JUST once in a (usually quite long) while, a match involving County will end up living forever in the memory… and for good reasons, if we are especially lucky!
The Hatters’ second trip to Staffordshire in the space of a fortnight – following on from their draw at Tamworth two weeks earlier – ultimately proved to be such an occasion. And yet, even beyond its ninety-minute mark, the contest against Hednesford had looked set to be one best forgotten.
Then came added time, and… oh, but I’m telling you the plot!
A bitingly cold afternoon at Keys Park had begun with the Hatters, clad in their aqua shirts and retaining a 4-4-2 ‘diamond’ formation – but with three changes from the team that had taken to the field in SK3 against Gloucester the previous Saturday.
With Gareth Roberts suffering whiplash symptoms from that game, Sean O’Hanlon nursing a fever and Karl Ledsham having departed for the United States, there were recalls for Joe Garvin and Wade Joyce – while Chris Smalley also returned to the side following his absence against Gloucester for family reasons.
Paul Connolly donned the Captain’s armband in O’Hanlon’s stead. And Matthew Todd, hitherto not included in a senior squad during the current campaign, was named among County’s substitutes.
Some sixty per cent of Hednesford’s bench, meanwhile, was occupied by former Hatters – namely, Paul ‘Charlie’ Ennis, Danny Glover and Marvin Robinson. Another, Mo Cham – on loan from Blackburn, as he had been at County during the Autumn of 2015 – took his place in the home starting line-up.
The two sides had competed just eighteen days earlier in the Edgeley Park fixture, and, on that occasion, County had built up a comfortable two-goal lead by half-time. This time around, however, there were rather fewer clear-cut chances throughout the early stages.
The Hatters had the greater share of first-half possession, although such opportunities that came their way generally took the form of attempts from distance. Richard Brodie was first to try his luck, after latching onto a poor clearance by Phil Trainer – but his left-footed strike flew wide. John Marsden’s low drive was gathered by the Pitmen’s goalkeeper, Dan Crane. And Joyce successively sliced and half-volleyed efforts past the right post.
The hosts’ first assault on goal, by contrast, almost gave them the lead. Captain, Ben Bailey, met their second corner of the afternoon with a header that Ian Ormson clawed away from just under County’s crossbar.
Back at the other end, and nine minutes ahead of the break, Ormson’s opposite number was more seriously tested by Brodie, as the County striker picked up a headed flick from Kay Odejayi before turning and volleying. But Crane was equal to the shot, as he reacted quickly to parry it away.
HALF-TIME: Hednesford 0, Stockport County 0.
The Pitmen brought on Glover upon the resumption of proceedings, and their attacking change almost reaped immediate dividends when he ran past Danny Morton to shoot from the edge of County’s box – requiring Ormson to dive and smother.
County’s response was a neat move, involving a header by Brodie and Marsden’s lay-off to Tom Field – but the latter’s shot lacked direction and fizzed well beyond the right post.
Ormson was soon called upon again to keep out Shelton Payne, who had impressed in the game at EP. County’s number one arched himself at full stretch to tip the curling shot past the left upright.
The Hatters were awarded two tempting free kicks within six minutes. Field took each of them – but while his thirty-yarder forced Crane to parry behind, that from ten yards further out presented the Pitmen’s ‘keeper with a routine catch.
With twenty minutes remaining, the hosts ended up making rather more of their own set-pieces. Glover’s free kick from the edge of the County ‘D’ led to a corner, after Ormson pushed out the delivery and Lewis Montrose put the loose ball out for a corner. And from that, Bailey went one better than he had in the first half – by once again connecting with the corner, but, on this occasion heading into the top right of the Hatters’ net.
A series of speculative attempts followed at both ends, as the Pitmen looked to extend their lead and County sought to get back on level terms. Payne shot past the far post from the right, and Tom Peers fired over, for the hosts – before Field volleyed wide from distance, and a hopeful punt by Montrose was well judged for the catch by Crane.
Montrose’s effort had been launched in the first minute of added time – and the signs now, sadly, were that what was only a second goal conceded by County in more than ten hours of league football would condemn the Hatters to their first defeat in over six weeks.
Then, in the second minute, a Morton free kick found Odejayi, whose resulting header hit the right post. Substitute, Obi Anoruo, was quickest to react to the rebound, by way of a right-footed hook from close range that brought County level.
An air of renewed contentment at apparently having salvaged a point late in the game then turned, a minute later, to insane delirium. A hoofed clearance by Smalley, from deep in the County half, found Odejayi. The big striker ghosted around the equally imposing Francino Francis, before chipping over the advancing Crane and into an empty net.
Earth tremors ensued – think Leicester, and you’re getting there – and the Hatters, with seconds to spare, had simultaneously extended their unbeaten run of league matches to seven, moved up to ninth place and found themselves within five points of the play-off positions.
But, perhaps most of all, they had produced a stirring comeback which, in the short term, excited all Twelfth Man representatives – whether at the game, or following the game from afar – and, for the longer term, provided a memorable turn of events to look back on.
And, you know what… it really felt like watching County again.
FULL-TIME: Hednesford 1 (Bailey, 71), County 2 (Anoruo, 90 + 2; Odejayi, 90 + 3).
Hednesford: Crane (GK), Fitzwater, Trainer, Bailey (C), Digie (Glover, 46), Francis, Thomas (Robinson, 90 + 4), Williams, Peers, Cham, Payne.
Unused subs: Ransome, Truelove, Ennis
Booked: Williams (66), Cham (68), Glover (88)
Stockport County: Ormson (GK), Morton, Garvin, Montrose, Connolly (C), Smalley, Joyce (Ellison, 72), Field, Brodie (West, 82), Marsden (Anoruo, 72), Odejayi.
Unused subs: D Smith, Todd.
Booked: Brodie (45), Marsden (62)
By Gareth Evans at Keys Park