County 3 Hednesford Town 0 ( Conference North) 15 November 2014
County swept to what was in the end a most convincing victory against a Hednesford side that gave them a real game especially in the first half. Thankfully.....whilst seemingly out gunned in the early part of the game, County, after keeping their powder dry for 20 odd minutes , emerged to strike the most lethal of blows , via the most lethal of strikers- Scott Spencer, in one of not very many County raids in this period.
It was enough to send the blues in at the break one up, and thereafter, with Chris Sharp on , giving the County attack an extra edge that was altogether too good for Hednesford , the blues went on to take the game with further goals from Baker and Milligan from the spot, after Spencer had been hauled to the ground by Francisco Francis.
It was great stuff but not just a tale of forward dominance ......others shone too.....Ormson was excellent between the sticks – a late sliced clearance the only blemish on an otherwise top notch display. Then there was Milligan and Moses- both simply oozing assurance, that could not fail to rub off on others. If O`Halloran was another bright light in the gathering autumnal gloom, so were Baker and Stevenson to a slightly lesser degree. In fact I thought no one let A.L. down in what I repeat was a most convincing win in the end!
It was not that Hednesford were a bad side...they certainly and patently were not, but the change in County this term....the first that A.L. has had his own side out there, is palpable- we now do not cow tow to teams that come to EP and strut their stuff! No... County now have enough bottle and wherewithal to sit out any storms and thereafter claim the points with an ever increasing ruthless streak, that is starting to warm the cockells of this gnarled old has-been`s heart!
Taking Tuesday`s Cheshire Senior Cup side as the template, there were 3 changes in the County starting eleven- Fagbola, Woolfe and Lofthouse were out, whilst back came Milligan, Gregson and Spencer in their place. I was expecting a tough game to be sure taking the visitors recent form into account along with the evidence on view when we shared the points at their place not that long ago. So....it was no surprise to see Town on the attack early on- Gregson and O`Halloran getting good defensive work in, denying the deceptively rotund Steve Diggin, who`s mobility bellied his girth! Ben Bailey`s girth was trim to invisible compared to Diggin`s but he fared no better- getting a shot in, but lifting it high into the Cheadle End.
A free kick from Milligan, that did not cause keeper Dan Crane, or his co-defenders, any trouble, before it was Belezika`s turn to block Diggin`s path to goal and usher him out of the danger zone. This he did, but it was not long before Town were back in County`s last third again, and Gregson did well to head a cross from James Hurst out. Again though.....back came Town –James Osbourne shooting narrowly wide after Ormson, Lees and Diggin had all missed out as a cross came over.
Hurst was joining Diggin by this point as a danger man for Hednesford, but although his run moments later took him beyond Moses and O`Halloran, he fluffed the resultant chance by scuffing his shot and sending it wide of the target!
Hmm.....I was beginning to get a tad angst ridden, and so early! What we needed was a response from County, but instead Diggin treated us to another run that offered his side more than a slight chance of something good, until Lees entered stage right with a near perfect slider that sent the ball out of play and the man flying! Great stuff ....and perfectly legal too!
It went on with County barely getting a kick, as Hednesford piled forward in numbers- Diggin getting on the end of a dangerous through ball from Richard Batchelor. It was another moment not at all recommended for those of an overly nervous disposition, but again County produced the man to match the moment, and this time it was Tunji Moses, and he did incredibly well to stop the return pass from Diggin arriving with Batchelor!
This ushered in a Hednesford throw and an overhead kick from Danny Glover, but Ormson had no trouble in dealing with this, and it stayed 0-0.
Twenty one...two....three minutes had passed and still it was pretty much all Hednesford- twice Diggin had slipped clear of his markers to twice be flagged offside for his pains, and twice more Lees had had to man the barricades in the face of mounting odds- doing it with cool assurance both times!
We were at the half way point in the first half and it was then that County at last showed us what they could do, as a quite excellent move saw the ball fly effortlessly between Lees, Milligan, Baker, and then on to Owens. It was encouraging stuff alright, but more and better followed, as the ball ended up with Spencer who darted clear. In a trice he was one on one with Crane, and in another he wasn`t because he had slid the ball under the keeper into the net. I think Crane did get something on it, but not enough and an almighty roar followed....County had the lead....how good was that?
Pretty good actually, but there was still a game to be played and Town were seemingly in no mood to concede defeat just yet, and Tom Thorley went close twice in quick succession, but without giving Ormson a moment`s anxiety. Then Glover had a go- requiring a totally brilliant tackle from O`Halloran to stop his run.
A brief Owens/ Stevenson cooperation , came within a whisker of lighting Spencer`s fuse again, but this was a short break in the procession of Hednesford attacks we were watching as Gregson did mightily well to stop the irrepressible Diggin.
There was no doubting in all this, that County were in good nick defensively speaking, and the 33 rd minute showed this to the full as Batchelor set his sights on a shot at goal, only to see County deny him this, and force him out of harm`s way after a fruitless traversing of the edge of the box.
Half time was getting closer, and still Diggin was hauling his great bulk hither and thither, this time forcing Moses to get seriously active to stop him reaching a high bouncer in the box! It was a lot of pressure from Town....a whole lot......but did County give the air of a team likely to crumble under it? To answer my own question......no they did not, and we got a small glimpse next of what might be on the cards later on, as a Moses shot whistled inches wide of the post after Hednesford had struggled to clear an Owens throw.
The next few minutes of the half turned out to be County`s best by far, and the old place was in uproar with no more than 2 minutes left to play when Francis appeared to place a back pass directly into keeper Crane`s hands under pressure from Owens. The referee consulted the liner and County were denied a direct free kick, but from my vantage point at the far end of the ground and with Francis having his back to us...could I really claim with certainty that we had been robbed?
Francis`s day didn`t improve any time soon either, and he only just survived a scare ,when Stevenson harassed an error out of him!
Just to remind us that they were still about and still looking for that vital first goal however, Hednesford ended the half on the front foot- Ormson in response doing particularly well to win an aerial dual with Bailey, and then smother the last shot of the half from Diggin!
Considering what had gone before, 1-0 was very definitely a good position to be in at the break, and offered us a spring board to do even better in the second half.
With Chris Sharp on for Andy Owens for County after the break, things looked set fair for an upsurge in County`s fortunes, but this outcome did not immediately look on, as it was again Hednesford who were on the attack in the opening minutes- Ormson doing really well to make what was an exceptional save from a fierce drive from Francis that took a wicked deflection en-route! This was followed by vital interventions by O`Halloran and Lees.
Things were beginning to stir for County though ......Sharp was not far away from reaching a Stevenson pass, and Stevenson himself had a shot saved by Crane not long after, but Town were by no means done- Moses earning a booking keeping one raid out, whilst Belezika and Baker earned applause in dealing with another.
As I say though.....County were beginning to tick now, and Sharp was providing a welcome cutting edge to the moves that were now coming from the blue mid field. Spencer proved conclusively however that not all the good stuff emanated from midfield, and his through ball saw Sharp dash through on the left, only stopped by a tasty last gasper from Hurst that saw the ball head off towards Reservoir 1. Yes....it was really warming up now, and oh so disappointing to see Spencer just short of reaching a cross cum shot from Milligan.
I was becoming irritated (“ surely not” I hear you exclaim!) at the referee by this point as he was constantly interrupting play for free kicks that neither side seemed to be expecting! Still......County had to ignore this and get on with the matter of winning this game, and Baker played his part winning a corner as his shot was charged down by Bailey. Milligan got a gratifyingly thunderous round of applause from the Cheadle End when he went to take the corner, but it was cleared fairly easily and Hednesford did half a good job of hitting us on the break as a result! The good bit was the clearance and the fact that Walker had set a neat chance up for Glover, but the visitors number nine fluffed it, not forcing Ormson to make a save in response.
We were 20 minutes from the end now, and we needed a second goal if nerve endings were not to start fraying soon, but Sharp was the merest whisker from getting to a Milligan ball in the box- beaten to it at the last gasp by Crane! County were getting into gear now, none more so than Stevenson but Crane somehow managed to beat his goal bound shot out, after one....two....three crosses from Sharp had gnawed away at Hednesford like a vulture would a rotting corpse!
But this was no corpse facing County , although the Town back line were beginning to look a touch shell shocked- Hurst knowing precious little about the header he made to keep an incoming Milligan corner out!
On it went with Milligan supervising a sweeping move that saw a Sharp shot charged down in the box. A foul ushered in a County free kick next and it was a good one from Milligan, but only served to show what a decent keeper Crane was as he came out with the ball under a mountain of pressure from Gregson and Baker.
There were 15 minutes left now, and still we needed another County goal to make victory certain, and it came with a touch of class from Lee Stevenson who rounded Francis , before pausing....looking around, and then sliding an inch perfect pass across the box to Baker who slammed it home to double the County advantage!
That was really good stuff, but still Hednesford did not take the hint, and kept on plugging away gamely, and Ormson gave us his second world class stop next ,flinging himself to his right to spectacularly push a blistering shot from Hurst around the post, after the cruellest of deflections. That really was top class keeping!
If that was arguably a game changer from Ormson, his next action unquestionably was as with less than 10 minutes left, the young keeper treated us to one of his emerging specialities- a dangerous long ball offering his forwards a sniff of goal! It was a corker, and Spencer was on it like croc would a Wildebeest! He had the unfortunate Francis for company, and an even more unfortunate lean by him sent the Stockport man crashing to the ground within sight of goal. It was a clear penalty, the only question being, would Francis go or stay? He stayed, and that was about right, what counted was that Milligan kept his cool and dispatched the spot kick way beyond Crane`s dive to give County a 3-0 lead!
County were really on song now- Moses trying and failing to beat Crane with a speculative effort......Sharp again just short of reaching a dangerous ball, this time from Ormson, and unlucky with a snap shot after a lovely flowing move involving five or six County players.
Credit to Hednesford...they continued to work at getting a goal, knowing full well that it would just be a consolation effort, but County continued to resist sturdily, although they might have conceded in added time had Paul Sullivan done better than scoop his shot over the bar from close in.
They were still working at that elusive goal when the referee`s whistle told us the game was over and the points were County`s.
A massive ovation awaited the County team at the end, and it was thoroughly well deserved sending us to Tuesday`s game at Chorley in fine fettle!
Well done boys....see you Tuesday!
County line up:
Ormson, Belezika, Lees , Gregson, O`Halloran, Moses, Milligan ( Woolfe 85), Baker ( Churchman 84),Stevenson, Owens ( Sharp 45 ), Spencer.
Subs not used:
Hednesford Town line up:
Crane, Hurst, Campion, Bailey, Francis, Thorley, Osbourne, Walker ( Love 85) , Glover, Diggin( Sullivan 61), Batchelor( Robinson 74).
Subs not used: