AT the end of 2005/06 season FC United of Manchester had reached the end of their debut season and had been crowned North West Counties League Division Two champions – the 10th tier of English football.
Stockport County had just finished 22nd in Division Two, tier four, surviving relegation by three points.
A hundred and 15 places and six tiers separated the two at the end of the season.
Fast forward just over nine and a half years, the two were meeting in the sixth tier in front of a new league record attendance.
The attendance of 4797 was bigger than all eight games in the Vanarama National League – the division above – and perhaps even more impressively seven of the nine Emirates FA Cup Second Round ties that kicked off at the same time.
Both sides were going into the game on the back of horrendous runs. Stockport hadn’t won in six games, whilst the visitors from Moston hadn’t won in seven games in all competitions. More worryingly Karl Marginson’s side hadn’t won in the league since September 12 – eight games ago.
Something in theory had to give and it did as FC United gained revenge for County’s 2-1 win earlier in the season, in the first competitive game at Broadhurst Park, by winning by the same score line at Edgeley Park.
The game started in cold and windy conditions and it was County who started brightly and tested visiting ‘keeper David Carnell within the opening 10 seconds. The ball found its way to on-loan Jonny Margetts and his 25-yard drive strung the palms of the Red Rebels keeper.
Neil Young’s side continued to dominate as Micah Evans found space in the middle of the FC half and fed Joe Garvin, but his left-foot effort was turned behind by the outstretched leg of Carnell – who slipped on his way out to block former Colne midfielder Garvin, who may have been better lifting his effort.
Margetts then had a guilt edge chance to give the Hatters the lead. Abs Baggie created space well on the right-hand side but his cutback was scuffed wide of the right-hand post by the Tranmere loanee Margetts in front of over a thousand visiting supporters.
Marginson’s FC were starting to gain some authority in a game where so far they’d been extremely poor. They’d been unable to keep possession for any length of time, and it was easy to see why going into the game the Rebels were languishing in the relegation zone, but Dean Stott and George Thomson saw efforts fly over the bar and wide of the left-hand post respectively.
However as the first-half stoppage time was announced the visitors growing pressure took its toll. Rory Fallon slotted into the top left-corner of Andreus Arestidou’s goal from the left-hand side of the County area for his fourth goal of the season.
The hosts, who had only won three of their last 10 home games, would have felt aggrieved to find themselves behind at the break. For the majority of the half they’d been in control, but as has been the case for the majority of the season they’d failed to make their opportunities count.
The second half started in the same vain as the first-half ended – with FC on the front foot as Sam Madeley, and perhaps more the visiting United fans, saw a penalty appeal turned down by referee Thomas Bramall.
County came close to equalising when a Garvin free-kick from the right-hand side of the area curled just wide of the left-hand post – despite cries for a corner from a frustrated County dugout.
Their equaliser did come moments later as Margetts, who during the first-half had shown a real lack of composure, created space for himself in the FC area before slotting into the bottom left-corner with his left-foot.
The game then flipped into an end to end encounter as both sides looked to end their winless streaks.
It was the visitors who looked the most likely as Greaves saw his initial poked effort saved by Fleetwood loanee Arestidou before his acrobatic rebound effort was headed over the bar by Dale Tonge on the line.
However the stand-in captain wasn’t to be denied for long as he soon headed the relegation threatened Rebels in front. Fallon turned provider as his whipped left-wing cross was headed into the top right corner with aplomb by Greaves for his sixth goal of the season.
Young reacted by bringing on Kayode Odejayi and Karl Ledsham as he looked for a way back into the game, but in truth FC United were fairly comfortable as County struggled to fashion any clear cut opportunities.
A chorus of boos and ironic shouts of ‘keep going Neil, we’re almost there’ – a jibe at comments Young has made in post-match press conferences throughout the winless streak – met the full-time whistle as County’s run without claiming maximum points extends to seven games.
However it was a sentiment that the former Chester boss once again reiterated after the game: “I know I have good players, it’s very bleak at the moment, but I’m proud these are my group of players and I know we can get it right.”
On the evidence of today’s game, he has a lot of work to do, as his side in truth went missing once FC had regained the lead and in truth looked more likely to extend their lead than County did to restore parity.
Consecutive home defeats have left County eighth, eight points off the play-offs. Whilst the three points lifts Marginson’s FC side out of the bottom three going into Wednesday’s game against Nuneaton Town.
Stockport County: Arestidou, Tongue, Roberts (Ledsham ’80), Connolly, O’Hanlon (C), Rule, Montrose, Baggie (Odejayi ’73), Garvin, Evans, Margetts.
Subs not used: O’Hara, Morton, Joyce.
FC United of Manchester: Carnell, Stott, Thurston, Kay (Wolfenden ’89), Smyth, Ashworth, Winter, Fallon, Thomson, Greaves (C) (Brown ’92), Madeley (Patterson ’67).
Subs not used: Daniels, Lindfield.
Referee: Thomas Bramall (South Yorkshire)
Assistant referees: Lee Freeman and Alan Hull
By: Callum Matthews at Edgeley Park