Stockport County 1 Gloucester City 1 ( Vanarama National League- North) 29 April 2017



Stockport County’s gallant bid to gain promotion to the Vanarama National, fell at the very last hurdle today, when the blues could only manage a 1-1 draw against a doughty , hard working Gloucester City side. County knew they needed a win, but even with Chorley losing they fell just one point short of their goal.

County took the lead shortly after the hour, via a Danny Lloyd penalty, but one goal was just never going to be enough against a visiting side that, having scored a considerable psychological advantage by making County kick towards the Cheadle End first off, then preceded to play as though they meant it. They earned a card or three in the process, and some of their defending was a touch basic, but they did enough up front to ensure County’s minds were on not conceding as much as scoring, and in that last department again…Lloyd apart, no one in blue really showed up with the necessary bite to square the circle for County.
Lloyd + shadow ( Andrew Machin )

It was a great effort however, and the team got a good reception at the end of the game, and no one deserved it more than Lewis Montrose who was immense all afternoon.
Montrose in control ( Andrew Machin )

 Danny Lloyd was Mr 100% as usual, and the defence was sound for the most part if a touch too laid back at others, when reliance on Hinchliffe came in to play. Thankfully he was up to the task, but, despite trying their best, County just missed out. 

It was close….very close, and my mind did drift back to Alfreton and that corner that the referee magically produced from nowhere for our hosts who duly scrambled a goal from it to snatch a point rather than conceding 3. Such things I know…are what shattered dreams are made of, so maybe next season we will ensure we are so far ahead that such muppeteering by officials will not count!

In James we trust, so here’s to next season, but back at kick off time it was all excitement and anticipation as another Vanarama National North record crowd were anything but settled in their seats. 

JG  Responds to crowd ( Andrew Machin )

The atmosphere was electric, as I took my seat circa 2.55 with the opening choruses of `The Scarf’ ringing loudly in my ears- it was great stuff!

County looked terrific in the 66-67 retro gear, worn in honour of County’s championship winning side of that season, but I was less thrilled by the realisation that we were kicking towards the Cheadle End from the off!

That was a bummer, and no mistake, but I took heart in that County looked decidedly `up for it’ surging forward, winning an early free kick that Lloyd pinged in well, but it was an early disappointment as the ball flew out past the far post.
the Lloyd free kick.

The County push continued with Ross, in an advanced position, sending Odejayi clear with a neat pass, only for keeper Jasbir Singh to save at his near post. 

Odejayi breaks......


Odejayi was again clear, via a Montrose pass this time, within a minute, but referee Marc Edwards halted the raid, obviously upset by an overly strong after shave that Big K was sporting!

This was not bad at all from County, and the optimistic mood continued as Lloyd’s run to the by-line was only thwarted by the best of tackles by Chris Knowles. The corner that followed was a decent one, as was Smalley’s header ,but Singh covered well and it stayed 0-0.


Smalley header coming....

Seven minutes of County pressure were followed by a quick break by Gloucester, and this was an early warning to keep the back door bolted whilst searching for that elusive goal. Hinchliffe did enough to stop the rot, and Clarke headed the resultant corner clear, so the danger was sorted!

County defend.

Clarke seemed to be coping with his broken nose pretty well perfectly, going for headers all the time and winning same. Alongside him at the back was Max Cartwright and twice in rapid succession he was in the mix making vital interventions in the County cause- stopping Ed Williams with a fine tackle, and Luke Hopper with another of a similar ilk shortly after. Hopper was a tricky customer, having won his side two penalties in the last two games, so the quality of County’s tackling had to be just so, and Cartwright’s was.

Cartwright does the biz(Andrew Machin )

Cartwright then slung a ball forward that saw Ball away and clear, but he was brought back by a wave of the main stand liners flag. `Offside’ the follicly challenged flag waver would presumably have it….but I was not convinced at all! 
  
The boos from that one, were still ringing out as Ross sent a ball heading goal ward, that Singh only just beat Lloyd to.

Again…I was encouraged….and again as a snap shot from Odejayi  just missed out.
Odejayi then teamed up with Lloyd and excellent work from Big K sent Lloyd scurrying clear down the left. Lloyd’s shot was blocked by Knowles, and a follow up effort by Ross was charged down by one of a bevy of City defenders in the vicinity.

 County were determined not to let their quarry off the hook, and a goal looked on when Ball then let fly, but as the ball sped across the box, it hit Odejayi, and before he could react it had rebounded into the arms of keeper Singh to end the visitors’ angst.
Odejayi unlucky ( Andrew Machin )

Lloyd and Montrose then treated us to a couple of solos, they were both excellent but nothing came from either, allowing City to hit us on the break, and we were again caught out ,and only saved by the overly strong cross that Hopper planted well away from his advancing forwards. Credit to Hopper though…he persisted, and had Hinchliffe not been on his toes( he was and his save was reassuring) County might have leaked a goal.

Montrose -all energy...

Gloucester might just have leaked one too, but after Lloyd had skinned and filleted his cover and sent a dangerous cross into the box, there were no takers in blue, and we were still goalless.
That was disappointing, but more threatened and quickly as County were again caught on the break and thankful to see Hinchliffe tip Williams’ shot onto the crossbar when a goal looked on!

It was clear by now that Gloucester had come to do more than make up the numbers, and that County had a game on their hands. They looked to understand this and kept trying to work something from nothing, and something surfaced in the shape of a free kick, 37 minutes in. Lloyd’s delivery was good, as was Smalley’s header on the end of it, but Singh again offered County nothing, as he tipped the header up and over the bar!

 
2 shots of Singh save ( hedgie top/ AM below)
County had ambitions from the corner that followed, but with all hands up….the ambitions were temporarily shelved as again City hit us on the break. This time they did not reach Hinchliffe, as a masterly intervention from Montrose did the trick sorting things for County. 
Montrose- great stuff.

Montrose was magnificent midst all this- whether it be driving his team forward or cutting the oppositions embryonic breaks off at source, and just how the ball did not nestle in the net behind Singh’s back as a result, I will never know…Brazel (having another decent game) sent Ball in, and a cluster of efforts by County met with stubborn resistance and came to nought.
Harry Brazel ( Andrew Machin )

That was frustrating, but not as much as this next action, as Knowles hauled Ball down as the County man threatened on the break. Knowles was booked, but County made nothing of the free kick.   

 The last few minutes saw County in danger of shipping some metaphoric water, and Clarke did well to block Hopper , after the referee had ignored the forward’s hand to ball moment en-route. Corners followed for City and County felt the sweetest of smiles from Lady Luck as a screamer from Knowles thudded into a post with Hinchliffe beaten.

Singh had to seek out Reservoir 1 in the time that remained of the half, with Lloyd rather fancying Duxbury’s through ball, but I was rather glad of the referee’s whistle, and hoped for a few words from James to add a certain something to County’s game in the second half.

Keith Allen hoists the trophy up.  
...as does Freddy Goodwin ( Andrew Machin )

The 66-67 team brought the Championship Trophy onto the pitch at half time and it was great to see the likes of Keith Allen lift the trophy aloft to a thunderous roar from the Cheadle End and other stands.

There was much for County to do in the second half, which they started on the front foot, but Ball was just unable to make anything of Duxbury’s cross with the visitors back line stretched.

Twice after this Ross probed for a weakness down the right with strong runs, but County still had to be mindful of being overly attacking, and only  the very best of Lloyd and Montrose did for one attempted break by Kotwica, a few minutes into the half.

Ross probes ( Andrew Machin )

Montrose was immense…have I said that? Well….he was, as he set up the move that might have sorted County a goal had Lloyd not been carted by Avery.

Montrose still running ( Andrew Machin )

Avery was booked and within a couple of minutes Knowles joined him for a foul on Lloyd, following excellent work from Duxbury and Montrose. Ball took the free kick, but Singh’s punch out was sound and the danger passed.

Then…..shiver me timbers…. within a further 2 minutes Knowles upped and did it again…. tripping Brazel up right under Mr E’s nose. Hmmm…..nailed on second yellow then….but no …expect tomorrow’s red tops to say `day is night’ as no card of any hue was produced! 

The free kick came to nothing, but Ross’s follow up throw pushed the harassed City defenders back on their heels whereupon, with Odejayi rounding on the ball about half a yard out, the County man was tripped. I saw not who did the deed, or got the resultant yellow, but I did see the referee point to the spot, and Lloyd step up to send the keeper the wrong way to give County the lead!

hedgies view of the penalty...

and Andrew Machin's

The goal was a relief for County fans, and with Chorley still down at Halifax, we were now set for the play offs.

Gloucester meanwhile had other ideas and Hinchliffe did well to dispossess Hopper as he darted into the box unattended. More followed with Cartwright earning loud applause for his work in denying Kotwica the ball with the goal in sight. Clarke…Hinchliffe both did well on separate occasions as Gloucester steadfastly refused to buckle.

It went on with Clarke and Cartwright doing just enough to stop the rot as Kotwica again threatened on the break. But City were now playing some neat football and playing to feet nicely, and County looked hard pressed to respond, indeed the general response was to hold off …stay upright….. as Williams weaved his way into the box past blue shirt after blue shirt. County’s defence looked mesmerised and when Williams laid the ball into Kotwica’s path, they could but stand and stare as he belted the ball beyond Hinchliffe into the net.

It was 1-1 and that upward slope facing County now just got steeper!
Meppen-Walter came on for Smalley, and not long after Marsden for Brazel( Amis having replaced Odejayi earlier), but County were still riding their luck a touch  as Hinchliffe made another neat save  from Kotwica, with Hopper waiting in vain for a pass in a scoring position to his right.
Hinchliffe under pressure

County were under the cosh now and Hinchliffe made his best save of the game next to keep substitute Hanks off the score sheet and County still in with a notional shout!
Singh had to punch clear from Lloyd, before County almost imploded when Meppen-Walter put Hinchliffe under needless pressure with a throw that should have hugged the touchline. Instead it gave Kotwica a sniff of goal he could not have dreamt of-County some how survived that nonsense without going behind but it was not pretty.
County again came under pressure and 3 times Clarke made decisive blocks or clearances with Gloucester on County’s case big time.
Eventually Hinchliffe punched clear under pressure, and from this Danny Lloyd made haste for goal at the other end. It looked good, and then it didn`t as he was brought down on the edge of the box. The kick was good, but Singh was up to it and his catch saw the danger off decisively.

Singh saves....

The last minutes saw County defending – it now mattered not that Chorley were 2 down, Clarke did well to stop the rot at the expense of another City corner. From this County very nearly leaked a goal, and but for Hinchliffe’s brilliance they would have- the keeper’s dive enabling him to push the ball around the post with his right hand! He punched clear from the corner too, for good measure, but it was now too late and game’s end as the referee had blown his whistle.

Despondency abounded on the pitch, and off it but the big crowd made light of it giving their team an excellent reception, in acknowledgement of a season with much to commend it, if ultimately disappointing.

 I am sure you will, like myself, be planning to be back for more next season.

Catch you then then!

Stockport County line up:

Hinchliffe, Ross, Cartwright, Clarke, Smalley( Meppen –Walter 76), Duxbury, Montrose, Brazel( Marsden 77), Odejayi( Amis 62), Ball, Lloyd.

Subs not used ; Ormson, Minihan.

Gloucester City line up:

Singh, Thomas, Hall, Hamilton( Deaman 91), Avery, Knowles ( Mullings 62), Hanks, Webb, Hopper, Kotwica( Parker 86), Williams.

Subs not used ; King, Moseley.

Attendance ; 5783 ( Vanarama National League- North Record)

Ian Brown.           

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