County 2 Brackley Town 1 ( Conference North) 8 November 2014
County`s striker shorn side fought their way to a sixth successive home league win at Edgeley Park last night against struggling Brackley Town, in a game that contained massive highs in the shape of two prodigiously good County goals, and long periods of tedium.
OK.......it was a curates egg of a game, but the 2-1 win was brilliant news for County`s long suffering supporters, and the manner of its execution yet more confirmation of County`s freshly minted ability to kill games off at the death in a manner that would have been altogether impossible say 18 months ago! To be fair, the game was not quite the shoo-in that many considered it to be , and Brackley gave us a decent battle....well organised and tight at the back, if somewhat limited going forward. County found them very difficult to break down......it took 60 minutes in fact for the blues to prise the first goal from the visitors, but it was a real belter....another real belter....from Richie Baker. Drama and pathos by the bucket load followed for County youngster Jordan Fagbola , as handball by him and County`s inability to fashion a clearance from the resultant free kick, teed Ryan Austin up for a shock equaliser with 15 minutes left.I rather thought that that might just be that for County`s prospects of taking the full quota of points, until up popped Fagbola to salvage the situation with a pin point cross that the industrious Spencer put away with massive aplomb a yard or so out, in the 91st minute!
The place exploded, at that point, as well it might, as there was scarcely any time left to play, and 3 very welcome points were ours- we had not folded under late pressure......not given goals away for fun, instead County had shown real steel and earned the appropriate reward!
Back at 3 o`clock I was chirpy......unusually chirpy actually, and the reason was a glance at the team sheet that showed me that Andy Owens, a very decent player indeed and one I have long since admired , was in the County line up thanks to Alan Lord`s foresight and backing from the Players Fund! I was also not that displeased to see that Billy Turley was between the sticks for the visitors, as putting club partisanship aside briefly, he is usually tremendous value- a constant` chirper’ with an impish sense of humour! Bring it on I thought, maybe the absence of strikers Dennis and Sharp would not prove too damaging after all!
There were changes in County`s line up.....four of them.....Ian Ormson replacing Danny Hurst in goal, Belezika and Fagbola coming in for Churchman and Gregson, whist new boy Andy Owens took Dennis`s place up front. Four at the back then, but one with a small surprise namely that Fagbola was wide left with O`Halloran inside along with Lees.
The game got underway with Brackley attacking probably more in hope than expectation, and a hopeful dive by Shaun Jeffers, under pressure from O`Halloran , was about as subtle as a Steven Toast ` Prostitutes & Celebrities Blow Football Tournament’ but not as funny, and was the sole point of interest in an otherwise incident starved first few minutes. No penalty resulted, but it took a few more minutes and a strong challenge from Belezika to stop the Brackley forward push. Top scorer Ryan Rowe did get a header in, on 7 minutes, but Ormson was not at all troubled by this, as I looked for a response from County.
This took barely a minute to come about and a good ball from Baker saw to it that Lee Stevenson had the ball and within sniffing distance of goal. Alas.....I started celebrating too soon though, as Lee`s shot climbed over the goal into the empty Railway End.
Things livened up a tad on 11 minutes thanks to a 50/50 ball that saw Baker and Dwayne Samuels come together – a blur of legs, arms and mud! As I say....I saw it as 50/50, but the referee didn`t and, for the county man, a lecture followed , but no card which surprised me due to the referee`s body language! Oh...and the free kick was easily dealt with by Lees and O`Halloran.
It had taken a while, but ...at the quarter hour mark, it was possible to say that the blue mid field of Moses, Baker and Milligan was showing signs of gelling nicely- further forward there was little or no indication of any fireworks emerging, but anyway it was early doors, and I perhaps needed to rein in the ambition a bit, and Baker made this a touch easier to do by leaning back and lifting his shot wide when well set.
By the twentieth minute it was becoming clear that Baker was irking the visitors more than somewhat, in any event I think that they had identified him as a threat and set their stall out accordingly- Rowe doing a particularly irritating bit of stall setting, with a Jeffers style fall to earth within a fag papers width of young Ritchie. It was good vaudevillian stuff and might have been accepted as being just that, had he then not sidled alongside Baker and put his head almost touching the County man`s in an obvious and odious attempt to provoke a response. Fortunately Baker didn`t react so the forward`s infantile machinations went unrewarded.
A Spencer effort( blocked just inside the box) and an early chance to see one of Andy Owens` trademark long throws( headed out) gave us some relief from what was becoming a rather lack lustre game. Spencer however was working as hard as he ever does ( which is very hard indeed), and it was disappointing to see a corner won by him, and a brief melee in front of Turley`s goal, end with the visiting keeper still not having had a shot to stop after 23 minutes.
Two minutes on from the last action- Brackley had worked the ball clear after a back header by Fagbola had put them under pressure. Suddenly, and perhaps inevitably, the unfortunate Baker and Samuels came together again with predictable consequences, namely Samuels came off the worst! This time Baker was booked which ushered in a free kick to the visitors which was headed clear by Owens.
Baker would have to be careful from now on, but there was no immediate sign of him being overly so, as he combined neatly with Belezika and Milligan down the right. The end product....2 crosses from Milligan and a header from Stevenson failed to trouble Turley, but at least he was being forced to work now!
Yes.....I was encouraged....and it went on as cooperation between Belezika, Milligan and Spencer down the right ended with an effort from Milligan that was not that far short of being successful! Meanwhile at the other end of the park Jeffers was well short of success with a poor effort that gave Ormson no problems at all. The problem for County was that he had been allowed to slink through our seemingly tight defences, but County would surely address this issue and ensure no repetition!
Next.... a Milligan effort, set up by Fagbola, was well covered by the red/ white striped ranks at the Railway End, giving Brackley the chance to hit us on the break ,which they did through Rowe who ,despite the attentions of O`Halloran, managed to get a shot off. It had goal written right through it, and was on its way in alright, but Ormson did magnificently well in response, to tip the ball over the bar at the last gasp! That was brilliant stuff from the young County keeper, and it only needed Ryan Austin to head wide from the corner and the moment was complete. It was only the moment though, as Rowe was quickly back on the scene again and it took a good block from Fagbola to stop the forward improving on his previous effort.
We were 5 minutes away from the break now, as Spencer failed to force a cross from Stevenson home from close in- still Turley had not really been tested ,which was disappointing....whilst at the other end Rowe was getting more and more uppity- a shot from him drifting agonisingly inches wide, after he had jinked his way past 2 or 3 blue shirts in the box!
County responded after this....Owens seeing a shot deflected wide....whilst Milligan and Belezika probed energetically without reward ...Spencer came closest yet, but he saw his shot come back out off one of a number of legs in the box, as the half ended with Milligan and Spencer still trying to work an opening but not managing to do so.
Brackley`s play continued to belie their reputation for up-front ineptitude after the break, but it was action at the other end that took the eye the most, as Samuels had to work his socks off to prevent Owens applying a finish to a Belezika cross a yard or so out! I liked that.....and Stevenson kept the endorphins on the rise by keeping an unlikely ball in play and a move alive shortly after. Again Owens got involved and his shot took a deflection gaining us a corner. This skidded harmlessly away off a blue head but that mattered little- something was stirring in the County engine room at last.
The last action, though encouraging, did not signal the end of hostilities from Brackley however, indeed cross after cross pinged over from Chris Carruthers and Samuels from both flanks causing County more than a moments discomfiture-Lees doing well to block Jeffers, and Fagbola in action similarly to prevent Carruthers from putting another cross into the danger zone.
Stevenson added County punctuation to this Brackley sentence, and he was unlucky not to get more than he did on the end of a decent ball from Baker, but it was not long before the Brackley forward push was re-energised via Sam Whittall who was in position to apply his head to a long ball, sending Jeffers scooting clear. It was a chance .....for sure, and the forward did his best to put it away, but Ormson earned his corn by getting a hand to the ball and pushing the shot out! That was probably a game changing moment....but we had no time to ponder this as Brackley were in our faces again, and O`Halloran did well to usher the ball out as a free kick whizzed into the box at speed. Yes.....the pressure was on County, and much of it stemmed from the free kicks that they were conceding and another one headed Ormson`s way next. It had Rowe`s name on it alright, but with the lively number nine shaping up for it with growing interest, Fagbola intervened and wellied the ball clear.
Then...... with the Brackley storm clouds showing no signs of abating........they suddenly did, and the bringer of light was again County`s impressive captain Jamie Milligan, and a beaut of a cross from him whizzed over from the left landing smack in front of Turley`s goal where a headlong dive from Baker saw him head the ball home and give County the lead. Baker`s celebrations are renowned for being as exceptional as the goals he scores and this was another for his collection as he regained his feet and rushed towards the Cheadle End his face wreathed in ecstatic smiles! Great stuff!
Credit to Brackley....they did not promptly give up the ghost after this, indeed they had a go at reversing their fortunes- Owens having to head one corner away, and Ormson in action dealing with a Whittall header from another. Over elaboration at the back added to County`s apparent difficulties at this stage, and Ebby Nelson-Addy should have done better than he did when gifted the ball by overly generous blue defending.
Eventually the storm seemed to have abated, and Fagbola even managed to get forward down the left again – Owen just kept out by keen work from Tom Sharpe, and then the clouds descended once again when handball by Fagbola saw him booked and ushered in another decently positioned free kick to the visitors. At first it looked like the crisis had been sorted as the first shot was blocked...and a quick follow up.....but the ball was still in and around the County box and no one applied boot to ball and sent it elsewhere. Enter Ryan Austin ....and the Town captain made no mistake slotting his shot home to give his side a shock equaliser, with less than 15 minutes left!
Things got a tad jittery after this ....an Ormson clearance somehow landing at the feet of Samuels, who was thereafter only just kept out by a posse of concerned blue defenders.
Milligan, who shortly before had been unlucky not to reach Stevenson with a real tempter, raised the small siege again carrying the ball up the park out of danger with the help of Moses who still looked in decent nick, ferreting for possession hungrily. Spencer looked on to make something out of all this, but Carruthers had other ideas finding touch with something altogether more unwholesome beckoning! The throw from this was good, and Baker got on the end of it nicely, only to see Turley positioned perfectly to make the save and keep it at 1-1.
Into the last 10 minutes we went with Woolfe now on for Stevenson, as Rowe shot wide for Brackley, and Baker saw Turley again deny his efforts to double his and County`s goal tally.
Five minutes left....and County had another free kick to defend ....then another......both somehow kept out!
Two minutes to go and the gates of Calamity City threatened to open as a slip by Ormson sent substitute Will Green clear with the goal at his mercy! Now ...this really was a shoo-in......and his shot sped towards the empty net with 2458 of the 2475 present in deep trauma watching the action. It was a goal wasn`t it ? It really was.......but ....hey.....what`s this....Stephen O`Halloran emerged ( Caped Crusader like) from the early evening murk, to hook the ball clear from under the bar! So....so typical of an excellent player, and that definitely was another game changing moment, as within a couple of minutes, County had the game won!
County piled forward after that escape seemingly determined to snatch victory from the jaws of unlikely defeat, but despite great efforts from Lees... Belezika, and of course Milligan- there seemed to be no way through a very resolute Brackley defence. Enter Jordan Fagbola, stage left, and his powerful run took him to within feet of the edge of the box where he side footed an immaculate cross to the far post where Spencer met it slamming the fiercest of finishes home to win the game for County!
There was still time for Brackley to attack once more...and Lees to fashion a clearance, but it was not long before the referee blew for time to confirm County`s win.
For us to win in this fashion with resources sorely stretched, and us not playing that well, is reassuring and testimony to the good job that A.L. and his staff are doing. The players are contributing magnificently too- at last we have a side willing and able to scrap for points, and the supporters like that, certainly I do.
On to next Saturday and another home game against Hednesford ,when Chris Sharp will be in contention for selection again after suspension. Looking forward to that one!
After the game I took myself off to the Help the Hatters Community Bonfire at the Bung, and a brilliant event it was as well. An account of that event with loads of pics will appear in the Help the Hatters Update early this week. My attendance at the Bung delayed this report ,and there may be a Sunday publishing date next week as the Supporters Cooperative`s Band Night at the Bung , featuring Super Fuzz , The Mantells, and an acoustic set from Rodger Wylde and Tom Bennett ,in support of the Players Fund, goes ahead at 7 next Saturday after the Hednesford game!
County line up;
Ormson, Belezika, Lees, O`Halloran, Fagbola, Moses, Milligan, Baker, Stevenson ( Woolfe 82),Owens, Spencer.
Substitutes not used:
Hurst, Churchman, Lazenbury, Lofthouse.
Brackley Town line up;
Turley, Samuels, Carruthers, Eddie Odhiambo, Sharpe, Austin, Nelson –Addy, Whittall, Rowe, Jeffers, Mc Donald.
Built, Pearson, Eric Odhiambo, Curtis, Green.
Attendance : 2475