STOCKPORT County will on Saturday hit the road for the last time in the National League North this season, when they travel to Alfreton Town (KO 15:00 BST).
The relatively short trip to Derbyshire – and a rather scenic one, if they cut through the Peak District – will see the Hatters visit North Street (or the Impact Arena, if you will…) for the first time in just over three years, following the Reds’ relegation last term.
And, so far as County are concerned, it is one of those grounds where whatever may transpire tends not to be forgettable!
Back in early April 2013, the Hatters – thanks to strikes by James Tunnicliffe, Mark Cullen and Jon Nolan – edged a thriller by the odd goal in five to give themselves what ultimately, alas, turned out to be false hope of staying up in the Conference Premier.
And it was a case of going from the sublime to the ‘oh, cor blimey’ a year earlier, when County were blitzed 6-1 – with Jordan Rose netting a late, forlorn consolation.
Alfreton’s campaign since Christmas has been quite similar to that of the Hatters – featuring some good form that suggested possible play-off credentials, ahead of a March burnout leading to nothing more than mid-table respectability.
In their nine games since the beginning of last month, the Reds have only twice enjoyed victory. Truth be told, it really should have been thrice when they last played on Tuesday night – but a Stalybridge equaliser in stoppage time at Bower Fold saw them return home from Tameside with just the one point.
Hatters with a sense of empathy will feel Alfreton’s pain – having watched County surrender a two-goal lead late on against relegated Corby, with whom they ultimately had to share the spoils at Edgeley Park last Saturday.
(Actually, forget about the empathy – given that the draw at Stalybridge enabled the Reds not only to go level on points with County but also to leapfrog them two places into ninth!)
The Hatters do, however, have an opportunity to record a third – and what would be their final – ‘double’ of the season, after winning the reverse fixture at EP back in September, courtesy of a third-minute Ryan Ellison volley.
The Reds will be likely to include in their squad two players – namely, defender Julian Banton and striker Jamie McDonagh – who are on loan from Sheffield United until the end of the season.
And their goalkeeper will be a familiar face to County fans with good and long-ish memories, as Matt Duke donned the gloves on three occasions for the Hatters, whilst a Hull loanee, in 2005.
For the Hatters, Lewis Montrose continues to be absent from midfield with knee damage. But Glenn Rule, who was an unused substitute against Corby after recovering from injury, may feature.
Alfreton Town: Duke (GK), Allan, Berry, McGowan, Heaton, Jordan, Banton, Moyo, R Wilson, Bradley (c), Doyle-Charles, Nyoni, Meikle, Jones, Thanoj, Leesley, Jackson, S Smith, Robertson, McDonagh.
Stockport County: Henderson (GK), Ormson (GK), D Smith (GK), Morton, Poscha, Todd, Roberts, Connolly, O’Hanlon (c), Smalley, Ellison, Joyce, Field, Rule, Garvin, Holsgrove, Grimshaw, B Wilson, Menagh, Odejayi, Marsden, Brodie, Anoruo, West.
Referee: Peter Gibbons (Cheshire)
Assistants: David Croft & Shaun Mohan
By Gareth Evans