County 4 Bradford Park Avenue 1 : Conference North

There was unmistakeable evidence that Alan Lord`s blue and white band wagon is beginning to roll slowly forward at Edgeley Park today, as Stockport County claimed another welcome 3 points whilst disposing of Bradford Park Avenue by 4-1.
If the opposition was not all that it might have been, County went about their work in an exemplary professional manner, never being in danger of losing their lead thanks to another good team showing. Team showing did I say? Well yes I did, and it definitely was one, but one in which individuals stood out.....Liam Dickinson leading the line like the seasoned pro he is- with good close control allied to an eye for a telling pass, and finished off with a fine goal. 
Liam Dickinson.

Platt, in for Moses, was heartwarmingly busy throughout, as was Turner, who`s pace threatened to undo the Yorkshire side more than once. Young Rhys scored one too, and a typically good finish it was too, earning him the sponsors M.O.M award, but Scott Duxbury cannot have been far behind in the award stakes giving us 90 minutes of gritty purposeful defending! 

Yes was a very satisfactory performance.....not perfect....we still need to brush up those clearances out of deep defence, and improve concentration at times and thus avoid spilling possession, but I nitpick and must say that pretty much everyone I bumped into going home, looked well pleased with County`s performance!
At 3 o`clock it was virtually the same 11 that was on show on Saturday, except that Moses, who had had a decent game, was nowhere to be seen, being replaced by Platt. So... with Bradford allegedly not being in too great form of late, there was much to look forward to, even if the well known County propensity to screw it up against lesser sides had to be taken into account.
Straight off County went on the attack and it was soon plain that Bradford could not handle Dickinson who`s early flick on caused alarm bells to ring loudly for the visitors back line. They did no better with what followed either, but somehow survived the first minute without conceding a goal, as Howard slung the ball across from the left aimed at Turner. It had altogether too much oomph about it and went out to spoil the party somewhat.
If celebrations were put on Xmas ice, it was not for long as Fagbola stopped a Bradford raid sending Jacobs scooting clear. In a flash the ex FCUM man picked out Dickinson on the edge of the box, and in another flash Dicko fashioned a controlled turn before dispatching a lethal strike way beyond the groping hands of John Lamb, the BPA keeper.
Three minutes had gone and we were one up.....brilliant!
For a moment it looked likely to get even better as Platt slid what seemed like a good pass into the box for Turner to go for, but it was far too strong for Turner`s needs and any chance was gone.
The sixth minute saw County down to 10 as Cowen went off for further treatment after taking a knock ,one of many the blues players were to endure from a Bradford side that didn`t shrink from more than the odd iffy challenge!
Adam Cowen.

Referee Joseph Johnson responded with a seemingly unending stream of free kicks   , to the accompaniment of a precocious solo for whistle. Symphony.....concerto....I couldn`t make out, but it was irritating for a fair chunk of his ire was aimed at County, not always fairly – I`ll put it no more boldly than that!
Cowen came back eventually and no alarms had been triggered in his absence indeed Bradford seemed the very essence of docility at this juncture!
Dickinson on the other hand was on fire and went close with a header, on 11 minutes, from a Duxbury free kick, before losing out a minute later to Adam Clayton as Turner picked him out after a pacy run.
By the 12th minute one Yorkshire name had gone into the referee`s book, but no one followed even though Fagbola was laid out by a thoroughly bad tackle from someone in green. A chat and free kick satisfied Mr Johnson, but not me and those around me, and our displeasure mounted when the kick was cleared and Ian Ormson had to come out quickly and find touch with Alex Davidson bearing down on goal on the break.
A couple of Bradford raids came next- the first dealt with comfortably by Cowen, who was again looking assured in the middle of the blue back line, and the second by Duxbury who did really well to cut Davidson off when well placed.
Howard went close with a cross, before a third Bradford raid almost counted, as Jordan Deasey slid a neat ball into the box to Davidson. The forward`s response was immediate- he fired in a shot, but with Ormson beaten, it missed out by barely a foot! That had been an escape, could County now put it behind them, tighten up....and get on with winning this game?
Well......................yes.................., but initially they seemed to be struggling to latch onto the ball and then do something with it......and then suddenly they could, or rather Dickinson could, and an immaculately delivered ball from him opened the flood gates for Help the Hatters sponsored Rhys Turner, who ran onto it before beating the keeper with a finish every bit as precise as Dickinson`s pass had been. It was 2-0 now and we sensed perhaps something special in the air!
By this time however, Mr Johnson was well into the second movement of that annoying symphony, and County had the latest iffy free kick to defend, 23 minutes in, and it was a decent one as well from Nathan Hotte, and the blues did well to keep it out. Platt did the biz in this respect triggering a County break whilst doing so, and Lamb did particularly well to stop Turner reaching Howard with his final ball!
Bradford Free Kick.

Despite the Bradford raids I have related above, County were pretty much on top......Duxbury just kept out on a run down the left......Lofthouse unlucky with his free kick- whipped in at pace and only just kept out. The corner that followed, saw Dickinson`s shot strike a defenders hand in the box, but Mr Johnson was unmoved and it stayed 2-0, at least for now.
Bradford still managed to annoy, as they stepped up the beefy limb threatener`s- Jacobs free kick releasing Dickinson who in turn sent Turner dashing clear once again. County could not find a way through even though it looked that Bradford were doing their best to assist their opponents, with some really slack defensive work.
On it went with Turner winning the ball before sending Howard through. A chance definitely, but the liner`s flag came to Bradford`s aid and stopped the raid. I was not pleased with the outcome, but I was with Turner`s input- his new found ability to go in for the ball and boss his man off it. Great stuff, probably the result of AL`s expert coaching or example from the likes of Jevons, but also of the player`s growing maturity!
                                                                   Rhys Turner

The 30th minute saw a foul( another foul) on Dickinson give County the sniff of a third, but when the ball was lifted into the box and Cowen went for it- he was promptly brought down, with no response at all from the referee- gruesomely bad!
So far, despite Mr Johnson`s input, I was liking a lot of what I was seeing.....Platt, Dicko and Turner were linking up well....Duxbury and to some extent Jacobs were getting forward to good effect, and the centre of our defence looked comfortable, and momentarily it got better, with less than 15 left of the half, when another neat move surfaced from County. Dickinson started it off- linking up with Jevons before taking the return pass from his captain. Dicko then held it up fantastically well before releasing a beaut of a ball into the box where Platt was rounding on it. It was a chance for sure, but Platt fluffed it allowing the ball to drift slightly away from goal prior to then losing it!
More came from Dickinson and Turner- the former sending the latter clear, only for Scott Maxfield to block the route to goal and clear the ball.

                                            Err.......another BPA free kick!
The 36th minute saw Davison go down over Jacobs leg. A foul ....yes....a free kick....yes, but the fool also booked Jacobs which, bearing in mind his earlier decision to not even book anyone with Fagbola laid out, was rich indeed! The fact that Hotte`s free kick came close to decapitating me in Row R, is beside the point- I was annoyed and I was not alone!
The mood did not improve either, as a minute later Paul Beesley rounded Cowen and looked well on to score, until a terrific stop by Ormson denied him!
I became more than usually concerned next when Jacobs conceded another free kick, getting a long lecture from the referee for his pains. Last warning? Possibly, but there was no time to ponder that one as Maxfield`s kick was whizzing in- being blocked by Fagbola ,and worked clear via Jevons.
I refuse to bore you by listing the free kicks that followed on from the last action- a plethora hardly does Mr Johnson`s output justice, and some of them were ludicrously poor calls- his hallucinatory moment, on 41 minutes, needing urgent action by Cowen to avert a small disaster. Still we were nearing half time and getting ever closer to some relief from the assault on our ears from the referee, so relief was at hand.
County looked to make the referee`s contribution irrelevant, as brilliant work by Dickinson sent Turner off on a run once more. Into the box, he leathered a neat shot goal ward only to be foiled by a fine save from Lamb, and Howard was treated similarly by the keeper.....and Dickinson as somehow the visitors survived without conceding a further goal.
It seemed that that would be that for the first half, but we had forgotten Mr Johnson, and he was on the spot to award Bradford a free kick as the game went into added time. County did not defend this one well at all and Ormson did well to keep the initial shot from Beesley out, but could do nothing to stop Deasey from slotting the ball home as he followed up. There was more than a hint of offside about it ( at least I felt) but the goal stood and they went in for the break with the score 2-1 in County`s favour.-    
The re-start saw Jamie Price a whisker away from turning a dangerous ball from Howard into his own net, and Duxbury on song early to prevent Hotte from causing problems.
Ormson was in action twice early on stopping a free kick confidently and then doing well to save from Price who had dashed clear.
Dickinson headed clear from the corner, but the ball just came back via Hotte, and the more that County failed to tidy up and clear their lines the more Bradford were able to continue on the front foot. happened.....County fashioned a quick break ( of the sort so often practised against us to good effect this term)and the ball was with Howard in front of goal as one....two shots pinged in from him- both blocked, but Howard persevered and the third did the trick. There was a hint of a slight deflection about it, but it mattered not....the ball was in the net and it was 3-1.
One Bradford free kick later, and a break fashioned via Jacobs and Howard and a shot by Jevons that joined us in the Cheadle End, and County scored again.....
Dickinson was to the fore as County won a free kick which Lofthouse lifted into the box. Mayhem then broke out as County went about getting that fourth and Bradford stopping them. Shots whizzed in....were blocked....whizzed in....were blocked until one hit a defenders outstretched arm- penalty doubting it, but the referee did nothing and ,for a moment, play carried on, until the stand side liner waved his flag aloft prior to placing it across his chest to signal a penalty.
Jevons scores from spot.( pic by Darren Berry)      
The referee was far from convinced, but if he had not seen it ...the liner apparently had, and he prevailed thankfully and County had a penalty.
Captain Phil Jevons stepped up to take it- effortlessly beating the keeper`s dive, to make it 4-1 to County!     
Turner went close twice after this, both times sent clear by Jevons, but County could not add to their score, Jevons` shot drifting narrowly wide after Ormson had rescued County when Fagbola lapsed briefly into doze mode.
Credit to Bradford though....they kept trying- Jacobs heading clear nicely and Cowen earning applause for a terrific tackle to win the ball with Hotte within sniffing distance of goal. Infuriatingly the referee not only gave BPA a free kick, but booked the Stockport man, which was truly ridiculous! The free kick hit the wall, but County just could not clear it up field until eventually Duxbury did the biz, sending Turner on a run. Cue beefy foul from Hotte to save the day, followed by a free kick and a booking for the unrepentant man in green, but Jacobs shot missed out by a yard and it stayed at 4-1.
Turner.....Jevons, then Turner again all went close next followed by Dickinson who`s header flew over the bar with the Cheadle End out of their seats fancying a fifth!
That was Dicko`s last act of, what for him had been a fine game, and he left to an ovation, being replaced by Moke.
Moke was in it straight away and only foiled by quick work by Lamb on the end of a high one from Duxbury, who distinguished himself further soon after with some terrific defensive work under pressure.
County then defended a free kick to good effect after Fagbola had upended Richard Marshall, and with Jacobs running the ball clear County had chances...but then they seemed not to have, because despite Jacobs still having the ball and in a good position to run at Bradford, the referee blew guessed it.....for a County free kick! The kick saw Moke blocked on the edge of the box and Howard denied only by the best of saves from Lamb!
Lamb did even better moments later to keep a strike from Moke out- it took him two goes to do it, but save it was and a fairly decent one at that!
Ormson and Cowen then did well as Bradford came back at County seeking a consolation goal- County defended well enough without ever extending themselves too much by way of precision passing from deep.
Clayton then hauled Howard down just outside the box- getting a chat with the referee but no card, as the game headed into added time via a welter of free kicks and offside decisions.

It was entirely consistent with what had gone before, but no less irritating, and the final whistle was a welcome sound, and the signal for mutual acknowledgements from support to team and vice versa.
Good stuff County.....keep it up !

County line up ;

Ormson, Jacobs, Cowen, Fagbola, Duxbury, Platt, Lofthouse( Churchman 83),Howard, Jevons, Turner ( Craney 83), Dickinson ( Moke 74).

Subs not used :    Jones, Charnock.

Bradford line up:

Lamb, Price, Maxfield, Deasey, Clayton, Marshall, Chilaka, Hotte, Beesley, Davidson, Walker.

Attendance:  2108   


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