Stockport County 0 Chorley 1 ( Vanarama National North- Play Off QF) 2 May 2018

After a night  rich in tension and high octane fever pitch football, County bowed out of this season’s play offs , beaten by  a well drilled Chorley FC side, in front of another massive Edgeley Park crowd of over 6000.
Cheadle End to my right

The score was 1-0, and that probably reflected accurately how it went. However, the first half might have seen Matt Jansen’s side leak a goal or two- they didn’t, and just showed too much savvy particularly late on when County got ever more anxious for a goal.

County did loads of attacking especially in the first 45 minutes when they racked up corner after corner, going close more than once in the process. There was more passion than finesse though in much of County’s work, and whilst individuals played well( Minihan gave us 90 minutes pure effort and not a little threat…Thomas likewise, and Winter drove his men on relentlessly throughout a pulsating encounter, but  in vital areas the blues were matched by the Lancastrians- Scott Leather a typical example of this. Oswell did put a shift in, but when Leather couldn’t…..the excellent Teague would keep the County striker out. 
Minihan -on song!

It quite simply was not to be, and with County’s attacking ploy of choice finishing up as the long high ball into the box, and with Andy Teague and Scott Leather dealing with these with imperious ease, the game was up for the blues.  

Leather heads

I am aching to say that `we were robbed’  ,but that would be a wild inaccuracy, the better side on the night won it in my view- not an easy thing to say, but sometimes you lose and last night was County’s turn. It is disappointing, but no disgrace to lose out to the Lancashire outfit. They may not win the play offs but will no doubt give whosoever they meet here on out one heck of a game.  

It was all to play for back at 7.45, as the two teams emerged onto the pitch to taste an Edgeley Park atmosphere, so highly charged you could almost touch it.
Away support.

Eight hundred Chorley fans had made the trip, and were mostly packed in the two end blocks of the Pop Side. They were making some noise too, but then so were those backing James Gannon’s side, and there were more than 5000 of those.

Cheadle End again.

The volume of support for County from all 3 sides was enormous, and more than matched that experienced in top games in past years for me, but it was a real disappointment to see that County would kick towards the Cheadle End in the first half, and with hindsight this factor turned out to probably be as crucial to how the game went as anything else.

No matter……….. County………..with a back 3 of Cowan, Smalley and O’Halloran in place, were heading our way first off. 
In the possibly equally crucial absence of Scott Duxbury, County had Minihan and Thomas providing width. The selection of Minihan was a brave move by JG, but it proved a brilliant one as Sam gave a sterling performance throughout, winning the sponsors M.O.M.
 I had Thomas and Winter not far behind him , but at 7.46 none of this was apparent …instead visiting keeper Matt Urwin  had his work cut out with Oswell, responding to the crowds cheers, surging into gaps, aided by Turnbull. Urwin eventually capped the noise by dropping on the ball with County’s number nine just inches away.

Urwins !

There was a terrific atmosphere about the old place, as Leather looked for Redfearns on Castle Street with the energetic Oswell breaking clear again.

The first 5 minutes augured well for County’s chances, and but for the presence of the estimable Andy Teague, Warburton’s run to the by line, 7 minutes in, might have been more productive.
Warburton to the by-line

County went close from the corner that came from that last action, and close again from a second flag kick as Thomas added to the action with a tasty run down the right flank.

With just over 10 minutes gone, whilst Chorley were occasionally showing us what they could do outside their own last third, mainly it was County doing the showing, and Minihan was next up in this respect, and he was just shy of Ball with a neat pass .

Close thing for Ball !

That was close, but we had another corner ….and a penalty ( I opined) as the cry of `handball’ went up from the Cheadle End. Mr Rhodes would have none of it, but we did have yet another corner, which saw Urwin in action and just getting to the ball at the back post before the predatory Oswell.

Urwin denies Oswell - again.

The 17th minute saw the games first booking as Jake Cottrell went right through Harry.
That was naughty, and irritating, but not as much as seeing Chorley emerge from their defensive cocoon forcing O’Halloran to produce the goods to stop the rot in response.
We had been warned, but still no one around me could think of anything other than a County win, and they were loud in their support of this wish, as Urwin again left his line to stop Oswell, with 22 minutes gone.

As a referee Mr Rhodes could best be described as `unexcitably underwhelming’ and I rather thought he should have reacted more firmly next as Marcus Carver charged Hinchliffe in the back when he was trying to clear from hand.

Not `Crime Watch'...Carver on Hinchliffe.

 A mugging by any yardstick, but my memory of this referees dislike of offering protection to those sides seeking it ( at the Boston game) came swiftly to mind as he contented himself by awarding a free kick.

Back came County through Minihan, but the pass onward saw Warburton sidelined by Leather.

Minihan was in top nick for sure, but Cottrell did well to block his run next, allowing Teague to effect a clearance, Teague again in there with a vital intervention that kept Ball from Minihan’s follow up.
Urwin under pressure.

We were beyond 30 minutes now and still County were attacking, and more frustration surfaced as Mr Rhodes failed to produce a card when Ball was hauled down by Teague, adding insult to perceived injury by failing to acknowledge an attempted shirt exchange executed on Thomas, instead awarding Chorley the free kick .

The County attacking went on and on… did wave after wave of corners, Urwin having to make a last gasper to keep it at 0-0 as a defender, freaked by Warburton and Oswell sent his hurried header towards the top corner of the net. 
County press.

Bugger….that was really close… was Smalley’s follow up header….and another from Ball.
The last action of the half almost saw County go in trailing however, as Mr Rhodes gave Chorley a free kick near the half way line. This was lifted into the County box, where Hinchliffe did well, under pressure, to punch out. The ball went to O’Keefe however, and he lashed it back at goal, where somehow Turnbull was able to head it out from under the bar.
County have to defend.

That was that for the first half, such a tense affair…could square that circle in the second 45?   
County opened the second half with another run of corners, but without ever looking likely to snatch that vital first goal.

Winter, Thomas and Minihan were still performing like heroes for County, but with no reward to show for it.
Winter in top nick.

Alarmingly though , Chorley slowly began to show us what they could do, and with an hour gone, it took good work from Minihan and then Cowan to stop Jason Wilson’s efforts to overturn the County apple cart.

Wilson had just escaped a booking from the referee, and it was perhaps no surprise that a County name was next into Mr Rhodes book- Turnbull.

Bully booked !

Thomas interrupted a period of Chorley pressure with a run down the left that had the County faithful cheering loudly. Unfortunately it ended with him shooting into the side netting, but it offered some encouragement.

Thomas - hard working as ever.

But Chorley were by no means done, and Alex Newby was emerging as a threat- winning a corner that saw Smalley in action heading clear. Back he came though and it took excellent work from Minihan to keep him out.
County under the cosh.

That was worrying, but it suddenly got worse …quickly….. as with Newby probing again, and County unable to clear their lines, a header across goal ( from Carver I think) reached Wilson who headed home from half a yard out.

The away end erupted in excited joy, but incredibly it was County fans who stepped up to the plate the best , responding to the set back by getting to their feet and chanting their support for their team- a proud moment!

JG replaced Turnbull with Turner, and not long after O’Halloran with Stephenson.
Twixt these changes Newby had nibbled at County’s under belly again, looking on for a Chorley second before lifting a poor effort high and wide into the Cheadle End.
County under pressure.
Cowan was now operating on the left side of a back three that now had Minihan alongside Smalley on the right side, but it was alarming to see Challoner and Newby in oodles of space , with 5 minutes left. 

All back for this one.

This really did look likely to produce the game killing second goal, until Minihan again justified his M.O.M tag with a glorious block.

County were depending on long high ones from distance now, and Cowan pinged one in with just 2 minutes left. This was cleared without undue hassle by Chorley, Smalley doing well to stop the rot when Carver broke from deep when the County thrust dissipated.
County press.

Into the last minute of normal time we went with a bear hug from Teague on Oswell teeing County up for a free kick. Twice from this County went close- Stephenson going closest testing Urwin with a shot that deserved better. Corners came and went following this action, but no goal, and again Minihan had to be on his toes to sort another break from deep from the visitors.


....and again !

Chorley attacked into added time with Newby seeing Hinchliffe just push his shot around the post.

But it was County attacking when the game finally ended…Stephenson and Thomas both going close without reward.

A blast of Mr Rhodes whistle told us Chorley had won.

A certain numbness descended on the writer( what’s new I hear you unkindly respond), disappointment yes….anguish too I suppose …to a degree….but fair do’s Chorley had  out foxed us and taken the prize.

It’s in adversity when you see the best come out of good people….and it pored from the County supporters now as they stood to loudly applaud their team despite the disappointment. 

That was a bit special, and I particularly liked, as I was heading for the exit, the sight of Darren Stephenson, who was some way behind the rest in blue, applauding County fans and getting a huge response from them!

Tell me we cannot build on this next season and I will say…..take heart, JG has established a basis that could take us up, given the odd tweak…believe!
See you again soon!

Stockport County  line up:

Hinchliffe,  Cowan, Smalley, O’Halloran( Stephenson 79), Winter, Turnbull( Turner 72), Minihan, Thomas, Oswell, Warburton, Ball.

Subs not used: Ormson, Clarke, Walker.

Chorley line up:

Urwin, Challoner, Molyneux, Teague, Leather, Anson, Newby( Whitham 92), O’Keefe, Carver, Jason Wilson( Josh Wilson), Cottrell.   
Subs not used: Gregory, Burgess, Darr.

Attendance: 6240


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