Woolfe outfoxes the Badgers
Sandwiched in between the lunchtime North London derby and the early-evening, scoreless clash of the Merseyside giants, the thrills and spills - not to mention a dramatic (and, for County fans, a happy) ending - served up by the ‘SK El Clasico’ at Edgeley Park proved to be an opportunity missed so far as live television was concerned!
Following the postponement of Barrow’s visit to SK3 on Tuesday night, the frost was successfully kept at bay ahead of the arrival of Stalybridge Celtic’s ‘Badgers’ from SK15 - as well as supporters of the two near-neighbouring Cheshire towns, who, between them, were to make up EP’s (and the Conference North’s) highest League attendance of the season to date.
County’s 4-4-2 starting line-up featured just one change from the side that had taken to the field at Boston a week ago - with Tunji Moses returning from injury to replace Jack Ryan, who had incurred a groin strain in midweek. Jordan Fagbola, having served a one-match ban for the red card shown to him at Gainsborough, was named among the substitutes in place of Matthew Todd.
For Celtic, managed by former County favourite Keith Briggs, two other ex-Hatters - namely, goalkeeper, Lewis King and striker, Paul ‘Charlie’ Ennis - lined up against their old club. (A third such starter would have been anticipated earlier in the week, but, in the event, Liam Dickinson’s very recent move to Guiseley ruled that out.) The visitors also handed a debut to Jamie Allen, who had played at EP, as part of the Fylde front-line, just over two months previously.
Stalybridge, playing their first game in a fortnight, made the early running - forcing a couple of corners, without threatening the County goal - before the Hatters gained two of their own at the Cheadle End. The second corner, delivered by Scott Duxbury, found Stephen O’Halloran, whose header across the goalmouth was met by Danny Glover at the near post. Glover’s shot looked to have taken a deflection off the thigh of Harley Wigley, but, in any event, it found the back of the net in emphatic style and County were ahead.
Having made a slow start, County were briefly spurred on to bolder deeds by the goal. Glover executed an overhead kick that saw the ball flash just wide of the upright, before Chris Churchman hit the side netting from a position similar to that in which Glover had found himself when opening the scoring.
Within four minutes of taking the lead, however, the Hatters were rocked when a ball through the middle found Allen. The debutant, in Celtic’s first meaningful attack of the match, slotted the ball wide of the advancing Danny Hurst - and against the inside of Hurst’s left post to cross the line for an unexpected equalizer.
Allen, clearly feeling that his work for the afternoon was far from done, next seized upon a pass from Ennis, before drilling another low shot beyond Hurst - on this occasion, to the home ‘keeper’s right - although the striker’s effort also fizzed past the post.
The first half, by way of a sideshow, exhibited three brief player-skirmishes following challenges. Richie Baker and the visiting Captain, Scott Kerr, were shown yellow cards for their respective parts in the second of these.
Back in the course of the main event, some end-to-end football was taking place as half-time drew nearer: Hurst did well to cut out a dangerous-looking Ennis cross from the right; Duxbury’s volley was deflected above the Badgers’ bar, before O’Halloran’s header from the resulting corner also looped over; Ben McKenna crossed from the left to Allen, whose header was gathered by Hurst at the second attempt; and King needed to be at full stretch in order that he could tip over a stinging shot from Kristian Dennis.
Finally, McKenna, who had caused County no little torment on the left flank during the reverse-fixture at Stalybridge back on August Bank Holiday Monday, cut in from the self-same side to shoot wide from within the box. But for all the game’s increasing openness, its goal-count remained at one apiece as a collective breath was drawn for the break.
HALF-TIME: County 1 (Glover, 15), Stalybridge 1 (Allen, 19).
As the second half commenced, both teams set out to show an early declaration of intent.
First, Duxbury, spotting King off his line, lofted the ball from distance - only for the former County ‘keeper to step back a pace and catch the effort. There then followed a spot of pinball in the Hatters’ area, as both Ennis and Allen let fly with shots that were blocked.
Just eight minutes following the break, Alan Lord made a double-substitution - introducing Chris Sharp and Nathan Woolfe, with a view further to enhancing the side’s overall pace and width. And, almost immediately, it paid off, as Sharp launched a cross into the visitors’ area that, in the midst of attempts by Celtic defenders to clear, fell to Glover eight yards out. The striker, playing his seventh game in a County shirt since transferring from Hednesford, made no mistake in prodding the ball home for his second goal of both the afternoon and his EP career.
Just as they had done after scoring for the first time, the Hatters followed up their latest goal with a flurry of momentum. Dennis saw a shot deflected behind, before getting himself on the end of the subsequent corner and heading narrowly over. And Glover, on a hat trick, unleashed a shot from the right that flashed in front of the Celtic goalmouth.
But, equally, as before, County were not to enjoy a lead for very long - and, within six minutes, the Badgers were back on level terms. An Allen shot within the home area was blocked by Duxbury, but only cleared as far as McKenna, who kept his head calmly to side-foot past Hurst. Worse was soon to follow, as the two visiting players combined again - with McKenna crossing from the right for Allen to convert his second, and his new team’s third.
With Celtic looking to preserve their lead, and putting ten players behind the ball as and when necessary, it looked for all the world as if County would be on the receiving end of a ‘double’ comprising two 3-2 reverses. But cometh the hour, cometh The Menace. Latching onto a ball on the right of the visitors’ box, Dennis turned and blasted home, from an angle, a fierce right-footed shot that restored parity once more.
The final ten minutes of normal time saw both teams go in search of a winner. Nathan Heath timed a tackle on Dennis to perfection when County’s leading scorer was through and about to pull the trigger, whilst a Glover corner somehow failed to find a final touch from either Dennis or Sharp as it floated in front of goal. At the other end, Charlie Dawes, another Celtic debutant, forced a diving Hurst to smother a low shot from the edge of the County area, before a four-player move culminated in an effort from Michael Potts that squirted wide of the post.
And so to time added on... four minutes of it. In the third of these, and having already deservedly been announced as Man of the Match, Glover initiated the contest’s final twist, as he raced down, and crossed from, the right. The delivery found its way to the far post, where Woolfe, despite the attentions of King and two defenders, was determined not to be kept from the door. In he threw himself to bundle the ball - and, by so doing, to see the Hatters - over the line, for his first County goal and the all-important odd one in seven that meant a second successive home victory.
Not, granted, a standard of performance to have had the County faithful purring - it was rather too disjointed for that - but the way in which victory was secured at the end of this action-packed derby surely must have done so. Stay in your seats - or, at least, book them - for this time next week, when the Hatters once again host short-distance travellers from Tameside. Now ain’t the time to Hyde...
FULL-TIME: County 4 (Glover, 15 and 57; Dennis, 78; Woolfe, 90 + 3), Stalybridge 3 (Allen, 19 and 70; McKenna, 63).
Team: Hurst, Jacobs, Duxbury, Churchman (Woolfe, 53), Lees, O’Halloran, Moses, Baker (Sharp, 53), Dennis, Glover, Russell.
Unused Subs: Ormson, Fagbola, Lofthouse.FREE MATCH VIDEO:http://youtu.be/2JwWL7H38rs