SPRING sprung in style for Stockport County, as they celebrated their last league away-trip by not only winning – but also recording a third ‘double’ of the campaign.
The morning sun shone brightly on County en route to North Street – or the Impact Arena, if you will – and, although weather conditions became a little more overcast for the afternoon, the game was lit up by a solid team performance, as well as by three strikes that also saw the club pass its end-of-season points-haul for 2014/15.
Jim Gannon made two changes to the team that had started against Corby at Edgeley Park a week previously – with Chris Smalley and Joe Garvin replacing Jamie Menagh and Richard Brodie.
While Brodie dropped to the bench, Menagh travelled to FC United with the reserves, and was to net a first goal after just three seconds as County’s second-string side – also featuring fellow senior squad members, Tom Field, Sam Grimshaw, Wade Joyce, Matthew Todd and George West – chalked up a mind-boggling 9-4 win.
County’s substitutes at Alfreton also included Charlie Russell, who had returned from a loan-spell at Northwich Victoria. And a former Hatter – namely, Matt Duke, who had played three times for County whilst on loan from Hull in 2005 – donned the goalkeeping gloves for the hosts.
With the two teams being level on points towards the end of the table’s top half, and having nothing of note to play for, it was perhaps not surprising that the opening exchanges were low on moments of excitement. Truth be told, the focus of admiration to begin with was the quality of North Street’s slightly sloping playing surface, which, in spite of the season’s end, quite remarkably had the appearance of a pristine bowling green.
There were, however, five corners earned in the course of the first 13 minutes – with home captain, Dan Bradley, and John Marsden playing key roles in securing these for their respective sides. Indeed, Bradley was posing a consistent threat down the right early on – and created the contest’s first real chance with a cross that found Andi Thanoj, who headed wide of the far post.
Danny Morton, playing on the right of County’s midfield in a 4-1-4-1, aqua-clad formation, was next to try his luck – latching onto a Paul Connolly long throw, before unleashing a shot that fizzed beyond the left upright.
Three minutes ahead of the half-hour mark, the Hatters went ahead – after Kayode Odejayi won the ball in Alfreton’s area, and John Marsden right-footed home from 12-yards. In doing so, Marsden nudged himself to the top of County’s list of goal-scorers in the league for this season.
Alfreton’s own leading scorer, Sam Jones, came close to levelling for the Reds just before half-time, as he found space on the edge of the County box. But Dean Henderson, who had a little earlier stood tall to narrow the angle and block an approach on goal from the right by Bradley, was equal to Jones’ eventual attempt and dived to parry the shot.
HALF-TIME: Alfreton 0, County 1 (Marsden, 27).
The Reds were sent out for the second half by manager, Nicky Law, a good five minutes before County re-emerged. And, kicking down the slope, they sounded an early declaration of intent after the re-start, when Jamie Jackson curled a shot narrowly over the Hatters’ crossbar from the edge of the area.
Odejayi looked to re-create his chipped winning goal against Hednesford from five weeks earlier – but, on this occasion, lobbed his attempt too high. And Garvin – starting for the first time since that match at Keys Park – then went closer with a trademark left-footed thunderbolt which Duke did extraordinarily well to tip over.
Each side earned a free kick in support of its cause. Garvin took County’s just beyond the home-box – and was on target with this, albeit without seriously testing Duke. And the Alfreton set-piece – taken by substitute, Ryan Wilson, from 40-yards out – evaded all in attendance to soar beyond the left upright.
Another of the home side’s players from the bench, Lindon Meikle, provided an additional attacking threat – going close on two occasions in quick succession, as he first fired over from close range and, subsequently, sent a low drive narrowly wide.
But, with five minutes of normal time remaining, it was to be one of County’s replacements who added his name to the scoresheet. Marsden fed Morton on the right – and the latter proceeded to beat his man before cutting in and squaring to Brodie, who netted from close range to double the Hatters’ advantage.
And, just two minutes later, a Henderson free kick from deep inside County’s half found Marsden to the right of goal. Having shortly beforehand hooked an effort over the bar from the left, the Hatters’ new outright leading scorer more than atoned by allowing the ball to bounce once before brilliantly half-volleying from a tight angle across the face of goal and into the far top corner. Think van Basten in the 1988 Euros Final, and you’re getting there…
Speaking of finals, only Tranmere now stand between County and Cheshire Senior Cup glory at Nantwich on Tuesday. Let us hope that the Hatters’ very last jaunt away from EP this term may end as pleasingly as our one to North Derbyshire did!
Highlights – credit to Dan Powell
Alfreton Town: Duke, Moyo, Banton, Jordan, Heaton, Nyoni (Wilson ’63), Leesley, Thanoj (Smith ’29), Jones (Meikle ’77), Jackson, Bradley.
Subs not used: Doyle-Charles, Allan.
Stockport County: Henderson, Connolly, Roberts, Ellison, O’Hanlon, Smalley, Morton, Wilson (Russell ’64), Odejayi (Brodie ’72), Marsden, Garvin (Rule ’77).
Subs not used: Ormson, Anoruo.
Referee: Peter Gibbons
By Gareth Evans at North Street