County's Great Start To The New Year Is Thrown Into Sharp Relief
With the pitch at Bradford Park Avenue having been declared unfit, due to snow and ice, for County's visit four days earlier, the Hatters began 2015 against the same opponents with whom they had signed off the old year on Boxing Day. It was also the fourth consecutive Public Holiday on which they had faced Colwyn Bay in Conference North action, following encounters during the previous season on the August Bank Holiday and the Easter Mondays of 2013/14.
Alan Lord made two changes following the draw between the two sides at Edgeley Park. Returning loanee, Jack Ryan, was selected to make his second County debut, while Chris Churchman, whose fine shot had secured a point for his team just under a week previously, saw himself restored to the starting line-up. Chris Sharp and Bobby Lofthouse both dropped to the bench, while Jordan Lazenbury, who had not featured in the Boxing Day squad, was also named among the substitutes. The Bay's Player Manager, 43 year-old Frank Sinclair, named himself to start for the hosts.
The New Year in North Wales had conjured up wet and windy weather conditions that appeared set for the afternoon. Not good news, potentially, from a footballing point of view - nor for the sheep in fields overlooking the pitch, who were denied prime viewing rights as they were driven into nearby shelter ahead of kick-off!
The Bay won the toss and opted, unsurprisingly, to kick with the wind - although, for all their early possession, the hosts failed to make the most of the conditions in their favour. Wes Baynes opted twice, quite reasonably, to shoot on sight, but without finding the target, whilst a header from Captain, Rob Hopley, was lofted well above the County bar.
The Hatters, meanwhile, were striving to acclimatize in the most sensible manner, by keeping the ball low wherever possible - albeit without seeing very much of The Bay's half. It was, then, a wonderful surprise, just after the half-hour mark, not only to witness a County attack but also to see one that resulted in a goal. Scott Spencer laid the ball off to Churchman, whose pinpoint-perfect pass towards the left of the goal found Ryan. The striker made no mistake with a shot that sent Chris Sanna the wrong way and gave County an unlikely lead.
Spurred on by this development, County began to take the game to their hosts, but, in the course of the first half's closing stages, suffered setbacks as two defenders became in need of treatment. First, the luckless Scott Duxbury was declared unable to continue, following what looked to be an injury to his right knee. He was immediately replaced by Lazenbury, as Mark Lees dropped back into central defence and Stephen O'Halloran moved across to occupy the left back berth vacated by Duxbury. Then, with seconds remaining ahead of the break, Daniel Gregson found himself similarly afflicted - and, whilst able to play out the rest of the short period leading to the half-time whistle, he was not to reappear when the teams took to the field again for the second half.
HALF-TIME: Colwyn Bay 0, County 1 (Ryan, 31).
The side that emerged back onto the heavy pitch after the break, in what were, by and large, rather less white shirts than those which had first graced Llanelian Road at 3pm, included Sharp in place of Gregson. Simultaneously, the Hatters' defence endured a further reshuffling - with Glenn Belezika now partnering Lees in the centre, and Lazenbury being deployed as an emergency right back.
While County players were getting used to their various new roles on stage, Colwyn Bay took full advantage to steal the opening scene and draw level. Baynes crossed from the right to find the head of Sinclair, who, despite his advancing years, deftly stooped to nod the ball home for his second goal in two games for the Seagulls.
Having worked so hard to counter the conditions in the first half, County, in the face of a resurgent home side, had now to redouble their efforts with a view to exploiting the potential advantage offered by the wind on their backs. An initial effort towards The Bay goal, by an off-balance Tunji Moses, was skewed wide, before shots from Sharp and Ryan cleared the bar. In between, and at the other end, Danny Hurst was called into action, when a Paulo Mendes volley forced him to dive, stretch and superbly parry the ball with his fingertips.
Danny Glover assumed free-kicking duties, and made a concerted attempt to catch the wind with two dead-ball deliveries that caused Sanna no little difficulty. The home ‘keeper was further tested by a shot on the turn from Sharp, and could only watch as a Ryan drive outside the box fizzed narrowly wide of the post.
Several challenges earlier in the game had, a little surprisingly, gone unpunished by the referee - although Sinclair's booking, with fewer than ten minutes left on the clock, sparked something of a flurry of cards for him and his players. And, within a short space of time, The Bay Player Manager's own participation was ended when he earned himself a second yellow...
The trigger for Sinclair's wrath proved the cue for County's joy, as another Glover free kick - this time from the left flank - found Spencer on the far post, before Sharp, amidst a crowded goalmouth, turned in the ball from close range. In the course of the Hatters' celebrations, Sinclair saw red in more ways than one as he was dismissed for dissent.
This late drama was not followed by anything of further note, and the Hatters were able to add Colwyn Bay's name to an ever-growing list of teams - also including Boston, Brackley, Gloucester, Hednesford and Leamington - on whom they had inflicted League defeats in the current campaign after failing to do so during last term.
So, then, a 100% record for 2015 so far - and a worthy performance by County, in the face of atrocious elements. What a shame those sheep didn't get to watch it!
A VERY HAPPY NEW YEAR TO HATTERS EVERYWHERE!FULL-TIME: Colwyn Bay 1 (Sinclair, 47), County 2 (Ryan, 31; Sharp, 88).
Team: Hurst, Belezika, Duxbury (Lazenbury, 43), Lees, Gregson (Sharp, 45), O'Halloran, Moses, Churchman, Spencer, Glover, Ryan.
Unused Subs: Ormson, Lofthouse, Hancock.
*** Watch the match highlights here ***