County Not At Their Sunday Best, As They Fail To Silence The Lambs
Having brought to an end, at Colwyn Bay on New Year's Day, a run of six League matches without a win, the Hatters were fancied to be in good heart for similarly interrupting Tamworth's impressive sequence of eight straight victories. The in-form Lambs, however, were not quite ready as yet to have the wool pulled over their eyes, and their well-organised performance saw them score once in each half to inflict upon County a third home defeat of the season.
Earlier in the day, Hatters fans had been boosted by the news of Greg Wilkinson's one-month loan signing from Altrincham. A midfielder, and former County target, Wilkinson went straight into the starting line-up - replacing Daniel Gregson, who had not fully recovered from a knee injury sustained at The Bay three days earlier. Scott Duxbury, in spite of his own substitution, due to a knock, on New Year's Day, was named among the starters, while Matthew Todd, having been on the Edgeley Park injury list since late October, was included on the bench - replacing Connor Hancock.
The visitors fielded a former Hatter in Javan Vidal, a right back, who had played a handful of matches during the death throes of County's ill-fated 2012/13 Conference Premier campaign.
After just five minutes, Tamworth suffered a setback when striker, and leading scorer, Kayden Jackson, was injured and, despite a spell of treatment, unable to participate further. His place was taken by Connor Taylor.
County, while having their sights on goal, only managed one first-half attempt that was directed towards its target - Scott Spencer's long-range drive being comfortably gathered by James Belshaw. Chris Churchman unleashed two of his trademark efforts from distance, albeit beyond the Tamworth upright and crossbar, respectively, while Wilkinson was simultaneously high and wide with his first shot in a blue shirt. And Mark Lees blazed over following a run from his own half that, for the new Captain, was fittingly Beckenbauer-esque.
For all of this industry on the part of the hosts, however, Tamworth were responsible for conjuring up some more testing moments in front of the opposition goal. Daniel Preston headed the Lambs' first corner narrowly wide, before Danny Hurst was forced to dive and parry the ball in the aftermath of a free kick, and Duxbury was perfectly positioned at the near post to head away from the line following another corner.
Jackson's injury, together with the later need to treat Glenn Belezika following a blow to the head, resulted in five minutes of added time ahead of the break. All told, it had been an even first half, but, during the fourth additional minute, the visitors struck to go in front - and, with a depressing inevitability, it was Vidal who came back to haunt his old club in the process.
The goal was not without controversy. During the build-up, Vidal appeared to foul Stephen O'Halloran and the Assistant's flag was raised accordingly. Play was nevertheless allowed to continue, before the visiting defender held off another O'Halloran challenge to poke the ball past Hurst from six yards. And what followed added to the mix, too - with Vidal conducting his celebrations for much of the length of the Main Stand. As the half-time whistle blew, tensions visibly rose both on and off the pitch - leading to one (non-playing) individual being escorted away. A veritable Lambs' stew, if you will...
HALF-TIME: County 0, Tamworth 1 (Vidal, 45 + 4).
With the precious one-goal advantage, Tamworth concentrated after the break on maintaining their shape and looking, whenever they might, to catch County on the break. Hurst was without doubt to find himself the busiest goalkeeper of the afternoon, with that in mind - and did well early in the second half to save with his chest, in a one-on-one confrontation with the dangerous Brendon Daniels.
Just over twenty minutes into the second half, however, the Lambs doubled their lead. O'Halloran lost possession on the right flank, leaving Daniels to advance into the County area and square the ball to Taylor, whose shot evaded Hurst to nestle in the bottom corner of the net.
The Hatters, in endeavouring to get themselves back into the contest, were primarily restricted to more attempts from distance. A Duxbury free kick and a shot from Sharp were both comfortably stopped by Belshaw, and, although the visiting ‘keeper, was forced to dive and stretch when Wilkinson drove goal-wards from outside the box, he held on to that effort as well. By way of bucking this trend, Jack Ryan then looked to be in with a tremendous chance of reducing the arrears, when he broke into the Tamworth area - but, on pulling the trigger, he skied the ball high into the Cheadle End.
Tamworth might well have added a third goal in the closing stages, as David Hibbert found himself with only Hurst to beat. But, once again, County's Number One pulled off an excellent point-blank save - something not lost on Hibbert, who was quick and generous in offering his immediate congratulations, or on the visiting supporters, whose applause could be heard following confirmation that Hurst had been selected by the Sponsors as their Man of the Match.
A hugely disappointing afternoon for the Hatters, then. Although, for many associated with County, the saddest news of the day came a little later when it was announced that devoted and long-time supporter, Lee Bennett, had passed away. Known by plenty, and recognised by nearly everybody, at EP, he will be sorely missed. The thoughts of the Club are with his family and friends. RIP, Lee.
FULL-TIME: County 0, Tamworth 2 (Vidal, 45 + 4; Taylor, 67).
Team: Hurst, Belezika, Duxbury, Churchman, Lees, O'Halloran, Moses, Wilkinson, Spencer (Sharp, 63), Glover, Ryan.
Unused Subs: Ormson, Lofthouse, Todd, Lazenbury.
Man of the Match: Hurst.
Attendance: 2,503 (99 away).