STOCKPORT County brought their two-match losing run in the Vanarama National League North to an end at Edgeley Park with a draw against Tamworth.
And, in doing so, the Hatters scored a goal and earned a point against opponents who had won without conceding on their last two visits to SK3 as Jake Kirby’s stunning strike was cancelled out by Elliott Durrell.
County, however, will feel disappointed at not emerging victorious from a contest that the home side dominated in large measure.
There will also be not a little fury over two decisions by referee Paul Marsden – who is no stranger to controversy when it comes to presiding over games in which the Hatters are involved.
Rather spookily, Neil Young had also, earlier in the afternoon, made a trio of changes to the line-up which had taken to the field in SK3 against Chorley a week earlier.
Danny Hurst was handed the goalkeeping gloves for the first time since late September, while Sean O’Hanlon once again donned the captain’s armband after serving a one-match suspension the previous Saturday, and Joe Garvin was handed only his fourth league start of the campaign.
Those they replaced – namely, Ian Ormson, Ross Killock and Micah Evans – were all named among County’s substitutes. Lamin Colley, now recovered from a knee injury, and Wade Joyce also earned recalls to the bench.
On a day that was unsettled in terms of the wet Stockport weather and unsettling in the wake of events around the wider world, the Hatters, playing in a 4-3-3 formation, made a bright start as they sought to play attacking football in difficult conditions.
Their earliest chance fell to Garvin, whose venomous-looking drive was deflected into the grateful arms of James Belshaw. And, a short while later, the visiting ‘keeper was also well positioned to gather a shot from distance by Abs Baggie.
Tamworth, boasting the League’s second-meanest defence, appeared content to absorb pressure while taking such opportunities to break as might arise.
Durrell was the visitors’ first player to go close, when his volley struck Hurst’s left post. Following up, Ross Dyer picked up the rebound – but fired off target with a snap shot.
For much of the remaining period before the break, however, the Hatters were in the ascendancy – using both wings to good effect, as Baggie and Dale Tonge combined on the right flank and Mo Cham did so with Gareth Roberts on the left.
In this way, Baggie sent across a delivery that was headed over by Kay Odejayi – before himself moving into the centre of the box with a view to meeting a Roberts cross from the other side, only to be narrowly pipped to the ball by Belshaw.
With eight minutes of the half left, County’s pressure paid off and the deadlock was broken. And, as had been the case shortly before half-time against Chorley, the Hatters’ goal, once again at the Railway End, came courtesy of an excellent strike by Kirby.
In fact, if anything, Kirby’s latest goal was the pick of the two – originating from further out than that of the previous weekend, yet being equally unstoppable as it rocketed 25 yards into the top left-hand corner.
County continued to press after the break, and, at one stage, forced six corners in quick succession. Belshaw also had to be at his best in parrying away a low drive from home captain, Sean O’Hanlon, and, later, a Micah Evans header.
Referee Marsden took a strange decision on the hour to award the visitors a free kick in their own half, after Baggie had clearly been fouled. Bewilderment at this soon turned to anger among the County Faithful, when the dead-ball kick led to Tamworth’s equaliser – with Elliott Durrell firing him from inside the box.
Kirby’s crosses from the right almost saw County regain the advantage on two occasions, as deliveries fizzed across the goalmouth agonisingly shy of a final touch by Roberts and, subsequently, Lamin Colley.
And, as the game drew towards its close, Mr Marsden – who sent off two County players at Gainsborough in January, and permitted additional added time in which North Ferriby drew level against the Hatters earlier this season – again had a say in proceedings, as he waved away a penalty-claims after a shot by Colley appeared to strike the hand of Dan Preston.
As County’s vociferous penalty-appeals were waved away, so, too, were the prospects of converting a single point into three of them.
Stockport County: Hurst, Tonge, Roberts, Connolly, O’Hanlon (c), Garvin, Baggie, Montrose, Odejayi, Cham, Kirby.
Subs not used: Ormson, Joyce, Killock, Evans, Colley.
Booked: Connolly, Odejayi, Roberts
Goals: Kirby 37
Tamworth: Belshaw, Burns, Warlow, Fowler, Tomassen, Preston, Durrell, Clarke, Dyer, Mettam, Green.
Subs not used: Roberts, Taylor, Strong, Davies, Morrell.
Booked: Durrell, Tomassen, Preston
Goals: Durrell 61
Referee: Paul Marsden
By Gareth Evans at Edgeley Park