County 4 Stalybridge Celtic 3 ( Conference North) 7 February 2015
What a week end.......a brilliant one for County supporters......opened by the pulsating gig at the Bung on Friday featuring the fantastic Blossoms supported by the Mantells- a sell out we thought......a sell out and massive success it was, as was the tremendous event put on by SCAN after the game, also in the Bung. County supporters wanted to salute the Cup Heroes of 64/65, and SCAN gave them a brilliant opportunity to do just that- result another massive success and a giant sized tug at the heart strings!
So sandwiched between these wonderfully spectacular events, how would County v Stalybridge pan out in comparison? Back in August Stalybridge rather stole it, escaping with a 3-2 win after being leathered for 46 of the last 45 minutes. The problem was the first 45 had seen County play rather like I did at school....rather badly! This time around we could not afford anything remotely the same if our outside chances of a play off place were to stay intact!
It turned out that the situation was almost precisely reversed from that of the August game, with Celtic conspicuously the better team for large parts of the game. They even came back from a goal down twice, taking the lead with 20 minutes to go, thus with County finding Paul Ennis and Jamie Allen particularly difficult to handle, and always done for pace down the flanks, things looked bleak for Alan Lord`s boys, until.....a cracker jack of a shot from Dennis brought the scores level again with 10 minutes left..giving us hope....... and a Woolfe effort deep into added time turned that hope to slightly stunned reality. The 4-3 win, as arguably fortuitous as it may be , with most other promotion candidates playing each other, fits in just dandy to what has been a superb two days for County supporters!
Soon after 3 o`clock we soon saw the ominous early morning news that our Tameside neighbours had bolstered their numbers with 3 new signings, writ large before us, as one of these....Jamie Allen( of AFC Fylde fame) got in amongst us.......fox in a hen coop fashion. A foul by the newly minted Celt enabled Duxbury to shrug his challenge off early doors, but it took a well marshalled communal effort from County`s back four to see the lively number nine off just a minute later.
Jacobs and Glover offered a hint of a reply from the blues but no more than that, and the first 5 minutes had soon passed with the score line blank, and no real alarms to report.
A minute later Ben McKenna did force his way rather ominously to the by-line ,down the left, but the chance faded to nothing when his cross found no takers in the box. Even so.....County could not fully relax, as with Ennis, James and McKenna picking each other out with something approaching precision, the blues were content to concede corners. Two in fact in rapid succession, but both lacked guile or the surprise element and County were able to clear their lines.
It went on in this somewhat understated fashion for about 3 or 4 minutes, with neither side looking that likely to embarrass the other, until the 13th minute when a Glover shot took a deflection after Jacobs had sent him clear. A corner it was then....and then another as no one could do anything with the first. Duxbury`s second attempt fared much better, as O`Halloran met it at the back post, heading the ball back across goal to Glover who hooked the ball home off a defender.
One nil was a good start, and I began to get a bit overly confident for a second or two with the sight of Mat Regan lumping the ball over the Pop Side stand whilst under the minimum of pressure. The sight of O`Halloran offering what seemed to be his usual excellent insurance against us being hit on the break, just tended to bolster this excess of confidence- and this was not unduly dented by seeing Glover and Dennis run at Celtic ...... Charlie Russell have a shot charged down, and Churchman watch as his shot smacked into the side netting!
That was encouraging, but somehow County found a way of shooting themselves in the foot, and a collective malaise seemed to have set in as a quick break from the visitors caught us out completely giving Allen the simplest of tasks to beat Hurst from close in!
That was a blow, and might just have been worse as well, as within a minute Allen had escaped his marker again – his shot drifted past the far post, but not by much, so County needed to tighten up if they were not to tread water for the rest of the game.
The slightest of contacts between Baker and Scott Kerr, the Celtic captain, got referee Dave Richardson a touch over excited next- I was not even sure that a lecture was called for but he did, and added a double booking for good measure! It was not a dirty game – the odd niggle here and there, possibly residue from August, but play was largely scrappy rather than overly rough, but I was getting concerned to note that of the 2 teams it was Celtic who were first to the 50/50`s .
Ennis tested Hurst with a cross cum shot driven low into the box, but the County keeper was up to the task, and dealt with the situation well, enabling County to respond via Duxbury whose shot was deflected for a corner. A free kick followed the corner, and O`Halloran went close with a header from this- before doubling back to rescue his team with Allen threatening to undo Lees with his pace.
Dealing with the above mentioned pace was a definite problem for County, and they were fortunate that Kerr`s shot was a poor one when a loose ball came his way just outside the box. County still needed to tighten up, but instead McKenna was enjoying the freedom of SK3 down the left, his latest cross forcing Duxbury to head out, and Russell to join in with a block to thwart Ennis, with the visitors` momentum building!
Yes......Stalybridge looked far livelier than the blues, which was alarming, and even more so as a forceful bit of work from McKenna and Nathan Heath down the left, set Allen up with a chance. It was a chance as well, but Allen spurned it , heading the ball straight to Hurst.
So far the first half had been a disappointing one from a County view point, but ...that said.....Dennis gave us a glimpse of nirvana just around the corner, on 40 minutes...a viciously curling shot from him bringing a fine finger tip save from the ex Hatter Lewis King between the sticks for Celtic.
That was the best moment of the half.....fantastic shot.....brilliant save, now what was left for us as half time neared?
Well......more shredded nerves for a start as McKenna tore into us down the left....carving a gruesome hole in our cover, before dragging the poorest of finishes wide of goal with all to play for!
The rest up to the break was low level cut and thrust involving Dennis, Jacobs, Baker and Moses at one end, and the inevitable Allen at the other, but it stayed 1 apiece as the teams left the field.
When play resumed, Celtic were again on the front foot and County were slightly fortunate to see the liner`s flag upraised as Mike Potts sent McKenna through on another dangerous run at one point. The pressure was definitely on the blues as Ennis and Allen both had efforts charged down. Midst all the pressure it was noticeable how well young Charlie Russell was playing, and two crucial tackles from him in this critical period underlined his growing value to A.L`s team.
It was but a small surprise therefore that when Lordy opted to make a double personnel change ,he took 2 mid fielders off and Russell was not one of them- Woolfe and Sharp coming on for Baker and Churchman, with 55 minutes played.
There seemed to be no sign of any immediate impact via the substitutions, indeed it was still Celtic plugging away, with Allen in the van with his speed a major issue for County, and his latest run would have seen McKenna likely to score, had not Russell intervened with a timely challenge.
Overall, it was not great to watch from a County view point, we were still struggling, and Hurst did well to claim the ball as Ennis and Allen burst clear. There was a hint of offside about that one, but Hurst did not know this, and the liner didn`t give it, so that was a crucial save.
It went on in much the same vein with Kerr lifting a shot over the bar after much good work by Ennis, who galloped into oodles of space down the left.
Kerr might just have been rueing that miss a minute or so later, as County snatched a cheeky lead via a neat run from Chris Sharp that took him to the by-line where he slipped an even neater pass into Glover`s path for him to fire the second home!
Hmm......against the run of play maybe....no definitely...but who cares, we need the points, and A.L`s changes seemed to have gone a long way to square that particular circle. At least that was my view at the hour mark, as a move involving Sharp, Woolfe and Dennis ended with the latter going close with a snap shot, and a header. Add to this the fact that Glover was clearly hunting a hat trick.......his shot shortly after drifted just wide but it hinted at better things from County ,as did a lively cooperation twixt Sharp and Dennis, and all this was welcome.
Hurst had had to make a save midst all the County attacking, to fend off a Celtic free kick awarded for a perceived foul by Russell on Regan, but it was a surprise none the less when Celtic equalised, on 64 minutes, through McKenna who rifled his shot home, after a break by Ennis had seen Allen`s initial shot blocked.
Not a lot was coming back at Stalybridge in the minutes that followed that goal, and Allen continued to look a class apart with his incisive runs- but his Radaian ( is there such a word) propensity for falling down irked at times.
With Ennis replaced by Mike Onovwigan with just over 15 minutes left I was tempted to think, with one threat gone that County`s task would get lighter, but instead Celtic took the lead! Another Mc Kenna run started it and his cross was volleyed home first time by the impressive Allen!
Bugger......we were 3-2 down, and nothing happened in the next 5 or 6 minutes to dispel the notion that Celtic were going to win this, and possibly on merit.
And.....then....it happened, as the man said, and Glover`s powerful run and pass set Dennis up nicely, and the County number nine needed no second bidding ,as a ferocious shot almost took the netting from its moorings with King a diving but helpless onlooker!
Wow......we were back on level terms, and we had about 10 minutes left to try to make it better still!
Celtic wanted the points too though, and Lees did well to block Onovwigan on his way to thread a ball through to the annoyingly affective Allen.
Sharp and Dennis meanwhile combined to good effect, and Regan did well to stop his side leaking another goal at one point, but still the better chances were Celtic`s – Hurst making a good save to deny Dawes, and O`Halloran doing enough to see that the County keeper did similar with Allen baring down on goal not long after. On it went with McKenna just denied by Russell as he strained to reach a pass from Allen.....and Potts just wide with a shot after Onovwigan had been kept out by Russell.
It was 3-3 as we went into added time, and a possibly crucial change followed as Keith Briggs took his main man, Jamie Allen, off replacing him with James Cadman.
With the most potent Celtic threat now elsewhere, County could perhaps set about snatching a win....we all wanted this ,but few probably expected it to happen, indeed Sharp`s effort failed to test King from Duxbury`s free kick, with time ebbing away.
So it was a lovely moment when the seemingly improbable happened and County claimed a vital win. As with much else this afternoon, it emanated from Glover whose run saw him to the by-line where he squared a lovely ball across the box to where Woolfe was on the prowl, and his strike hit the diving King before going in, to give County the win.
Never mind the quality.........as that man again said....we`ll take that with knobs on. I am sure Woolfy will want to claim it, but it`s the end result that matters most and this win does keep us in the play off mix!
Credit to Celtic who kept plugging away in the short time that remained, but it was noticeable that Russell was still giving it 100% right up to the final whistle getting in their way. We will need more of that 100% 90 minute effort from here on out ..... do not be tempted to miss even one minute of it!
County line up:
Hurst, Jacobs, Lees, O`Halloran, Duxbury, Moses ,Churchman ( Woolfe 55), Russell, Baker ( Sharp 55), Dennis, Glover.
Subs not used;
Ormson, Fagbola, Lofthouse.
Stalybridge Celtic line up:
King, Crowley, Heath, Wigley, Regan, Brogan( Dawes 80), McKenna, Kerr, Allen( Cadman 90), Ennis( Onovwigan 70), Potts.
Subs not used:
Attendance ; 3278