No Gains, But Double Pains, As County See Red Twice Against The Holy Blues
There was no sign, as we arrived at The Northolme, of Gainsborough’s rumoured celebrity acquisition, Jake Quickenden. But, just as the fortunes of X Factor contestants can turn on questionable decisions by the show’s judges, so, too, did those of the Hatters on a call made by referee, Paul Marsden, that, just before half-time, enabled Trinity to get their noses in front and left County to go in at the break not only a goal, but also a player, down.
The second half was to see both of those statistics double... but, oh, I’m telling you the plot.
Alan Lord rang the changes so far as County’s starting line-up was concerned, by making five from the side that had taken to the field at Wrexham on Tuesday night. Ian Ormson was handed the goalkeeping gloves for the first time since November - replacing Danny Hurst, who, following the FA Trophy replay across the border, had been diagnosed with a broken finger. Kyle Jacobs went straight into the team for what was the first Conference North fixture for County since the former Hatter’s re-signing from Chorley the previous weekend - while Development Squad midfielder, Charlie Russell, having appeared as a substitute during the Wrexham defeat, was handed his full League debut. Both Danny Glover and Greg Wilkinson, each of whom had been ineligible to play in the Trophy matches, returned to the side. Matthew Todd, Kristian Dennis and Chris Sharp all dropped to the bench, and Glenn Belezika was rather further away - having flown across the Irish Sea the previous day to begin a loan spell at Linfield which is to run until the end of the season.
Ahead of kick-off, Ernie Moss, who had served as the home club’s manager and had, during County’s ‘great escape’ under Colin Murphy from relegation in 1986/87, played, and scored valuable goals, for the Hatters, appeared on the pitch to acclaim from supporters of both sides. Trinity had designated the occasion ‘Ernie Moss Day’, following his diagnosis in the Autumn with Pick’s disease - and with a view to supporting the work of dementia causes.
The wintry sun was bright as the main event got underway on a pitch heavily topped with sand, and County - playing in white and black, given the home-colour sported by the Holy Blues - made a start to match the weather. During the first quarter of an hour, Wilkinson alone launched three attempts on goal - having a low shot from within the box blocked by Jan Budtz, and then testing the home ‘keeper again with a couple of longer-range efforts. Glover, too, looked eager to make an impression after his return from Trophy exile - running with the ball from his own half to the Trinity area, before unleashing an attempt that could not find its way past a group of defenders.
Gainsborough began to apply more pressure as the half progressed - and as conditions fluctuated, with sleet and hail competing against the sunshine. Ciaran Toner, Matt Dixon and Jonathon Margetts all shot some way off target from distance, while a chipped effort by Tom Davie and a Dan Clayton cross both sailed narrowly over the County goal. The hosts did make contact with the woodwork, when Toner’s in-swinging corner evaded everyone before brushing the bar, but, throughout this spell, Ormson was only called into meaningful action once - saving comfortably after Trinity’s leading League scorer, Paul Beesley, had turned well but shot straight at the County ‘keeper.
Honours looked to be deservedly even as the break approached, but, on the stroke of half-time came a critical turning-point, as Jordan Fagbola was judged to have fouled Margetts in the County area. The award of a penalty looked to be generous, on the basis of contact between the two players - but, once that decision was made, Fagbola, technically in the position of having denied a goal-scoring opportunity, found himself in receipt of a straight red card. County’s misery was then further compounded as Toner placed his spot-kick to the left - sending Ormson the wrong way - to give Trinity the lead.
HALF-TIME: Gainsborough 1 (Toner (penalty), 45), County 0.
The Hatters lined up for the second half with a back four needing to replace the five-player defence that had started the match. Not that they were to stay at 4-3-2 for very long, mind.
Within just four minutes of the re-start, the ten men, distressingly, became nine as Wilkinson was sent off for challenging Trinity Captain, Dominic Roma, with a foot over the ball.
Astonishingly, County were galvanized by this second loss of manpower, and, by way of an immediate response, Glover turned and shot from distance - just clearing the Trinity bar in the process. As a further declaration of intent, Dennis was brought on to replace Scott Duxbury and change the formation again, such that it became 3-2-3.
Gainsborough sought to press home their two-player advantage, but made rather hard work of it. And, on those occasions when Ormson was tested, the County ‘keeper stood firm - holding on to a wicked deflection off Mark Lees, following a Roma cross from the right, and saving with his legs when Margetts was through on goal.
Up at the other end, Jack Ryan, picking up an excellent ball from Chris Churchman, looked well placed at close range, to the left of goal, to get County back on level terms - but his shot, from an angle, was hit straight at Budtz.
Still the nine Hatters pushed forward, and, with a little over ten minutes remaining, gained their first corner of the half. As the kick was cleared, however, Gainsborough broke to undertake a foray of their own - with Simon Russell, once in the County area, playing in Margetts whose shot doubled the home side’s lead.
Moments later, Trinity looked to have scored again - only for Dixon’s effort to be ruled out by a flag for offside.
The Hatters stuck to their task, however improbable a result for them might have become. A Glover free kick from twenty-five yards forced Budtz to dive and parry the ball behind for a corner - from which Ryan headed into the side-netting. And the Trinity ‘keeper was similarly called into action after an excellent move that led to a hard and low shot from Dennis.
As the game approached its end, Trinity hit the County upright - courtesy of a Roma delivery - and Margetts placed a shot just wide of it following a corner. But a third goal would have been harsh on a County side which, while depleted in numbers for half of the match, had battled bravely to get something from it.
Not exactly, then, a week for away-trips that we shall select to live long in our memories. But, as had been the case at Wrexham four days earlier, at least the sleet abated in time for the post-defeat drive home.
FULL-TIME: Gainsborough 2 (Toner (penalty), 45; Margetts, 78), County 0.
Team: Ormson, Jacobs, Duxbury (Dennis, 66), Lees, Fagbola, O’Halloran, Russell, Churchman, Glover, Wilkinson, Ryan.
Unused Subs: Sharp, Lofthouse, Todd, Lazenbury.
Booked: Glover, Jacobs, Ryan.
Sent Off: Fagbola, Wilkinson.