No Gains... Just Further Pains
County continued an unusual, and unwelcome, pattern of results - by not only losing a fourth game in a row, but also suffering a fourth successive ‘double'-defeat against Conference North rivals.
Additionally, the latest loss at Edgeley Park completed a miserable religious-type sequence for the Hatters. For starters, they had seen the Hyde result expunged, and returned from Barrow empty-handed, during Holy Week. Then, later over the Easter holiday-period, their (already-slender) chances of finishing in a Play-off position were mathematically ruled out by Oxford City's late winner. And, as if to prove that all things Godly come in threes, victory for the ‘Holy Blues‘ of Gainsborough was to prove the final act of the... erm, Trinity.
Earlier in the afternoon, Alan Lord made two changes to the side that had started on Easter Monday - with Danny Glover and Kyle Jacobs taking their places in a 4-4-2 formation by way of replacements for Bobby Lofthouse and Matthew Todd. For Todd, the game represented a first of three that he would need to miss following his straight red card at Hyde two weeks previously. Wes Benjamin and Chris Sharp, meanwhile, marked their respective returns from injury by being named among the County substitutes.
For much of the first half, both sides found themselves either restricted to making attempts on goal from distance or struggling to execute chances in the final third with the necessary sharpness. In the opening ten minutes, such opportunities as there were fell to Gainsborough's Jamie Yates, who sought to test Danny Hurst from opposite sides of the pitch - forcing County's Number One to tip over an attempt originating on the left, before switching flanks to deliver a cross that Hurst caught comfortably.
The Hatters began to shine a little more brightly following that, as Kristian Dennis registered County's first chance after latching onto a well-weighted Chris Churchman through-ball and firing wide from twelve yards out. A shot by Glover from outside the box presented Rory Watson, in the Trinity goal, with little difficulty - although the visiting goalkeeper had to be more alert in cutting out Scott Spencer's chip from the left and a Dennis header.
A spell of longer-distance efforts followed. Dennis attempted two - both of which flew generously wide - before Yates did likewise and Spencer fired one over. County then fashioned a much more promising move when Glover's cross from the left found Dennis, and Watson needed to be at full stretch to hold The Menace's header.
It was arguably against the run of play when, just over five minutes ahead of the break, Gainsborough took the lead. After County lost possession in midfield, the visitors worked the ball up to the dangerous-looking Chris Hamilton, who shook off the attentions of two defenders as he wove his way into the home area. Hamilton's subsequent shot appeared to take a deflection from Stephen O'Halloran as it dipped over Hurst to put Trinity ahead.
Gainsborough went close to doubling their lead before half-time. Danny Forrest worked the ball out on the left to Stephen Brogan, whose low cross fizzed across County's goalmouth, and just out of Simon Russell's reach, before going out of play beyond the far post.
HALF-TIME: County 0, Gainsborough 1 (Hamilton, 39).
When proceedings resumed, Spencer provided Watson with an early anxious moment after shooting from the edge of Trinity's box. The effort looked to lack pace, but was seemingly not short of spin, as Gainsborough's ‘keeper spilled it at the first attempt.
There followed a huge let-off for County, when Hamilton hit the post - only for Brogan, with the goal at his mercy, to fire wide and endure an archetypal ‘head in hands' moment.
On such moments are matches sometimes turned. And indeed, within moments, County drew level, as Spencer connected with a Glover cross from the left to send a looped header into the net - to the obvious delight of the Cheadle End.
Or not, as the case may be. For, five minutes later, Trinity went ahead again, as a cross of their own from the left - courtesy of Yates - found Forrest, unmarked following a late run, who headed home at the far post.
The game had certainly opened up - and, as County sought once again to get back on terms, Scott Duxbury tested Watson with a low cross drilled in from the left. Back at the other end, Hamilton fired a shot wide, before being thwarted by Hurst, who bravely dived at the Trinity striker's legs - resulting in a loose ball with which Brogan, thankfully for the Hatters, failed to connect.
Jack Ryan and Tunji Moses unleashed shots that, respectively, were stopped by Watson and flew narrowly wide of the post, before two of the game's late substitutes came close to making names for themselves. Darryn Stamp, with his very first touch, headed a free kick straight at Hurst, before Sharp got his head on the end of a corner - only to see his effort fly over the bar. County's defenders also assumed attacking roles, as O'Halloran and Jacobs both fired wide from distance.
Into added time, Gainsborough made sure of all three points - and, lest it be forgotten, certain safety - when Hamilton tormented the Hatters one last time. Having beaten Mark Lees, he rolled the ball past Hurst just inside the area before driving home. A valiant attempt by Lees to clear the ball from the line was ruled invalid by the linesman's flag.
There was still time remaining for Trinity to extend the lead further, although two saves in quick succession by Hurst from Russell and Stamp prevented that. Nonetheless, the shipping of three disappointing goals, together with a performance that appeared low on confidence and County's consequential drop into the bottom half of the table, combined to make this an afternoon that left the home team, rather than their visitors, feeling Wholly Blue.
FULL-TIME: County 1 (Spencer, 53), Gainsborough 3 (Hamilton, 39 & 90 + 2; Forrest, 58).
Team: Hurst, Jacobs, Duxbury, Churchman (Lofthouse, 80), Lees, O'Halloran, Moses, Glover, Spencer (Russell, 64), Dennis, Ryan (Sharp, 80).
Unused Subs: Ormson, Benjamin.
Booked: Churchman, Lees.
Man of the Match: Churchman.
Attendance: 2,504 (away 54).