County 5 Gloucester City 3 ; ( Conference North) 4 October 2014
What a game this was.....but County ,who were 4-0 up and cruising deep into the second half, rather let standards slip later on , conceding 3 goals in the last 10 minutes to eventually come out 5-3 winners. There were mitigating circumstances , in that County`s previously immaculate defence went through a major re-shuffle as injury to Duxbury and Gregson brought Fagbola and Moses into the action, but Gloucester persevered and capitalised fully on the disruption occasioned by the personnel shake up. Baker had also gone off, being replaced by Woolfe, and this change had much the same effect on the effectiveness of the midfield, and in the end County were happy to hear the whistle, comforted in the knowledge that 3 more points were theirs buttressing the blue push for promotion nicely.
Having pointed out the late lapses, I must also flag up what went before, and much of it was first class. The defence, with Lees, O`Halloran and Gregson in imperious form, and Duxbury firing on all cylinders, threatened a shut- out. In front of them Milligan took a time to put his stamp on proceedings, but when he did....he did, having a big hand in 3 of the goals , one of which was a superbly executed penalty by him. Superbly executed goals abounded though.....from Baker who brilliantly headed Milligan`s corner home.....from Sharp who nearly broke the net to make it 2-0, and then 2 beauties from Stevenson and Dennis.
Credit to City however....they kept plugging away and never gave up. I made Charlie Griffin and substitute Chris Jones the visitor`s top men, and Danny Hurst was made to pull off a clutch of impressive saves to keep County`s ship afloat late in the game.
There was a small shock at 3`o`clock as it became apparent that County were to kick towards the Cheadle End in the first half. This was an irritation, but it was reassuring to see both Dennis and Stevenson get early touches. Unfortunately so did Hurst, and he had to be alert to deal with a cross from Billy Jones, the City captain.
That small trauma put to bed, we then had excitement at the other end of the park where Stevenson wheedled his way past Matt Williams within shooting distance of goal. It was a notional chance, but not for long because Peter Gibbons, an extremely poor referee, saw a push and put an end to the raid.
Gloucester got in County`s faces after this.....Griffin unlucky with one effort, and Tim Webb less so shortly after as he body checked Hurst with possession not in contention! Throughout all this Gregson, back in the side after injury, looked like he had never been away – his silkily smooth play a constant feature, and Lees was not far behind either supplementing decent defending with some impressive play going forward.
Somewhat surprisingly however, much of the play continued to be in the County half, and Hurst was probably relieved that no more than minimal venom was leant by Matt Groves into his shot, some 12 minutes in, which he dealt with confidently.
It went on much in the same vein with City trying to get an early goal and County resisting all moves to make it so, and the small band of travelling fans at the far end of the Pop Side, must have been disappointed to see Lewis Hogg`s header fly over the bar after Groves had sneaked a corner from nothing.
The first sign of a County response came 14 minutes in , but Paul White ,the City keeper, was on his toes and did well to smother Dennis`s shot. A minute later Baker joined the fray and his neat pass saw Sharp in the clear, but a fine tackle by Sam Avery stopped the raid dead.
For 5 minutes after this, both teams took turns at testing the other without suggesting that a goal was imminent......20.....21......22 minutes had gone with Gloucester still seeming to get more of the ball than I had thought possible prior to the game- Tim Webb even bundled the ball into the net after 26 minutes, but the liner had long since flagged for off side and nobody was at all surprised to see it stay 0-0.
It was high time for a further response from the blues and ,through Duxbury and Sharp, one duly followed as the pair tore into the right side of the City back line.- Duxbury`s being the final input as he won a corner. Enter captain Milligan at the corner flag, and he delivered a ball of supreme accuracy into the danger zone where Richie Baker applied one of his specialist finishes, sending a brilliant header way beyond White into the net to make it 1-0.
The flood gates threatened to open for County next as, first off, Stevenson `s surging run was cut short by the arrival of Adam Connolly on the edge of the box. From arguably being on top, City were clearly struggling now , and they only just survived another Milligan corner ,again gifted via another menacing run from Duxbury , but he took a knock during this action and would pay a price later.
On.....on.....County went with a foul on Baker, by Billy Jones , teeing Milligan up for another set piece which needed a good block from Williams to keep a shot from Dennis out! It was corner none the less and White flapped at this unconvincingly, with County piling forward. Both Lees and Sharp had shots charged down, and Sharp`s effort seemed to strike the Jones arm, but the referee thought otherwise, and we watched therefore as Connolly eased the City angst by wellying the pill up the park.
Shortly after this WW2 and a half, almost broke out thanks to an iffy tackle by Churchman. I thought it looked a foul and was not surprised at the yellow card that followed, but the handbags were perhaps an accessory too many!
Gloucester continued to play some decent football at times, and O`Halloran did well to stem the tide as the visitors hit the blues on the break.
I was still luxuriating in the excellence of the County defending when Lees turned that defence into attack with a sweet ball that saw Sharp past his man and away. He was just at the edge of the box when he judged it correct to shoot, and was he right!
Wow...... a thunderous drive followed beating White in the blink of an eye, and it would have been off past Moscow Road and beyond had the netting not been in its path! That was simply fantastic...it was also 2-0, which was pretty fantastic too, but there was no further addition to the score – the half ending with Baker unlucky not to prosper on the end of another prompt from the enterprising Lees.
Into the second half we went then ....score still 2-0.......Gloucester still trying their best to make some kind of a dent in the blue hegemony, but the early action once again saw the County back line in fine form, none more so than O`Halloran who did really well to stop the rot when danger threatened.
We were 5 minutes into the half when Dennis went to ground over the legs of a defender. At first I thought the referee had waved play on so offered “ well....I`d have given it”, but I was joking......from where I sat it looked a tad dubious, but the referee was now pointing to the spot and County had a penalty, which Milligan put away with some style!
Shortly after this Duxbury succumbed to injury, being replaced by Fagbola, and not long after that 3-0 became 4-0.
Milligan had just missed out, sliding a fine free kick inches wide......and Gloucester had replied pushing County onto the back foot, when the ball reached Sharp and he lifted a deliciously weighted ball over the defence for Stevenson to run onto. There was a bit to do, with Williams tracking him, but Stevenson made light of his task, drilling a peach of a shot into the net. That was a real belter......another real belter, and there promised to be more to come!
County were buzzing after this for a time....even so Hurst had to pick the ball up out of his net ,just before the hour mark, but no goal had resulted as Griffin had fouled the County keeper en route.
A foul by Milligan on Groves put the pressure squarely back on the blues, and Hurst did terrifically well to pull off a save and keep his clean sheet intact from this and the subsequent corner.
Then Gregson `took one for the team’ sticking a leg out to upend Webb, just outside the box. He got a yellow and Gloucester a free kick which again was central and not that far out. Hogg took this whacking a mighty effort smack on target, only to find Hurst in position to fling himself upwards and backwards to tip the ball over the bar!
.....The visitors started to ring the personnel changes at this point, and one of these saw Chris Jones on for George Miller and this put some added beef in the City attack, and twice Griffin went close in rapid succession.
County continued to defend well however ,and make decent headway a time or two when breaking from a defensive position- Dennis doing particularly well having been sent clear by an intuitive ball from Baker. Dennis was promptly clattered by Mark Richards, and it looked a card worthy effort from the man in yellow and black, but he had already been booked and the referee bottled it, and contented himself with a
County free kick and a word of admonishment to the miscreant! The kick was a neat variation by Milligan, which he played short to Dennis who was unlucky to see his shot blocked, but Stevenson was even more unlucky as when the ball ran clear to him, and he looked on in anguish to see his shot rattle the post and come out!
It got interesting after this with Webb wasting a chance by lifting his shot high over the bar at one end, whilst Stevenson only just missed out on the end of yet another tasty offering from the impressive Baker at the other. This was Baker`s last contribution ,as he was then replaced by Woolf, and 5 minutes later Gregson gave way to Tunji Moses.
Moses stationed himself to the left of O`Halloran, Lees and Fagbola, but within a couple of minutes , under pressure from Chris Jones, a barely warmed up Moses slipped allowing his man to cross into the box, where Griffin headed home from close in, to make it 4-1.
Saves by both Hurst and White followed the City goal, but with about 8 minutes remaining all seemed well for a comfortable County victory still, but I had not reckoned with the referee, and his next decision was about as convincing as this week`s article in the Independent which would have us believe that the Shark, one of the planet`s top predators, is in fact really very sociable,
indeed the Spotted Cat Shark ( Scylierhinus Canicula) is a particularly good mixer apparently! I refer of course to the dive by Chris Jones that Mr Gibbons saw as a foul by Moses. This ushered in another gilt edger for City, the kick again being smack in front, but once more Hurst played the bad host and dived to tip a blistering kick over the top. County must still have been luxuriating over that last action when the corner came over and Hogg nipped in at the back post to head home and punish them.
That was disappointing, but this was allayed somewhat by the sight of County getting a free kick as a stray elbow sent Moses heading off towards the Main Stand press box. The kick was about level with the half way line, but it was an absolute beauty again from Milligan and picked out Dennis with uncanny precision. Dennis wasted no time at all, in fact he lashed it first time into the net to general astonishment.
It was 5-2 now and, with just 3 minutes left, surely game over, but no one bothered to tell City who were determined to fight on. That said....Dennis and Stevenson did go close for County in the dying embers of normal time, but somehow Gloucester`s never say die spirit paid off, as they continued to battle on , thwarted by Hurst and others who blocked shot after shot, to pull another one back when Matt Groves stole in to score from close in.
Not much more could happen then could it now....except it did........Hurst had to pull off another belter to deny Hogg, who then made contact with Hurst in his follow through. Now.....I thought that there was contact, but not that much, but the referee had other ideas and waved a red card in Hogg`s direction.
Surely then THIS.....would signal the end of the excitement....but no......twice Griffin went looking for another goal, the second time he perhaps should have got one rather than send his shot tamely wide, but that`s what he did and that was just about that for this remarkable game!
With a very tough away game at Oxford on Tuesday to look forward to....all eyes will now be on the County treatment table in the hope that all our key players will be fit and ready for that game and the FA Cup clash with Ilkeston that follows on Saturday.
County line up:
Hurst, Lees, Gregson( Moses 77), O`Halloran, Duxbury ( Fagbola 52), Churchman, Milligan, Baker ( Woolfe 72),Stevenson, Dennis, Sharp.
Subs not used:
Gloucester City line up;
White, Avery, B Jones, Richards, Williams, Connolly, Hogg, Webb, Griffin, Miller, Groves.
Hamilton, Rivers, C Jones, Modest, Greenway.