked and County missed Moses`s presence noticeably, getting drawn into unnecessary flair- ups.....and being punished for lapses in concentration that I thought that they had ironed out of their game.
For Stalybridge there was another cluster of ex Hatters on view. One of them....goal keeper Lewis King ,was the other reason that County lost, as a string of fine saves from him dampened the blues ardour just when they looked to be revving up for a grandstand finish. Paul Ennis was another, and he scored one.....Liam Dickinson did not score but put himself about more than somewhat drawing some ripe abuse at times from the County faithful for his efforts. Matty Mainwaring, the fourth ex blue, was largely anonymous.
There were several players on both sides booked, and one.....County captain Jamie Milligan got himself sent off via a second yellow, that I thought was more than a touch harsh.
Lewis King got a good reception from the away end ( I say away end, but with County supporters populating ¾ of the stadium, and providing roughly 80-85% of the gate this term is hardly applicable), but the start was delayed whilst repairs were effected to the nets at King`s end.
County looked lively in the opening minutes with Spencer looking particularly so, but their opening salvo petered out when Belezika was adjudged to have fouled his man en-route to goal. Woolfe then sent Ryan clear ,only for Kelvin Bleau( possibly Celtics top man after King)to track back and cut him off. It continued in this vein with Spencer and Woolfe in the van, but the first 5 minutes ended with play switching ends, and Hurst coming out bravely to rob Aidan Chippendale as he surged clear.
This seemed to gee Celtic up, and within another minute a cross from McKenna saw Chippendale shoot wide under pressure from Duxbury.
Eventually.....County regained the initiative, through Spencer, who was twice blocked trying to force his way through down the right. He wasn`t done however, and came back for more, taking the ball past 2 men, before slipping a beaut of a ball inside to Woolfe who looked well set. Credit to Woolfe he did get his shot off, but credit to Matt Regan too, and he managed to get a touch and deflect the ball behind for a corner, which almost inevitably was best forgotten.
A minute later and the action swung to the other end where Hurst got himself momentarily in a tangle, which required urgent remedial action from Belezika to put right- he obliged with a crucial clearance off the line and it stayed 0-0.
There was work for Gregson to do ( twice) after this and he was nicely cool about it, and Spencer thought he had at last worked himself an opening down the right, only for the ref to indicate “ elbow” at just about the same time as I thought “baloney”
So far so good, but the 21st gave us a small warning, as a chance beckoned for Paul Ennis as the ball came his way from the right, where Bleau had been allowed to get a cross over. In the event Ennis lifted his shot over the bar, but we had been warned!
But.....the warning went unheeded, and within a minute we were one down as another cross from the right landed at the feet of Ben McKenna who wasted no time in despatching it goal ward past Hurst`s dive!
The referee had a chat with Gregson shortly after, for a tackle that left Sam Staunton-Turner picking himself up off the deck, but there was no lecture moments after when Regan`s foul on Spencer went totally un-punished( this pattern was ,sadly, to be repeated throughout the match).
Play meandered on, with not much of note happening, bar a shot from Duxbury, on 38 minutes, that took an unfortunate deflection.
I had begun to settle for 0-1.......awaiting a second 45 with County going at it hammer and tongues ............. when it all went rather badly wrong, starting with Woolfe who somehow managed to lose the ball to Chippendale on the edge of the box, and had to watch as he fired it home with calm assurance.
That was the 41st minute......another 60 seconds and County imploded again, this time via Lees, who allowed Ennis to take the ball off him, and blast it home from way out!
That was not great from a County view point, and boos sadly greeted the team as they made their way off the field at the break.
Dickinson was in lively form when the game resumed, but within 5 minutes County had pulled one back, and it was a nicely worked affair too.....the ball transferring quickly from Milligan to Spencer who played it sideways for Ryan to send his second goal in 3 days past King!
It was 1-3 and things were hinting at getting better, albeit that Belezika saw a header ushered out by Regan. Then Belezika teased a corner out of the home side, only for this to be wasted, whilst at the other end Dicko continued to ferret away for trifles, which O`Halloran continued to deny him.
By the hour mark AL had rung the changes, bringing Dennis and Sharp on in place of Woolfe and Belezika , which seemed to usher in a 4/2/4 shape for the blues, notionally.
If this signalled an attacking intent, that was pretty much how it went, with a Duxbury rocket thumping into the bar after he had been neatly set up by Sharp and Spencer.........then another from Sharp likewise clipping the woodwork, with King hopelessly beaten!
That was very unlucky and County piled forward in hot pursuit of that elusive second goal. Only for Dennis`s pass to just elude the on-rushing Sharp.
Then O`Halloran, who was coolness personified at the back, sallied up the park, picking Ryan out with a lovely ball, only for the MS liner to raise his flag and dish us. O`Halloran kept at it, and a neat one/ two with Sharp saw the latter in on goal and only kept out by the legs of the Celtic keeper.
It was pretty much one way traffic now, and more so it seemed as a foul on Milligan teed him up for a free kick which he sent heading for the top corner. It had goal written all over it, but King chose not to read this, and his dive saw him tip the ball over the bar in spectacular fashion.
This unfortunately was the `handbags out’ cue, as King promptly refused to let County take the corner( or mimed as such) whereupon just about everyone on the park barring Hurst joined a right royal fracas , which ended with King and Sharp booked, and Gregson missing out with a header from the long awaited corner.
We were into the last 15 minutes of normal time now, and still, despite all the pressure from County, there was no sign of a second goal, and King made me wince again with another gritty save to deny Sharp from converting a Milligan pass into a game changer.
It went on........ 79 minutes.....Dennis to Spencer who shot only for King to fling himself to his left to grab the ball.....
.......and on.....80 minutes.....the ball flying from Sharp to Spencer and then on to Dennis, who unleashed the fiercest of shots , that still didn`t square the circle as that man King pulled off his best save to date to keep the shot out!
This was so....so annoying, we had, had this lad on our books not long ago, and now he was dishing us good and proper!
The 81st minute saw a rare interruption of the flow of play as Bleau and Ennis set Mainwaring up with a chance, but he fluffed it ,lifting his shot over the bar.
Fouls by McKenna meanwhile, whilst getting no reprimand from the referee, gave County a chance to push Celtic back once more, but the closest they came was a header from Gregson, and this didn`t require a save from the home keeper.
There were 6 minutes left when Dennis saw a shot charged down by Regan, after Milligan had combined nicely with Ryan, but another minute on from this and at last King was beaten. It was a decent move too, and one put away brilliantly as Spencer tapped it to his left for Dennis to bury a blistering drive into the net with King groping at air impotently!
It was 2-3, but there were only 2 minutes left, and we looked on in anguish to see Duxbury`s shot whiz in across goal and go harmlessly out of play!
Then....a roar went up from seven eighths of the crowd when 6 minutes added time was announced.....surely that would be time enough for......
Well.....probably....but Celtic had other ideas, and it must be said their time wasting lacked the virtue of subtlety , instance McKenna`s unsanctioned foul on Lees that was followed by an attempt by him to prevent Lees taking the free kick. This also did not result in sanction, but it did seem to signal WW3 , as the handbags were out again in front the main stand. Unfortunately many of those involved came from the crowd as well, so once again the Club, who can ill afford it, and have been warned previously about it will be punished, but will the individuals care?
Fracas over....eventually......Baker and Milligan along with McKenna and Dicko booked , the County free kick was cleared and Celtics tactic had paid off with time ever closer to running out, and more so a minute or so after when Milligan tried to tackle Mc Kenna....missed.....and got shown a second yellow....for `intent’ presumably......hmmmm....very very subjective that to say the very least!
The home specs by this stage were on their feet imploring the referee to blow for time, and soon enough they got their wish and the game was over and Celtic had won.
But for two lapses in concentration, this game might easily have been won by County.....it wasn`t and despite a string of saves by the Celtic keeper, there is not a lot of good in too much naval gazing over the situation.
We need County to work on it, and work hard next time out to put things right- the supporters will surely respond well if they do!
Meanwhile there was a good finish to the supporter/ team bit at the end as the latter came over at the close and were applauded by the former! Good stuff ...let`s take it from there!
County line up;
Hurst, Belezika ( Sharp 58), Lees, Gregson, O`Halloran, Duxbury, Milligan, Woolfe ( Dennis 58),Baker, Ryan, Spencer.
Subs not used;
Ormson, Lofthouse, Churchman.
Stalybridge Celtic line up:
King, Bleau, Truelove, Hughes, Regan, Staunton-Turner, Chippendale, Mainwaring, McKenna, Ennis, Dickinson.
Wigley, Cadman, Lomax, Crowley, Martin.
Attendance : 1616