The County faithful had needed to count off nearly six weeks after the appointment of Jim Gannon as manager, before welcoming him back to Edgeley Park for a National League North game.
And the wait for a league victory at EP had stretched back rather longer: over seven win-less matches, in fact, and extending back to the final day of British Summer Time during October, when the Hatters defeated Bradford Park Avenue 2-0.
But a County win by the same scoreline against the ‘Holy Blues’ of Gainsborough Trinity ensured that both waits were simultaneously ended with a smile – as well as giving the Hatters their first ‘double’ of the current campaign, and a second successive win following victory at Brackley Town a week ago.
The result was also of no little doctrinal interest – representing as it did, on this occasion, the triumph of County’s own ‘Holy Ghost‘ over the entire Trinity!
Gannon made just one change from the line-up which had started at Brackley – with Danny Morton returning in place of Jamie Menagh, to act as the right point of a 4-4-2 diamond formation.
Menagh featured on County’s bench, which also featured Wade Joyce, who was making his first squad appearance since Boxing Day, and George West, further to the young striker’s successful performances for the reserves.
Gainsborough took to the field, donning an extremely fluorescent lime green away-kit that could burn the eyes at ten paces. But the Hatters shone more brightly in footballing terms as the game began – forcing an early corner, after a Karl Ledsham cross from the right was tipped over by visiting goalkeeper, Jonathan Hedge.
All too often this season, County have started as the stronger team but struggled to make pressure count by finding the back of the net. The delight, then, was more than palpable when, on five minutes, the Hatters took the lead.
Richard Brodie started the move – shrugging off the attentions of Josh Lacey, before finding Morton. And John Marsden finished it, with a low drive from 12 yards which gave the former Colwyn Bay striker his first league goal in a County shirt.
The Hatters’ initial dominance continued, as they created further scoring opportunities. Marsden saw another shot deflected wide of the left post. Hedge beat Brodie by a whisker to a dipping lob into the six-yard box from Ledsham. And Brodie’s head connected with a Marsden corner – a fourth of the afternoon for County, with just 11 minutes on the clock – only for his effort to shave the Trinity crossbar.
The visitors took a while to rally, but when they did their first chances came courtesy of the same player – and from practically the same spot on the edge of the box. Liam Davis (for it was he) fired wide of the left post, before half-volleying a second effort straight at Ian Ormson who caught comfortably.
Ormson’s day had already started well, on being given an improved and extended contract that would run until the end of the 2016/17 season.
It was about to get even better for him, too… oh, but I’m telling you the plot!
Meanwhile, back at the away-end, Ledsham was looking to play both architect and executioner. His free kick into Trinity’s area found Marsden, albeit at a stretch – restricting the earlier scorer to a looping header that fell gently into the arms of Hedge. And, subsequently, after being played in by Lewis Montrose, Ledsham tried his luck from outside the box with a shot that fizzed just beyond the left post.
Gainsborough went on to finish the half looking ominously stronger – with Darryn Stamp leading the charge in what was to become a fascinating, holy-type duel with Ormson. For the latter, like the Apostle Peter (but in rather more joyous circumstances), was to deny his man three times in quick succession.
Ormson began his good work by standing firm to block Stamp’s approach through on goal; followed that up by tipping a header by the striker skywards; and, finally, was perfectly placed to gather his deflected shot from the edge of the box. With Stamp duly vanquished – at least for the time being – it fell to Davis, as Trinity’s other active player in the final third, to beat County’s Number One, but a raised flag for offside put paid to any late first-half celebrations on the part of the visitors.
HALF-TIME: Stockport County 1 (Marsden 5′) Gainsborough Trinity 0.
The second half began with a brief resumption of the Ormson-Stamp sub-plot – with the former diving at the near post to smother a header flicked on by the latter following a throw-in from the right.
The Hatters, through Paul Connolly, also used a throw on the right flank to create a chance of their own – finding Brodie, who half-volleyed from the edge of the box and high into Cheadle End orbit.
The visitors were now, however, enjoying the greater share of possession. And their pressure told just after the hour-mark when Sean O’Hanlon tussled with Stamp in the County area, and Gainsborough earned a penalty.
Cometh the hour (or thereabouts), though, cometh the man. Simon Russell’s low drive of a spot-kick was well struck and placed – but Ormson, guessing correctly, dived to his left and parried the ball behind.
It was a fantastic save – and, moreover, a pivotal point in the contest. A quarter of an hour later, County broke – with Kay Odejayi, who had been introduced for Brodie just over five minutes beforehand, feeding Marsden to fire past Hedge from the edge of the box and double his personal tally, as well as the Hatters’ lead, for the afternoon.
Odejayi looked to have a case for a second penalty of the contest, when, latching on to Connolly’s cross from the right, he went to ground under a challenge by visiting captain, Dominic Roma. But claims from Hatters – on the pitch, and in the Cheadle End, alike – were promptly waved away.
Expectations that a two-goal lead for County would be enough were tested in the final couple of minutes of normal time, as the Holy Blues went extremely close twice more.
Substitute, Marc Newsham, looked for all the world to have reduced the arrears with a point-blank header from Richard Brogan’s cross on the left – but he reckoned without Ormson, whose reflex save to keep the ball out was nothing short of utterly breathtaking. And, moments later, Stamp connected with a corner to head against the left upright.
In added time, Odejayi continued to play a worthily selfless cameo – playing in West, who was not far away from marking his senior debut with a goal as he shot narrowly over. And the big striker also did everything possible to top off Marsden’s day with a dream ending – although the latter missed out on a hat-trick by under-hitting his eventual attempt on goal, which dribbled wide of the right post.
Not that it mattered when the final whistle sounded seconds later – leaving the Hatters with a return of seven points from the last possible nine, and, pleasingly, a third consecutive clean sheet.
Not a bad way to end February. And with Hednesford visiting EP on the first day of the new month next Tuesday, the Hatters are, in more ways than one, back on the March!
FULL-TIME: Stockport County 2 (Marsden 5′, 79′) Gainsborough Trinity 0.
Booked: Anoruo (45′).
Booked: Hodge (45′), Brogan (78′).