Three For Lions, As County Receive A Mauling
In this, County's last home match ahead of the Winter festivities, Christmas came early for the ‘Lions' from Guiseley who were able to travel back across the Pennines with the precious gift of three deserved points. The Hatters, on occasion, played the part of Santa by being a tad too generous whilst in possession, but, all told, could have few complaints about having been beaten by a strong team that will surely appear at the business-end of the Conference North table upon the season's conclusion.
The County starting eleven showed just one change from the team that had taken to the Edgeley Park turf against Fylde four days earlier - Lee Stevenson replacing top scorer, Kristian Dennis, who had been ruled out with a groin strain. Charlie Russell, fresh from his recent success in helping the Development Squad reach the final of the Lancashire West League Cup, was named among the substitutes.
Guiseley's starters included two players formerly of the SK3 parish, from our Football League days: Danny Boshell (whose brother, Nicky, also featured) and Oli Johnson.
The opening stages saw an attempt apiece from the contest's respective Number Nines, as first Scott Spencer, and then Adam Boyes, shot wide of the goal concerned. On the ten-minute mark, however, the game was given a proper jolt, when Guiseley went ahead. Chris Churchman found himself dispossessed under pressure, before the ball was fed wide to Johnson on the right flank. The ex-Hatter delivered a pinpoint-perfect cross in front of goal to Nicky Boshell, who made no mistake in converting from close range.
Johnson, a little later, switched to the left for his next trick - cutting in to unleash a strike that evaded Danny Hurst but struck the County upright. Sensing a reprieve, the Hatters rallied to force several corners, but without finding a sorely-required finishing touch, while what was possibly their best passing sequence culminated in a Chris Sharp scissors-shot that, sadly, lacked the necessary cutting-edge.
Guiseley were, for all that, looking quick on and off the ball, and ended the first half the stronger side as they looked to increase their lead. Both Nicky Boshell and Gary Rothery fired attempts wide of County's goal, before Hurst did well to recover from a slip and hold on to a Johnson shot at the second attempt.
HALF-TIME: County 0, Guiseley 1 (N Boshell, 10).
County emerged from the break with the look of a side that seemed positively intent on making good. Owens forced an early corner shortly after the kick-off, and, when the Hatters were awarded a free kick just outside the visiting area, Steve Drench was seriously tested into parrying Richie Baker's delivery.
The prospects of the Hatters, and of their eight-match unbeaten run at EP, looked even brighter on 52 minutes when Shane Killock slid in late to challenge Stephen O'Halloran, after County's defender had won the ball. Killock came off the worst from this clash in two respects: initially, by way of requiring treatment; and, more critically, in the shape of a straight red card that was brandished once he had got back on his feet.
In the immediate aftermath of securing a one-player advantage, County brought on Nathan Woolfe as an additional attacking option. Further forays into Guiseley's area led to another corner, following the deflection of an Owens cross, and to a shot from Baker that was fired wide.
This proved, alas, too brief and too little, for, within a quarter of an hour following the sending-off, Guiseley's lead was doubled. Johnson was again the creator, threading a ball through to Boyes who drove a low shot past Hurst.
And, in fewer than ten minutes after that, with somewhat depressing inevitability, Johnson capped a fine individual performance to score himself and complete a rather-too-thorough haunting of his former club. A break found him inside County's half, and he showed the home defence a clean pair of heels before rifling his shot into the corner of the net - thereby emulating the scoreline by which Guiseley had triumphed over the Hatters at Nethermoor Park during the first week of the season.
When up against Lions who are three goals to the good, the Mane (sorry) objective is to play for Pride (sorry, again). County, to their credit, didn't give up, and both Woolfe and Mark Lees fired shots at Drench, before Scott Spencer, in added time, hit a thunderbolt from distance against the underside of the bar. The latter would have provided a consolation for The Twelfth Man to remember - although, in truth, it could not have masked a disappointing afternoon at the office overall. Sadly, too, this meant that, so far as Conference North matches were concerned, ‘Fortress Edgeley' had been breached for the first time since the current campaign's opening day (and on only the third occasion in the entire calendar year).
But let us keep things in perspective. County have endured a month of taking on League opponents in possession of play-off places. That has been a tough ask - as, indeed, we knew it would be. And yet, the Hatters themselves remain sixth... still just one position away.
Time now to regroup, rekindle our romance with the FA Trophy, and swap grappling with the Lions for (hopefully) battering the Rams!
FULL-TIME: County 0, Guiseley 3 (N Boshell, 10; Boyes, 67; Johnson, 76).
Team: Hurst, Lees, Owens, Churchman ( Woolfe, 58), Gregson, O'Halloran, Baker, Stevenson, Spencer, Milligan, Sharp (Fagbola, 79).
Unused Subs: Ormson, Belezika, Russell.
Man of the Match: Lees.
Attendance: 2,547 (77 away).