AFTER over seven hours of National League North football, Stockport County’s defence was breached by the Lambs of Tamworth – masquerading as fellow form-horses who, like the Hatters, had embarked upon the contest with three consecutive wins to their name.
But the point gained from a tight encounter was fully merited, and now extends the Hatters’ unbeaten run to five matches.
The Staffordshire town had clearly escaped the wintry weather that engulfed Stockport 24 hours earlier – with not a snowflake to be seen, and with intermittently bright sunshine bathing The Lamb’s (that is, the ground’s) playing surface.
Interestingly, Nuneaton’s home fixture had been postponed due to waterlogging a mere fifteen miles away. There are clearly worse places to go on holiday than Tamworth, so far as protection from the elements is concerned!
James Gannon made two changes from the team that had started against the league’s other Staffordshire outfit, Hednesford, at Edgeley Park in midweek. New midfield signing from Chorley, Tom Field, came in for Lewis Montrose, who was sitting out the first game of a two-match suspension following his red card at Brackley two weeks earlier. And Kayode Odejayi was preferred to Obi Anoruo, who was suffering from a hip injury.
For County’s second match in succession, following Paul Connolly’s late replacement by Jamie Menagh on Tuesday night, the squad named on the official team-sheet had to undergo a last-minute revision. Anoruo had, in fact, been named among the original set of substitutes – although his failure of a fitness test immediately before kick-off saw George West take his place on the bench.
The Hatters, donning their turquoise shirts and retaining a 4-4-2 diamond formation, created an early opportunity when a Gareth Roberts throw-in from the left was flicked across the home goal-mouth by Odejayi. But, without a colleague positioned to apply a final touch, the ball drifted past the far upright.
The Lambs rallied to force five corners inside the opening ten minutes. And the initial one of these followed the game’s first serious attempt on goal – with Curtis Strong having unleashed a curling shot from the edge of the box that Ian Ormson did well to tip over.
With scoring opportunities rather few and far between over the subsequent 20 minutes or so, such penalty-area incidents as there were concerned falls by County players in the self-same box where Jack Ryan had gone to ground and earned a last-minute, match-winning penalty (scored by then-captain, Jamie Milligan) in the previous season’s corresponding fixture.
On this occasion, Richard Brodie and then Odejayi lost their footing – not, it has to be said, with the greatest conviction – under respective challenges from Ashley Carter and Strong. Referee Anthony Tankard was having none of it in either instance, though. Clearly, an official who had no intention of appearing a mug (did I say that…?)!
The game had to wait until the half-hour mark before the next chance of note. It was, however, a key one – giving as it did the lead to County. Danny Morton’s long throw from the right towards the home six-yard box was punched away by James Belshaw – but only as far as John Marsden, who fired home from an angle inside the far post for his third league goal in three games.
The Hatters were clearly buoyed up, and kept Belshaw occupied until the break – with the Lambs’ goalkeeper needing to be on hand to catch Chris Smalley’s header from a corner, and to gather up a daisy-cutter shot by Marsden in added time.
HALF-TIME: Tamworth 0, County 1 (Marsden, 30).
The Lambs carved out two half-chances in the opening exchanges following the interval. A cross from the right by Connor Taylor showed signs of developing into a shot, before it flew high and wide of the far post. And home captain, Paul Green, unleashed a low drive from the edge of County’s box that took a deflection en route to Ormson.
The game’s next attempt on goal was also deflected, as Marsden saw his shot fizz beyond the left post to give the Hatters the first corner following half-time.
But, with the hour just passed, there was no stopping Elliott Durrell, as he drove home an equaliser from just outside the area. Hatters could be excused a sense of déjà vu at this – given that the same player had put the Lambs back on level terms in the reverse-fixture’s second half at Edgeley Park just under four months earlier.
Having conceded their first goal in more than a month, the Hatters almost immediately let in another when Ross Dyer’s right-footed strike hit the corner of the post and bar.
But, just one minute later, County went close on two occasions in quick succession. Smalley again connected with a corner, only to see his header cleared off the line. And a follow-up shot by Brodie was parried away by Belshaw at point-blank range.
Danny Newton looked to offer the greatest threat to County – as exemplified by his twisting and turning run into the box that produced a shot just wide of the left post. And one of Tamworth’s newest arrivals, Kaid Mohamed, on loan from Eastleigh, almost marked his debut in style just two minutes after entering the fray as a substitute – but his effort from just inside the area was slowed down after taking a deflection from Smalley, and was comfortably gathered by Ormson.
The Hatters were not without their later chances, either. Joe Garvin toe-poked the ball through a crowded box to Belshaw, before Morton headed narrowly over from a free kick lofted out of County’s half by Field.
Tamworth finished the match much as it had begun, with a plethora of corners – four more of them, to be precise, and in as many minutes – but the Hatters held firm to earn a deserved draw, which brings with it a further inching up the table into ninth place.
FULL-TIME: Tamworth 1 (Durrell, 61), County 1 (Marsden, 30).
HIGHLIGHTS – Credit to Dan Powell
Booked: Durrell (56′)
Unused Subs: West, D Smith.
Booked: Field (49′)
By Gareth Evans at the Lamb