County Development Squad 2 Curzon Ashton 1 ( Lancashire League Cup QF) 5 November 2014

With fire crackers ,rockets and other small explosive devices going off in SK3 and around, it was great to get to the relative tranquillity of Edgeley Park , where, with winter at last showing us its opening hand, County`s Development Squad secured a League Cup Semi-Final place with a 2-1 win against a lively and skilful Curzon Ashton side.
As the score line suggests ......this was no shoo in.....the visitors came to play.....did....scored a belter to lead 1-0 at the break, and thereafter made life difficult for a County side with a few first teamers on show. In the end this experience told however, and 2 goals from ex Curzon man Kristian Dennis saw the blues through to a last four encounter with Nelson at Little Wembley!

2 Goals for Kristian Dennis & a decent game for Jordan Lazenbury.
All round this was a fairly solid performance from County, with Jordan Fagbola and Glenn Belezika adding extra steel to that of Wes Benjamin and Connor Hancock at the back. The back four worked well together and I was again impressed with Benjamin who moved over to left sided defence in the second half , when the equally impressive Hancock was subbed, having spent the first on the right. Further forward there was some good football on show, much of it stemming from George Blackwell whose speed off the mark and close skills stood out alongside Jordan Lazenbury`s eye for a pass!

Even allowing for the obvious counter attractions, it was disappointing to see so few seated in the main stand as the game got underway, the first 5 minutes passing with both sides tentatively probing the other-Adam Bezzina`s run being the closest, at this point, to lively action  , and he was ushered from the danger zone immaculately by Glenn Belezika. The visitors then stepped up the tempo somewhat, and Wes Benjamin did well to cut Sam Mc Mahon off as he threatened in the box. The pressure was not off though, and a cheaply conceded free kick put it back on again , and it was un-nerving to see the ball nestling in the net behind Billy Worthington`s back, after the kick had whizzed in from the left . One nil to Curzon at this stage would have been a real blow, but the situation was averted by the near side liner who had his flag up for some infringement or other- it stayed 0-0!
I assumed `offside’ as the explanation for the last action, and when Dennis nipped clear with a sight of goal ,within a minute, County received some of the same as the Pop Side liner followed suit- raising his flag in the mist shrouded gloom at the far side of the stadium.

Charlie Russell on the ball....

Both sides had a tendency to concede free kicks – Benjamin did so twice in the first 10 minutes, but sensibly addressed the issue thereafter. County`s opponents made little of the second kick , but when Charlie Russell`s through ball sent George Blackwell clear, and he threaded it on to Dennis, an altogether more dangerous situation revealed itself as the County number nine was tripped by Josh Logan ,giving County a free kick in a decent scoring position.

Dennis in action.
 Game on.....yes......but Dennis`s neatly placed kick was easily dealt with by keeper Cameron Mason, and for now the game remained scoreless.
With 15 minutes gone, it was clear that County would have to work for their rewards in this game, and with Danny Tavanas, Sam McMahon and Connor Robinson showing good skills and an eye for getting in the box for Curzon, these jollies were far from being certain! County were doing their best to get an early bonus it must be said, but again Mason denied them with a decent save to keep Mike Hampson out on the end of a neat move involving Connor Hancock and Kristian Dennis. Mason was in good nick between the sticks for the Lancashire side, and he was there again shortly after holding onto a strike from the lively George Blackwell.
Connor Hancock covers a move....

If County were perhaps playing the better quality football, the game continued to offer Curzon more than the odd tit bit to keep them interested- Benjamin and Hancock doing well to block Robinson and Bezzina respectively.
On it went with Lofthouse, County`s captain, shooting wide, but an altogether better chance came shortly after this set up by a neat pass from Jordan Lazenbury to Dennis. From Dennis this quickly went to Hampson whose shot missed the target with Mason exposed.

free kick from Dennis
Five minutes of pressure came next from the visitors and Blackwell showed his defensive capabilities with a good block to deny Tavanas  as he latched onto a flick on from Bezzina. Russell joined in doing just enough to put Sam McMahon off as his close control threatened to undermine County`s confidence. Tavanas meanwhile managed to slip past Hancock, and looked a danger in the box until Fagbola tracked back and stopped the rot with a cool intervention!

Hancock & Lazenbury in concert.
County pushed on after this with Lazenbury and Benjamin making impressive runs  which took both to the by-line-Lazenbury unlucky to see Mason and a clutch of defenders on the line block Dennis on the end of his cross, and Benjamin similarly served as the corner his run won, eluded Dennis at the back of the box.
Between both the above mentioned sorties a crunching tackle by ex Fleetwood youngster Jake Parker, left Connor Hancock limping and earned the former a booking. I have to say at this point that I thought the referee Jason Jarrett had a good game- yours truly not getting so much as a single red mist visitation throughout the match as a consequence!
Meanwhile....County kept the pressure on as Mike Hampson turned past his man in brilliant style- the ball flying sweetly on to Dennis and then to Blackwell whose cross was somehow blocked by a clutch of red shirted defenders- Hampson`s follow up effort again being charged down.
Nil / nil began to look a not unlikely half time score line with minutes rapidly ticking away ...then.....with rockets and bangers bursting forth outside the stadium....those inside got an unexpected shock as Danny Travanas produced a real cracker of his own sending a looping whizz bang of an effort fizzing into the net from way out on the left( about the same place that Andy Kilner scored that classic goal from in the nineties). 

Curzon Ashton attack....
That was a corker ...... a potential stunner even.....could County respond?
Well.....yes....they did...Blackwell seeing Mason in position to grab his dangerous ball in the box.......then watching as another effort was deflected wide. The blues were indeed responding, but so were Curzon Ashton, none more so than Mason who was there again stopping a shot by Dennis after much good work from Lazenbury and Blackwell had gone into the build up.
Add a another gritty run from Benjamin.....and a chance that fell to Lazenbury seconds before the break, that somehow Mason kept out, and that was the first half done and dusted , and it had not been a bad game at all!
 I treated myself to some sustenance at the I being unreasonable, dear reader, in being surprised at the till running up £4.70 for a coffee and a meat and potato pie? OK...the coffee was drinkable and the pie was fine, but ...£4.70! Perhaps it was the added attraction of the cliff hanger as to whether or not the committee of sympathetic onlookers, who quickly came to my assistance, would or would not be able to penetrate the seemingly impenetrable packaging on the pie- that accounts for the added value? Perhaps I nit-pick!
No matter ....the re-start saw County determined to put things right, and within 5 minutes they were level! It started with a Hancock pass, and another Mason save to keep Dennis out.....continued with Hampson keeping the pressure on by ushering the ball back into the visitors half. The ball was soon with Lazenbury and then it wasn`t because a neat diagonal ball from him teed Dennis up to stroke the equaliser past Mason!
Lazenbury on the charge.

Would the flood gates now open for the blues? a neat one /two between Lazenbury and Hampson ended with Mason on hand to pluck the latter`s cross from the air under pressure. It went on much in the same vein with Mason in action again keeping efforts from Dennis and Hampson out.
Despite all the pressure from County, Curzon hung on in there, and a glimmer of light offered itself to them in the misty gloom, in the form of a free kick conceded by the blues in a decent position. Tavanas stepped up to take it and drilled a beauty right on target, and Billy Worthington did really well to tip the ball over the bar at the very last gasp!
Elliott Watson slots in on the right.

That was reassuring from the County keeper, as County rang the changes bringing Elliott Watson on for Connor Hancock- a move that saw Benjamin switch flanks to the left to accommodate Watson.
County continued the pressure via Blackwell who turned past his man in fine style only to see Dennis miss out on the chance this good work had set up.

George Blackwell disputes possession with Danny Tavanas.
A shot by Joe Guest gave Worthington a brief moment`s discomfiture, but he recovered well, and County set about the search for the winner that would set them up for a semi-final tie at Little Wembley!
There were about 10 minutes left now, and Jordan Young was now on for the impressive George Blackwell. Elliott Watson by this time had found his feet nicely- stopping the lively Tavanas one moment, and getting forward well the next. County were definitely looking for that winner and another visitor went into the referee`s book as Guest took Lazenbury out as he threatened to severely undo the Curzon rearguard down the right. Enter Bobby Lofthouse to take the kick and it was a good one, and Dennis got something on it sending the ball towards goal where despite the efforts of Guest it went in!     

That free kick is lined up.....

...and in it goes ( honest !)

Credit to Curzon....they did not give up, and I was glad to see Billy Worthington cling onto the ball as a thunderous strike by substitute Jack Turner crashed into his chest.
At the other end Mason only just managed, with assistance from Sam Cunliffe to keep Dennis out. It was by no means completely clear that Cunliffe hadn`t had a `hand to ball’ moment somewhere along the line there, but the referee thought not so.....
With Curzon still trying their best, I began wanting to urgently hear that final whistle as Worthington clung onto a dangerous ball under pressure from McMahon.

Late action.
Typically...the whistle just would not blow, and I looked on aghast to see Turner fly clear down the left before sending a fantastic ball across the box. It was a real peach and what`s more McMahon was running through onto it. It looked a shoo-in, but the pill somehow eluded McMahon as he slid in....and County had escaped!
A shot from Kieron Crosthwaite, who had come on for Jordan Lazenbury with a few minutes left, was saved by Mason, and a late run by Tavanas was tamed by Watson, and the game was over, and County were in the Semi-Final!
Not a bad performance that, and I look forward to going to Little Wembley for the semi!

County line up;

Billy Worthington, Wes Benjamin, Connor Hancock ( Elliott Watson 64), Charlie Russell, Jordan Fagbola, Glenn Belezika, Michael Hampson, Jordan Lazenbury ( Kieron Crosthwaite 87), Kristian Dennis, Bobby Lofthouse, George Blackwell ( Jordan Young 76).

Curzon Ashton line up;

Cameron Mason, Sam Cunliffe, Joe Guest, Jake Parker, Josh Logan, Yaya Embobo, Danny Tavanas, Travis Brown( Romero Coley 85), Adam Bezzina( Jack Turner 64), Sam McMahon, Connor Robinson( Jacob McCormack 35).

Subs not used:
Dylan Wolstenholme, Tom Robb.   

Ian Brown.



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