Edgeley Park hosted its second match of the season on an afternoon when the late Summer weather struggled a little more to make its presence felt than it had two weeks previously for North Ferriby’s sun-drenched visit. No matter, though, given that the football served up by County today was, at times, positively sizzling against an Avenue side that had been hitherto unbeaten.
Alan Lord kept faith in the starting line-up, including a five-man defence, which had played to great effect, and come away with all three points, at Tamworth. There was only one change on the bench: Kristian Dennis, whose facial injury from just over a week ago had, thankfully, not led to a more lengthy lay-off, coming in for Chris Churchman.
Playing towards the Railway End and The Avenue faithful, County looked full of fire as the game began, and showed a clear declaration of intent in the opening minutes as Scott Spencer unleashed a ferocious shot that John Lamb, in the Avenue goal, did well to tip over. There then followed a succession of four County corners, as the Hatters sought to maintain the early pressure and get their noses in front...
They didn’t have to wait long. With fewer than ten minutes gone, Richie Baker picked up the ball in the centre of the visitors’ box and lashed it home, leaving Lamb with no chance.
The game could have changed shortly afterwards when Hurst denied Bradford the chance to equalize with a fantastic double save.
As the first half progressed, County continued to enjoy the lion’s share of the play, looking dangerous up front and, whenever required (albeit relatively infrequently before the break), solid in defence.
As they had done so notably against Tamworth, too, our ‘M’ men in midfield - Messrs Milligan and Moses - made commendable use of the extra space at their disposal.
The Captain, for good measure, also emulated a moment from seven days earlier when one of his free kicks hit the opposition crossbar. On this occasion, though, it was hit with a great deal more venom than the floated effort at Tamworth, and the woodwork endured a full-on smacker in place of last week’s tender kiss.
HALF-TIME: County 1 (Baker, 9), Avenue 0.
County kicked off towards the Cheadle End faithful after the break in similar vein, and, again, Spencer unleashed the half’s first shot of note with an early strike that went wide.
Alan Lord replaced the excellent Moses with Woolfe, as County sought to press further forward, and, on the hour, the lead was doubled. Yet another fierce shot by Spencer was saved well by Lamb, although, such was the force, it could only be parried away - and straight into the path of the increasingly impressive Jack Ryan, who gratefully tapped in from two yards.
The second goal appeared to stir The Avenue, who, for a ten-minute spell, exerted some pressure of their own. A headed goal-line clearance by Glenn Belezika was followed almost immediately by a fine, finger-tipped save from Danny Hurst, and, just as County might have felt that they had weathered the storm, Avenue substitute, Danny Frost, seized on a loose ball in the box, before lifting it over Hurst to win a ‘Battle of the Dannys’ and reduce the arrears.
County’s ‘keeper was hurt in the course of attempting to ward off Frost, and a delay followed while Hurst received treatment and his head was bandaged.
There remained ten minutes of normal time, and, not surprisingly, an additional six for County to negotiate - although they did so without having to endure any unduly anxious moments. Furthermore, the game was well and truly made safe deep into stoppage time when Dennis, who had entered the field of play just a little over five minutes beforehand, picked up a low cross from Woolfe and rifled home a shot into the Cheadle End goal’s bottom corner.
County can be justly proud of what was their best performance of the season to date - duly rewarded, come 5pm, with a top-ten position.
LET’S BE AVENUE! (It’s ok... I nicked that one from my own programme article.)
FULL-TIME: County 3 (Baker, 9; Ryan, 60; Dennis, 95), Avenue 1.
Team: Hurst, Belezika, Duxbury, O’Halloran, Gregson, Lees, Moses (Woolfe, 56), Baker, Spencer (Dennis, 89), Milligan (Lofthouse, 68), Ryan.
Unused Subs: Ormson, Sharp.
Man of the Match: Milligan.
Attendance: 2,173 (57 away).