Churchman Delivers A Cracker For Christmas
County's festive mini-season began, for the third Conference season running, at Edgeley Park - and, for the first time since the Hatters' Football League days, with a share of the points.a
There was just one change to the side that had drawn at North Ferriby six days earlier, and it was a widely-anticipated one - with County's new signing from Hednesford, Danny Glover, making his debut in place of the injured Richie Baker. Mark Lees continued as Captain, forming part of the midfield within a 4-3-3 formation, while erstwhile Skipper, Jamie Milligan, took a seat on the bench - replacing Lee Stevenson, who, having completed his loan at EP, was now back at Alfreton. Charlie Russell was also named among the substitutes, as Jordan Lazenbury stepped down.
Just ahead of kick-off, the County faithful learned of another player-signing. Not exactly a new one, but a most welcome one nonetheless, in the form of Preston's Jack Ryan, who will be returning to SK3 for the unexpired spell (amounting to around seven weeks) of his 93-day loan from Deepdale.
It was a little under a month since County and The Bay had last encountered each other - and, while the Hatters emerged triumphant from their FA Trophy contest on that occasion, they would have well remembered from the tie's second half how dangerous their opponents could be. Visiting striker, Obi Anoruo, had caused the County defence particular concern back then, and this recollection was not lost on Danny Hurst early on, when he advanced outside his area to kick a loose ball away from the path of the on-rushing forward.
Shortly afterwards, however, Anoruo proved much more of a handful - successfully challenging Stephen O'Halloran for the ball on the right flank, before whipping in a cross towards the County goalmouth. The delivery was partially cleared by Glenn Belezika - but only as far as Louis Moss, who, from an angle to the left of the goal, rifled home to give The Bay an early lead.
As the Hatters looked to find a way back into the match, chances, initially, were few and far between. Lees unleashed a shot from distance that flew beyond the post, and Scott Spencer headed wide - although, on the half-hour mark, the game's only goal remained the sole attempt by either side on target. Bobby Lofthouse soon revised that statistic with a well-directed, long-range punt - albeit a shot lacking in pace, which Josh Ollerenshaw was able to gather without undue fuss or ceremony.
County, to be fair, had not really been at the Boxing Day races thus far. But the final few minutes of the first half did, at least, let The Bay know that they had got themselves out of the starting-traps. Chris Sharp's head connected with a corner, only to see his effort cleared off the line - and the same player then used his foot to poke a Belezika cross along the face of the goal and narrowly wide, before Spencer had a shot blocked at point-blank range by Ollerenshaw.
HALF-TIME: County 0, Colwyn Bay 1 (Moss, 17).
With rain beginning to fall, County resumed the second half as they had ended the first - applying pressure on the visitors, who, for their part, looked to slow down the pace of proceedings when the opportunity might arise. By way of a further declaration of intent, the Hatters also made an early double-substitution - bringing on Milligan and Chris Churchman, who, between them, and, to applause from the stands, wasted no time in considerably increasing the contest's ‘Hollywood pass‘ count.
Glover came incredibly close to marking his inaugural County appearance with a goal, when his header from a Milligan corner was frantically scrambled clear. But it was Churchman who restored parity when, with twenty minutes left and at approximately the same number of yards out, he let rip with a shot that Ollerenshaw could only admire at a distance as it rocketed into the back of the Cheadle End net. Recalling his piledriver at Gainsborough back in January, and wind-assisted swirler at Leamington a couple of months back, ‘Churchy' has certainly made it his business not to score run-of-the-mill goals in 2014!
Try as they might, the Hatters could not convert one point into three during the closing stages. In fact, this spell of the game witnessed some rare second-half attacks on the part of The Bay - although a Paulo Mendes shot straight at Hurst, and a couple of late Anoruo attempts that were well clear of the County bar, did not seriously threaten to change the outcome.
Following what ended, quite fairly, as the first score-draw of the season at EP, County remain three positions, and are now four points, away from the play-off places. With a reverse-fixture against The Bay sandwiched in between two others involving clubs that the Hatters have already beaten this term, hopes will be high that the Hatters return to winning League ways, and close these gaps, during the next week or so.
FULL-TIME: County 1 (Churchman, 70), Colwyn Bay 1 (Moss, 17).
Team: Hurst, Belezika, Duxbury, Lees, Gregson, O'Halloran, Moses, Glover, Spencer, Sharp (Churchman, 56), Lofthouse (Milligan, 56).
Unused Subs: Ormson, Hancock, Russell.
Man of the Match: Belezika.
Attendance: 3,165 (25 away).