County 2 Worcester City 0 ; ( Conference North) 16 September 2014
Fortress Edgeley returned last night, as County recorded their 4th consecutive home win, and soared to fifth place in the Conference North table! A gutsy, well rounded team performance from the blues, saw off a rare old challenge from opponents Worcester City, after goals from Scott Spencer and Kristian Dennis had given County a handy first half lead. This perhaps signalled a rout in the second half, but one never came about, and County had to mount a stirring rearguard action to stem the tide of green shirted City attacks after the break, as Worcester, who would themselves have gone fifth had they won, and had won 3 of their last 4 games, bravely went for glory, urged on by the superb ex Hatter Danny Jackman, who yet again was outstanding for them.
County thankfully withstood all that Worcester could throw at them, and if they defended a tad deep at times, this was due as much to the midland sides work ethic as to any desire to defend in the last third,
and the defensive work was ,for the most part, neat...tidy and authoritative. The back four ( it was a back 4 I think) of Belezika, Gregson, O`Halloran and Duxbury were immense.....particularly the two centre backs who time after time produced the goods, drawing applause from a fine Tuesday night crowd of 2448( about 12 from Worcester). In front of them Milligan, particularly in the first half, was the epitome of drive and skill urging his men on, and he was backed up brilliantly by Lees who pushed further and further up the park as the game went on and looked a revelation in doing so, and Churchman who is growing nicely into the role required of him just now. Up front we had a three of Dennis, Sharp and Spencer which gave County plenty of notional fire power. They gave us work rate too- Spencer in particular ran and ran....defended diligently ....and scored his first County goal, whilst Dennis scored another belter and gave us many moments to remember. If Sharp was slightly shaded out by the other two, I am sure he will benefit from getting more game time, as will the team, and there was a late debut for the promising Jordan Lazenbury , who showed enough in the short time he was on to point to this being the first of many.
Back to 7.45 then, and faced with injuries to Richie Baker and Bobby Lofthouse , and Jack Ryan`s disappointing recall by parent club Preston North End, A.L. had to make changes to his winning side of Saturday. In the event he opted to bring Belezika and Sharp in along with skipper Jamie Milligan, after his one match suspension.
Despite the loss of Jack Ryan( who wasn`t used by Preston last night!!!!!)County`s line up had a winning look about it, with lots of scoring potential in the front 3, and the game got underway with a real buzz about in the crowd .
County looked confident from the off, but the first 5 minutes came and went without anything of note occurring. The sixth saw them briefly under pressure, which was relieved when Lees tidied up and found touch, followed by 2 excellent bits of work by O`Halloran to block runs by danger man Daniel Nti.
Yes.....there was an air of assurance about the blues play, even though their opponents looked determined to take the game to them, and in the 14th minute this confidence paid off with a goal and it looked like one practised on the training ground. It began with the MS liner`s up-raised flag indicating that Sean Geddes was offside. The free kick from Hurst hurried its was up the park where County then got a throw in. This found its way to Belezika who sent a first time cross right to Spencer who carried it forward a pace or two before comprehensively beating Nathan Vaughan, the City keeper, with an emphatic finish!
That was excellent, and it was Spencer`s first goal for County and a reward for much hard work, but Worcester were not impressed seemingly, and O`Halloran again had to produce the goods to stop Nti as he ran at us on the break. The Worcester offensive did not end there though, and County were thankful that Duxbury was correctly positioned enabling him to block Graham Hutchinson as he rounded on a dangerous cross from Wayne Thomas. That was good but also worrying, and the fretting continued with the sight of Hutchinson bearing down on goal again within seconds- his shot requiring the best of saves from Hurst to keep it out, ushering in a corner! There.....thankfully....the sequence ended as Hutchinson met the kick and headed well wide!
This was definitely a competitive game and Spencer found the route to goal blocked by a wall of green shirts as he surged forward in an interesting diagonal run. Belezika then produced a fine tackle to deny Thomas at one end, whilst Vaughan nipped out quickly to do similar when Dennis showed up at the other.....yes.....it was definitely competitive!
Meanwhile Nti persevered despite earlier disappointments , and Gregson did well to keep the winger`s cross out, albeit at the cost of a corner. Hutchinson was interested in this when it landed in the box, but he was repulsed and it fell to Thomas to apply a finish, but his effort went wide to end the angst for the blues.
Angst ended did I say?..... well....not quite as after George Williams had reminded us of the best moments of the Harlem Globetrotters from the fifties( and got away with it), Gregson showed his class again by tying Connor Gater in a knot as he threatened down the left. There was clearly work for County to do at the back, and there was no shortage of volunteers in this respect either, as Spencer earned applause by tracking back and stopping Williams` run as he eyed the County box hungrily.
Then.....just when I thought the Worcester attacks might abate, the referee offered them another chance to shine with a truly bizarre free kick, which ricocheted for a corner off someone in blue. The pressure was very much on again, and Thomas did his best to make the corner count, but Belezika beat him to the ball and that was that!
For Worcester much of their play was channelled through Danny Jackman , with George Williams and Wayne Thomas providing thrust down the flanks, so County needed to be on their toes and it was reassuring in this regard to see O`Halloran execute a delightful `trap and distribute’ under threat from a clutch of green shirts. Churchman too did well, but he was unlucky with a surging run just before the half hour mark.
The volunteers kept turning up as well at the back....Spencer doing well at one point, and Belezika and Hurst following suit to deny Nick Wright.
Eventually County launched a response and an almighty scramble ensued on the line after Lees had latched onto Belezika`s throw and ran at City. The visitors survived that one, only to come under the cosh again almost immediately as a first time pass from Milligan saw Lees away on a run to the edge of the box . Lees passed quickly to Sharp but his shot went narrowly over the angle of bar and post.
Nti had another go at getting back at County next, but this again came to nought, and the County break that followed saw them double their advantage with another training ground special. County`s quick break won them a corner, and this was whipped over at a fiendish pace by Milligan and met ,just before the near post, by Dennis whose bullet header gave Vaughan but a snowballs chance in hell of stopping it...and he didn`t...it was 2-0 and the County faithful were celebrating loudly!
Worcester bravely kept plugging away, and a pacy run from Williams saw him run into O`Halloran on the edge of the box. It also saw the County man booked, which I thought was a tad harsh! Obviously County had a free kick to defend and equally obviously...a goal just might result as the kick was from a decent scoring position. It was a belter too, but so was Belezika`s response and he cleared the ball off the line midst a clutch of men in green, all to a man trying to force the pill home.
Meanwhile ...O`Halloran had the `business as usual’ signs up ,proceeding undeterred by the referee`s admonishment, to ( twice) stop Worcester raids- the second time earning warm applause for neatly duping Wright into conceding a goal kick when anything but seemed likely.
Rather irritatingly the referee called Milligan and Gregson together for a chat, after what can only be described as a most innocuous tackle by the latter. Thankfully ....like O`Halloran, Gregson confirmed to me that the ` after you Claude’ days of defending are in the past, and he, like his central defensive partner, continued...match long to do the biz- eventually earning the sponsors M.O.M award.
Half time then, and with County 2-0 up, there was much to look forward to in the 45 minutes to follow.
Straight away from the re-start we had something to get excited about, but a decent run from Spencer was regrettably cut short by the dual attentions of Hutchinson and Tyler Weir.
It went on with Spencer again involved, being blocked this time by Thomas. Some neat play followed from County – Duxbury impressing with one of his sorties up the park, and then combining with Sharp to attempt to set Dennis up with a second goal. This failed to reap a reward as did another Spencer effort not long after.
County looked like they wanted that third goal, knowing that it would probably put the Worcester challenge to bed, and they did well...getting forward to good effect , but eventually their opponents rallied again and O`Halloran once again had to be on his metal to stop Jackman from causing mayhem on the end of a long punt by Vaughan. Then the referee took a hand, and Worcester had another free kick, which Hurst could only parry.
This brought Nti back centre stage for a shot, but the crowds ovation was Belezika`s as he beat Williams to the ball, heading clear at the back post. That was a brave and vital bit of work from the County full back under much pressure, but so typical of this County outfit that defends as a unit and thankfully attacks in similar fashion!
It was time for a response from the blues and one came via Churchman who did really well to win the ball under pressure and ferry it clear. The final ball was not half bad either and gave Dennis more than a sniff, but this was nullified by Vaughan`s prompt advance off his line to grab the ball before Dennis could pounce- chance gone!
Another materialised on the hour, only for Geddes to hook the ball clear from under the posts after Gregson had won the ball and sent Sharp clear with an inch perfect pass. As well as the quietly effective defensive work, Gregson gets in some equally impressive work going forward –some of it loaded with surprising finesse.
Dennis has finesse too, and a brilliant dummy from him sent Spencer in with a decent chance not long after, but although well placed Spencer shot early and sent the ball flying off wide!
There was just over 20 minutes left to go, and still Spencer was charging about like a sixteen year old. Perhaps he thought he might be about to be subbed, but he wasn`t- it was Belezika who was replaced by Nathan Woolfe. This was an interesting move and necessitated Lees switching to RB, but it proved that County were serious in wanting that third goal!
|Nathan Woolfe on for Glenn Belezika.|
And they were too....none more so than Spencer who forced Hutchinson to attempt to locate Reservoir 1 in extremis. A corner followed on from the throw and this was a veritable exocet from Milligan and Vaughan went for and missed it, but then so did the onrushing O`Halloran, and it stayed 2-0!
County were warming to their task now, and some of the Worcester defending was a touch desperate at times, evidence a terrible ball from Williams that went straight to Dennis who had a reasonable sight of goal. He was also in close proximity to Hutchinson who promptly fouled him, ending the chance but setting County up with a free kick. Perhaps riled by the previous action.....Dennis took the kick, rather than Milligan who looked interested, and it was an absolute screamer, and was going in when Vaughan launched himself to his left and pushed the ball around the post.
There was massive applause for Milligan as he went to take the corner, and Williams had to hook the ball hurriedly clear from off the line after a spill by Vaughan!
That was good stuff from County, but still that third goal eluded them, and this possibly encouraged Worcester to rally yet again, which with about 12 minutes left they duly did. Jackman started it by blocking a run from Sharp and setting one up himself, but when he passed the ball on to Williams, despite being well set, he sprayed a poor shot wide of goal.
The attacks kept coming now from Worcester, largely engineered by Jackman, and Lees and then Hurst did good work keeping them at bay.
Where was that game killing third goal? Well.....Spencer definitely wanted one ,but Hutchinson did really well to see he did not get it.
With 7 minutes left A.L. gave the highly promising Jordan Lazenbury his debut, replacing Sharp, and he was unlucky almost immediately to see the liners flag up as he darted clear on the end of a through ball.
Into added time we went with keeper Vaughan in something of a tizzy as County kept on his case. The crowd joined in and the youngsters behind the C.E. goal took to the barriers behind the goal with excitement mounting.
They had been warned about pitch encroachment and I never felt that this was remotely a possibility, but it must have added to the keeper`s discomfiture, which I guess was the object! Fair do`s though he rallied to ensure Spencer could not latch onto a long ball at the sharp end. He looked arguably vulnerable deep in added time as the irrepressibly excellent O`Halloran gave us his Gareth Bale impression – his brilliant run only missing out due to the MS liner`s flag!
Even deeper into added time ,and Hurst had to pull off a fantastic save to keep a venomous strike from Nti out....that was a belter it really was, as Worcester tried and tried to get something from the game!
Increasingly though, County were hitting them on the break and Vaughan was not best served by Hutchinson`s back pass with Woolfe on the prowl. Dennis was centimetres from getting to Spencer`s pass from the corner that followed, but no one really cared...the referee had blown for time and the points were ours!
That was an incredibly invigorating win....I know I repeat myself, but....a really impressive team performance! Something is quite definitely stirring just now at the old place....the teams beginning to play, and the crowds are beginning to grow again!
Great stuff, see you at Solihull on Saturday- the Flyer leaves at 11.00!
County line up:
Hurst, Belezika ( Woolfe 67), Gregson, O`Halloran, Duxbury, Milligan, Churchman, Lees, Sharp( Lazenbury 83), Dennis, Spencer.
Subs not used;
Ormson, Fagbola, Todd.
Worcester City line up;
Vaughan, Williams, Weir, Hutchinson, Thomas, Jackman, Nti, Denney, Wright, Geddes, Gater.
Udoh, Veiga , Gudger, McDermott, Lemon.
Attendance : 2448