Three Moor Points For County, As Spencer Strike Sinks Solihull
The Hatters, fresh from their win at Brackley seven days earlier, recorded their second successive single-goal victory against a club that they failed to beat on either occasion last season. In doing so, County also broke through the fifty-points barrier to keep in touch with the pack chasing play-off positions.
There was but one change made to the previous starting line-up - forced as a consequence of the one-match suspension being served by Jack Ryan for his red card against Worcester. Scott Spencer took Ryan's place, at the spearhead of County's 5-3-2 formation, for what was the former's first League start in over two months. Scott Duxbury, who had missed the Brackley game with a groin strain, was in turn recalled to the bench by way of a replacement substitute for Spencer.
Spring had arrived early at SK3, and there appeared also to be a spring in the step of both sides as they set about their respective attacking manoeuvres in the sunshine. Solihull's defenders were even getting in on the act, too. Jordan Gough unleashed an early punt from just inside County's half that flew just high and wide, before Michael Nottingham headed over following his team's, and the contest's, first corner.
For the Hatters, midfielders were trying their luck from distance in the opening stages. Chris Churchman hit his first attempt extremely wide following good work on the left flank by Matthew Todd, although went a good deal closer with his second which curled in flight to soar just outside the post. Greg Wilkinson, meanwhile, opted for, but mistimed, a volley that bounced so as not unduly to trouble a very bright orange-clad Tony Breeden in the visiting goal.
County's two front men also looked lively. Spencer appeared to be impeded while leaping for a ball in the Solihull area with Liam Daly - although play was promptly waved on - and Danny Glover seriously tested Breeden after breaking into the box and firing a low shot that the diving ‘keeper did well to parry away.
The Moors proceeded to enjoy a spell of pressure, as they attacked the Cheadle End. First, Ryan Beswick chipped across County's goalmouth - only to find Todd waiting at the far post to head the ball out of play. Daly then met a corner with a header - albeit a softly-projected one that presented Danny Hurst with a simple catch - and Nottingham fired high into the stand, following a free kick just outside the home area and a consequential spell of pinball within it.
Solihull's leading scorer, Omar Bogle, had hitherto been kept quiet by the five-man County defence. On the one occasion Bogle looked to have beaten it - latching onto a through-ball from Beswick - he was undone by his own feet, as he tripped and lost possession.
As half-time approached, the visitors had the ball in the back of the net following a corner. The whistle had, however, already been blown for an infringement - thereby earning referee, Mr Copeland, forgiveness from the County Faithful, who had moments earlier bemoaned the amount of time the Man in the Middle had taken to allow Churchman back on the pitch after treatment for a facial injury.
Richie Baker and Kyle Jacobs continued the pattern of home players shooting from distance, with successive efforts that flew wide - but the final action before the break occurred at the other end, where Connor Hancock, building on his impressive League debut at Brackley, calmly and effectively dispossessed Stefan Moore as the visiting striker was poised to shoot.
HALF-TIME: County 0, Solihull 0.
Chances were still being enjoyed by both sides, once the second half was underway: Bogle shot wide of the left-hand post from just inside the County area; Baker was played through by Wilkinson, but administered rather too heavy a second touch that allowed the ball to run on for Breeden to gather; Spencer headed narrowly wide, following a Jacobs cross from the right; and Breeden conjured up the most unlikely of opportunities when his high and long clearance upfield dipped to clear the County bar by a margin that, for Hurst (having to watch the ball with the sun in his eyes), was rather too close for comfort!
With just over twenty minutes left on the clock, County struck the decisive blow with a well-worked move. Wilkinson played the ball out to the left, and to Glover who chipped the advancing Breeden to find Spencer at the far post. The recalled striker might not have found the back of the net in a League match in almost four months, but made no mistake as he converted decisively from close range. As Edgeley Park erupted in joy, and the Spring-like sun continued to shine, our Man at Number Nine's thoughts lightly turned to becoming temporarily separated from his shirt in the cause of celebration!
The celebrations could so easily have been short-lived, as, moments after the re-start, County benefited from a real let-off. The latest in a series of Solihull corners was headed to Bogle, who, from six yards out and facing an open goal, also connected with his head... only to loop the ball over.
The Hatters defended resolutely with a view to preserving their lead and the three points. Hancock applied pressure, as Moore shot wide from fifteen yards following a diagonal pass from Owen Story. And just as the young centre half had ended the first half with a critical intervention, so, too, did one of his defensive partners, Stephen O'Halloran, in the dying minutes of the game - blocking Bogle to good effect as the Moors marksman homed in on goal.
A good start to March for the Hatters, then. And with, once again, no midweek fixture immediately to follow, some time to recharge the batteries as well. It will be needed: next up - a trek to the Far East that will see us visit Lowestoft. Better start packing...!
Free match highlights video here: http://youtu.be/Y-nBeu_H-9EFULL-TIME: County 1 (Spencer, 69), Solihull 0.
Team: Hurst, Jacobs, Todd, Lees, Hancock, O'Halloran, Baker, Churchman (Russell, 90 + 1), Glover, Spencer (Sharp, 84), Wilkinson (Moses, 88).
Unused Subs: Ormson, Duxbury.
Booked: Jacobs, Spencer.
Man of the Match: Todd.