Ashton United 1 Stockport County 0 ( Friendly-18 July 2017)
Deep into County’s pre-season, and following a severe test from Championship contenders Preston North End , just 3 days earlier, which they had passed with honours, it was time for JG to ring the changes and dig deeper into his squad and beyond for the visit to Ashton United.
There were 9 changes to the blues starting 11 against the Evo Stik Premier side which made for maximum interest if not the same level of cohesion.
They did well enough though, particularly in the opening half hour or so, but whilst the defence was pretty solid, and my M.O.M Scott Duxbury found time to get forward frequently and to excellent effect , combining neatly with Adam Thomas , there was never enough sharpness in the final third from County’s forward’s to sufficiently discomfort a home back line marshalled bravely by Aaron Chalmers.
|Scott Duxbury - excellent game!|
I thought that Adam Etches looked lively, and along with George West worked hard, but the forwards generally struggled to make an impression , and George really should have done better with the late penalty!
|Winter solid in front of the defence.|
Elsewhere …..Winter again looked solid in front of a compact back four, and Tom Whitty looked in good nick, but I was disappointed with Harry Brazel’s input. Apart from the earliest of introductory tackles ( which maybe set the tone for the referee’s `interesting’ decision making thereafter) Harry tended to run into trouble ,missing in the process a real chance to impress.
From the outset then, with both defences on their metal ,this one always looked like a game in which one goal would decide it ,and that’s just how it shaped up, in a tale of two penalty’s- one converted by Alex Johnson for United, the other for County ……not!
Back to 7.45 the match got underway on time in front of another decent pre-season gate.
After Brazel had introduced himself to John Pritchard, County went onto the attack ,and from the off it was apparent that Duxbury was in prime form, linking up first with Thomas then West to push our hosts back on their heels.
|Duxbury & West give it some....|
West’s early energy won a corner, then another, and for a time it looked on for an early blue opener, until home keeper Dave Carnell, who had a decent game, introduced an element of realism to events with a cool catch under pressure.
|Carnell- cool under pressure !|
Josh Strachin made it to the by-line , before Smalley intervened to spoil his fun, but still the early action was to my left where Carnell had to dash out at an alarming rate of knots to prevent West from snatching an opener, seconds before the young forward to reach Duxbury’s party invitation.
|Ashton under pressure again.|
Duxbury was on fire and Carnell was in action again shortly after keeping Scott’s shot out as County sniffed on for that decisive goal.
The County pressure continued to mount and a goal looked the likely outcome sooner or later, but despite a neat cooperation twixt Duxbury and Thomas , it stayed 0-0 as Carnell again did his job to keep Adam’s shot on the turn out.
|Thomas gets shot in.|
It was Ian Ormson’s turn to get involved next ,and Ian’s distribution was again excellent last night......
|Ian Ormson, distribution excellent !|
....................an early long one from him bouncing once in front of the United box where Carnell had advanced beyond to head clear a split second before West could claim the ball.
|Carnell ventures o/s the box to thwart West.|
Panic ensued for a moment or three from Ashton and with Thomas latching onto the loose ball , he was fouled. Thomas took the free kick from this but hit the wall, for Winter to shoot wide from the follow-up.
O`Halloran was a steadying influence at the back and he was producing some tidy passes too and one such saw West volley the ball inches over. Then Thomas had another run cut short by good work from John Roberts, and over all I was fairly pleased with the opening 20 minutes, apart from the total absence of a goal.
|Another run from Thomas.|
It went on…..Chalmers doing just enough to ensure Thomas’s shot was not too testing for Carnell to handle. Shortly after Minihan joined in with a run and cross that again required work from the keeper and Carnell’s punch out was once more just what was required of him.
|Good punch from Carnell....|
Ashton rallied after this and for 3 or 4 minutes County had some work to do at the back, but this period passed without alarm.
Beyond the half hour mark County re-doubled their attacking efforts Etches just missing out thanks to more keen work from Carnell, after Duxbury and Thomas had again linked up to good effect.
|Duxbury on the ball.|
Twice after this, West was into and then out of decent positions, unlucky with an offside flag on one occasion and just unlucky on the other after combining nicely with Thomas.
|Thomas watched by Whitty.|
The last 2 or three minutes of the half saw the action change ends with County defending, with United attempting to profit from corners and free kicks. Johnson and Gylmah did most of the running in this period ,but Ormson’s goal never really looked seriously under threat throughout.
|Part of over 300 County fans present.|
The second half opened with Brazel firing over the top after good work by Etches, and former Hatter Tom Eckersley and Thomson replying for Ashton, thwarted by Smalley’s alert response.
|Smalley guards Johnson.|
On it went, and Etches looked to be warming up nicely now and I was not alone in thinking `penalty’ when he and Chalmers came together in the box. The referee was nearby but his Pontious Pilate impressions impressed no one as he waved play on. We got a corner from it, but Pritchard cleared this and Thomas’s follow up attempts to reach Minihan’s cross came to nought in the crowded box.
|Brazel/ Thomas scrap for it.....|
Minihan again pushed on within a minute of that last action, but despite desperate attempts no one in blue could apply a finish to his cross.
It was time then for Ormson to shine, and he did well to dive to his right to make a one handed save thwarting Johnson.
County replied but Etches was unlucky with a probing run down the right- O’Halloran being similarly blessed …his follow up header rising over the bar.
|No luck for Etches...|
I was still not greatly troubled…OK….a 0-0 draw looked to be not an unlikely prospect…..but there was still time to change that, but West’s effort was inches away after more excellent work from Duxbury.
|West and Chalmers tangle.|
Duxbury continued to impress….again pushing County forward, his cross reaching Winter but nullified by terrific defending from Eckersley.
|Duxbury continues to shine!|
Both teams rang the changes at this point…County swapping Etches for Jordan Downing, whilst Ashton made 5 changes.
The new faces seemed to invigorate the home side and twice in rapid order Johnson went close, being kept at bay the second time by good work by Smalley.
County responded, and Minihan was unlucky to watch the keeper tip his effort over the bar at the last gasp, and Duxbury saw his shot saved coolly not long afterwards.
We were beyond the hour mark now, and Jordan Peach was on now in place of Tom Whitty, as I looked round to see Chalmers just do enough to block West’s run into the last third. West was trying hard, but just could not beat the keeper who again did the biz to deny him with 20 minutes left.
|Tom Whitty- good showing !|
Thomas and Minihan then gave way to Will Holt and Alex Johnson for County, who almost immediately came under pressure. To be honest…………....despite Gyimah’s progress into the box, I was not unduly worried, until he elected to take a well earned rest on the deck. OK….. Duxbury’s after shave, I am told, is strong stuff but surely not powerful enough to induce this reaction. Nevertheless …down he went…I swear the referee’s finger was pointing to the spot before the player plummeted to earth…no matter it was a ( cheeky) penalty.
Up stepped Johnson hitting the ball to Ormson’s right…..Ian dived right and got to it, but could but parry it, for the kicker to follow up and slam the ball home.
|Ormson saves initial spot kick !|
County were one down and now had a small mountain to clamber up to get back to parity, and only 15 minutes in which to don the crampons and clamber back up the metaphoric slope.
Then….dear reader….imagine ,if you would, my feelings of total scorn for Referee and player as , within 60 seconds Gyimah’s unsteady pegs let him down again…..in the box of course ….but with no one within sniffing distance! The referee surely wasn’t tempted by this act of sheer vaudevillian audacity….no……but was he tempted to wonder about his previous decision ( probably not)…anyway…no penalty was awarded this time, Gyimah meanwhile might usefully visit a podiatrist!
Back came County after this nonsense- Duxbury pushing on again but dished by last ditch work from Pritchard.
West went close with a left footed strike, and Duxbury was upended in the box( no penalty apparently), but although West was working hard, County’s passing was not as sharp at this point on occasions as it might be.
A little luck would have been handy as well, and with about 6 minutes left we seemed to cop for some. Will Holt opened the home defence up with a good cross , but when Duxbury advanced to meet it he was halted by a meaty body check. The referee pointed to the spot and now surely it would be 1-1!
Well….that was my thinking, but when West stepped up to take it, the trialist keeper dived to push the ball onto a post. There was still plenty of opportunity for it to be 1-1, except that, with time to spare, West blazed a poor effort onto the bar.
|Keeper pushes West pen onto a post.|
It stayed 1-0 to Ashton therefore, and with the home side attacking for much of what time remained, that was how it finished.
Ashton United line up:
Carnell, Cod, Pritchard, Eckersley, Chalmers, Roberts, Tomsett, Stachin, Kay, Johnson, De Silva.
Trialist Keeper, Gyimah, Dake, Woodward, Smith, Lees.
Stockport County line up:
Ormson, Minihan ( Holt 73), Smalley, O’Halloran, Duxbury, Winter, Etches ( Downing 58), Whitty ( Peach 64), Thomas( Jackson 73), Brazel, West.