Hatters' Patience Pays Off As They Edge Out The Saints
On a weekend that will see bonfires ablaze up and down the country, Edgeley Park hosted a match which, it would be fair to say, spent its first hour as a slow burner before igniting into life and culminating in a firecracker of a finale.
Earlier in the day, it was feared that the whole occasion might be written off as a damp squib, following heavy downpours from the less-than-clear grey skies over Edg-er-ley towards the end of the week. Thankfully, however, the EP pitch passed an early morning inspection, and, despite further rain later during the match-day morning, ‘This Ole Ground' remained good and ready to meet the Saints of Brackley.
There were changes a-plenty in the County line-up, with Kristian Dennis having to sit out as he began his three-match ban for the straight red card shown to him in the FA Cup against Chester two weeks previously, and the two Daniels - Hurst and Gregson - having not properly recovered from knocks that they had picked up at Harrogate seven days ago.
Additionally, Chris Churchman dropped to the bench, as in came: Ian Ormson, to don the goalkeeping gloves; Glenn Belezika and Jordan Fagbola, as respective occupants of the right and left back berths; and the newly-arrived loan signing from AFC Telford United, Andy Owens. The versatile Owens was to begin his County career spearheading the attack with Scott Spencer in a 4-4-2 starting-formation.
Although the hallowed Edgeley turf appeared to be holding up well enough, it did look slippery in places. Not that this, however, explained quite how easily Shaun Jeffers and, subsequently, Ryan Rowe went to ground in the County area during the early exchanges. The referee quite rightly waved play on in both instances.
Much of the first half saw the Hatters show no little effort in endeavouring to move the ball around, with a view to breaking down a resolute visiting defence - albeit, ultimately, with no reward. Brackley's own scoring opportunities were relatively limited, although Ormson was once called into serious action to tip over a well-struck shot from Rowe.
HALF-TIME: County 0, Brackley 0.
The game was in much need of opening up after the break - and that is what it did. Owens, who enjoyed a promising debut, caused early consternation in the visitors' box with a squared ball to Richie Baker that Brackley did well to clear. Shortly afterwards, at the other end, Ormson showed excellent judgement and courage in advancing to the edge of his area to deny the on-rushing Jeffers.
County were beginning to string some good moves together, and one finally came off on the hour when Jamie Milligan crossed from the left to find Baker, whose diving header hit the back of the net for his fifth League goal of the season. As history books will henceforth show, too, the first ever by the Hatters against the Saints.
With Brackley having failed to score from open play in over a month, there was cautious optimism among the County faithful that the one goal might well be enough. But the Saints were now alive, and beginning to threaten. Ebby Nelson-Addy showed a declaration of their intent, by unleashing a shot that cleared the Hatters' bar, and, shortly afterwards, they were level. A free kick was awarded to the visitors, after Fagbola's arm came into contact with the ball just outside the County area, and, when the home defence failed to clear the resulting delivery, Brackley's Captain, Ryan Austin, drilled the ball home to equalize.
Some end-to-end flurries followed, as each side went in search of a winner. Rowe shot narrowly wide for Brackley, before Baker looked to double his own tally, and that of his team, as he drove low and from distance to force a stop by the experienced ‘keeper, Billy Turley. (Hats off, incidentally, to the latter for handing over his gloves as a gift to a delighted young County fan at the final whistle!)
With the final minutes ticking away, Brackley looked, for all the world, to have secured themselves three points. The wet pitch claimed a victim in Ormson as he slipped whilst advancing towards substitute, Will Green, who proceed calmly to chip the ball goal-wards. Game over, surely?
Not so! By way of the finest goal-line clearance seen at EP since Mike Flynn's denial of Matt Le Tissier over seventeen years ago - and, fittingly, from almost the very same spot at the Railway End - Stephen O'Halloran imperiously hooked the ball away to safety.
And then, into added time, came the show-stopping fireworks. Fagbola, doubtless still smarting about his involvement in the events that had led to Brackley's goal, advanced down the left flank, and whipped over a killer of a cross towards the far post at the Cheadle End. Spencer was there to meet it, and rifled home from close range to send all but eighteen of the crowd into raptures.
County played out the final seconds to secure a sixth successive home League victory, and a most welcome return to winning ways after back-to-back defeats on the two most recent Saturdays. Departing proudly from the pitch in their poppy-emblazened Remembrance shirts, the players can be sure that their efforts this afternoon will only have served to enhance enthusiasm for acquiring the one-off kit when it is sold off to raise funds for the Royal British Legion.
And our Man of the Match against the Saints? Holy Tunji Moses! Nice touch.
FULL-TIME: County 2 (Baker, 60; Spencer, 91), Brackley 1 (Austin, 75).
Team: Ormson, Belezika, Fagbola, Moses, Lees, O'Halloran, Baker, Stevenson (Woolfe, 82), Owens, Spencer, Milligan.
Unused Subs: Hurst, Churchman, Lazenbury, Lofthouse.
Booked: Baker, Fagbola.
Man of the Match: Moses.
Attendance: 2,475 (18 away).