County Left To Rue The One That Got Away, As Trawler Boys Net Late Leveler
A cross-country expedition of over two hundred miles to the most easterly town in the UK - whose closest motorway can be found in The Netherlands - so very nearly yielded three points and a third successive victory for County.
There were, however, two further counts of three that ultimately proved decisive. The third of the game’s penalties - awarded to, and converted by, Lowestoft during the third minute of added time - not only earned the hosts a draw, but also sparked off a brief flurry of events that saw the Hatters down to ten men at the final whistle.
County’s starting line-up in the Far East had also showed three changes from the side that had taken to the field at Edgeley Park a week earlier. With Kyle Jacobs and Chris Churchman recovering, respectively, from the effects of a car accident and from concussion whilst in action against Solihull Moors seven days previously, and following Richie Baker’s move to AFC Fylde towards the end of the week, there were recalls in midfield for Tunji Moses and Charlie Russell - together, notably, with a first-ever senior call-up, at right back, for Wes Benjamin from the Development Squad, as Alan Lord sought to retain the 5-3-2 formation that had been serving the Hatters well of late.
Jack Ryan, having fulfilled his one-match suspension for the Solihull match, was named among the County substitutes - as was another Development Squad player, Joe Noblett, who was featuring in a Conference North squad for the first time. Lowestoft’s starters, for their part, included neither Danny Crow nor Robert Eagle - thereby denying the Media Team any use of a host of well-practised volucrine puns!
The early Spring sunshine of the morning gave way to clouds and a sea-breeze, as the contest began in an even manner. Lowestoft created the opening chance of the afternoon when the head of towering defender, Omar Sowunmi, connected with his side’s first corner to force a parried save behind by Danny Hurst. Sowunmi then proved just as useful, if not more so, at the home end - his last-ditch intervention preventing a shot from Scott Spencer, after the County striker had been played through by Matthew Todd.
With fewer than twenty minutes gone, however, the hosts were to take the lead from the penalty-spot. And County could have no complaints about the decision, either - as Stephen O’Halloran was penalised for pushing Jake Reed in the back, after the pacey forward had run on to the left of Hurst’s goal. Jack Ainsley duly stepped up to send Hurst the wrong way, and successfully convert his tenth spot-kick of the season.
Having taken the lead, Lowestoft continued to present a threat from set-pieces - especially with Sowunmi as a 6’ 7” target at which to aim. A free kick from Adam Smith on the right flank evaded everyone in the County area but the centre half, who took the ball on the bounce to head over.
The Hatters, when awarded free kicks of their own with the wind behind them, did not quite master the conditions sufficiently to threaten the home goal. Danny Glover’s attempt, from 25 yards out, found its way directly into the arms of Ashley Jones - while Greg Wilkinson boldly tried his luck with a quickly-taken one from the halfway-line, only for the kick to soar wide. Glover, a little earlier, had gone close with County’s best opportunity of the half - glancing a header over, following another well-measured Todd delivery from the left.
As half-time approached, the Trawler Boys could well have doubled their tally - and, once again, a dead-ball situation set the scene. Smith’s free kick this time found Rossi Jarvis, whose goal-bound header was brilliantly tipped over by Hurst to ensure that the earlier penalty alone separated the two sides at the break.
HALF-TIME: Lowestoft 1 (Ainsley, 19 (penalty)), County 0.
The Hatters, it is true, had created relatively little by way of scoring opportunities during the first half. They did, however, begin the second with some purpose. After just eight seconds of the re-start, Spencer unleashed a venomous shot from distance that Jones required two attempts to grasp safely.
Lowestoft, far from sitting back, were now playing with the wind and still looking to extend their lead. Erkan Okay shot high and wide from the edge of the box - before another Smith free kick caught Hurst in two minds, as the County ‘keeper failed to catch the ball cleanly but did recover in time to palm it over his crossbar.
As the match entered its final third, the Hatters, rather against the run of play, leveraged themselves back into contention, following the award of the afternoon’s second penalty. A shot from Russell found its way into the heart of the Lowestoft area - and to a stooping Spencer, whose face met the raised foot of Andrew Fisk. ‘Spenno’ dusted himself down to take the spot-kick himself - wrong-footing Jones for a County equalizer.
By this stage, County’s formation had changed to 4-3-3, following the introduction of Ryan for Connor Hancock. Following Spencer’s goal, the loanee striker from Preston twice went to ground in and around the Lowestoft box - although Ryan’s appeals on both occasions fell on deaf refereeing ears.
It took the closing minutes of the game to produce County’s first corner of the afternoon. But, moreover, they also saw the Hatters take the lead - and with an effort that was instantly pencilled in as contender for the Club’s Goal of the Season, as Spencer scored his own, and his team’s, second with a tremendous strike from the edge of the area that curled in off the underside of the bar.
Such a ‘worldie’ would have been hailed as a more-than-worthy means of settling the result, and, without doubt, of guaranteeing a more-than-happy long jaunt back to the North West. In the event, though, the last meaningful phase of open play was to lead to the third penalty-award of the contest, as County failed to clear a corner and Reed fell to the floor of a crowded box. Like that given in favour of the Hatters earlier, the decision to grant Lowestoft a second penalty appeared open to debate - although there was no disputing the composure of Ainsley, who calmly put away his second of the afternoon from the spot.
It was, in effect, the last kick of the game - although further drama was to follow as proceedings came to a bizarre end. Attempts by the Hatters to get the ball back to the centre-spot as quickly as possible following Lowestoft’s equalizer led to scuffles with their hosts. Reed was booked for his part in the episode, as was Glover - although, the latter, having picked up a yellow card moments earlier in the immediate aftermath of the penalty-award, was now shown red, as County’s disappointment of relinquishing two points at the death was further compounded by the loss of a player’s services for a forthcoming fixture.
Watch the match highlights here: https://youtu.be/-RyTH0ZGH-cFULL-TIME: Lowestoft 2 (Ainsley, 19 & 90 + 3 (two penalties)), County (Spencer 66 (penalty) & 89).
Team: Hurst, Benjamin, Todd, Lees, Hancock (Ryan, 53), O’Halloran, Moses, Russell, Glover, Spencer (Lofthouse, 90 + 2), Wilkinson.
Unused Subs: Ormson, Sharp, Noblett.
Sent Off: Glover.