County Keep The Seagulls At Bay To Go Through
The Hatters saw out November with a break from Conference North action, and with a victory that takes them through to the First Round proper of the FA Trophy. It was a result that appeared nailed on at half-time, and yet, by the end of the match, felt like one for which County had needed to fight tooth and... erm, nail.
There was a welcome return to County’s line-up for Scott Duxbury, who had not kicked a ball for the first team since suffering an ankle injury against Gloucester at the beginning of October. Richie Baker was also named to start, having played as a substitute against Fylde a week earlier - while Tunji Moses was ruled out with a thigh strain, and neither Andy Owens nor Lee Stevenson had clearance from their parent clubs to play in the tie. Glenn Belezika, who had not featured in the squad at Fylde, and Charlie Russell, from the Development Squad, were named among the substitutes.
County had failed to score throughout their two games against Colwyn Bay during 2013/14, and, indeed, had gone for a little longer than 180 minutes since last hitting the back of the net in the current season. And so it came as a rather pleasant surprise when the Hatters succeeded in breaking both of these ducks just four minutes into this afternoon’s match - a Jamie Milligan free kick from just inside The Bay’s half finding Scott Spencer, who first beat Liam Sharpe, in the visitors’ net, to the ball, and then rounded him to shoot home for a seventh goal in all competitions.
Sharpe continued to endure a difficult start to his afternoon, conceding an indirect free kick inside his area after handling a back pass - and then collecting a yellow card for kicking the ball into the Railway End by way of reaction to the decision.
Duxbury’s afternoon, if anything, was to be worse still... and certainly shorter. After just twelve minutes of play, the young left back took a knock to his knee, and was substituted as a precaution. Jordan Fagbola entered the fray to replace him directly in the four-man defence.
For the rest of the first half, however, County were to assume a constant ascendancy, as Hatter after Hatter queued up with a view to adding to the tally. Sharp shot narrowly wide from distance, before Kristian Dennis was twice thwarted by his team-mate’s near-namesake, Sharpe. The Seagulls’ goalkeeper first threw himself in front of The Menace to block the ball, before palming away a header with which County’s leading scorer had met another Milligan free kick.
It proved third time lucky for Dennis, as half-time approached and he latched onto a pass from Spencer. Cutting in from the right and teeing the ball onto his left foot, The Menace drilled a low shot from the edge of the box to beat Sharpe and double County’s lead.
Interestingly, the Hatters went through the entire half without getting a sniff of a corner - while four were awarded to The Bay. Not that they will have been unduly troubled by this statistic, as they departed for the break well in command of proceedings and a crucial two goals to the good.
HALF-TIME: County 2 (Spencer, 4; Dennis, 39), Colwyn Bay 0.
I say ‘crucial’, knowing that Colwyn Bay have proved astonishingly difficult to beat on their travels this term. And they showed that they were still intent on meaning business at the re-start, bringing on Portuguese import, Paulo Mendes, to bolster the front line. The substitute was soon in action, too - albeit to balloon the ball into orbit at the Railway End, after being presented with a chance from close range. Shortly afterwards, a free kick to The Bay was fired just over County’s bar by Anthony Stevens, as the visitors strove to work their way back into the game.
When the Hatters eventually gained their first corner of the game, they looked to have increased their lead still further as Sharp headed home Milligan’s trademark in-swinger - only for the flag to be raised for an infringement.
A period of pressure from the Seagulls followed, and their prolific forward, Obi Anoruo, began to look increasingly dangerous with each raid. The Bay’s Captain, Rob Hopley, hit the bar, and had another effort deflected for a corner, before Daniel Gregson had to be at his best to head the ball out of County’s goalmouth.
Not that it was all one-way traffic, mind. At the Cheadle End, Dennis saw a shot spilled by Sharpe, who just recovered in time to prevent the ball from crossing the line. And Baker struck from inside the area to bring out a fingertip save from The Bay’s ‘keeper at full stretch.
With just over five minutes left on the clock, the Seagulls’ endeavours since the break paid off, as they halved the deficit - an Anoruo effort striking the upright, before falling to Danny Taylor who headed into an empty net. And, with County still reeling, Anoruo came perilously close to drawing his side level from a tight angle - only for Danny Hurst to pull off a magnificent save and keep the Hatters ahead.
With added squeaky-bottom time approaching, Alan Lord brought on Nathan Woolfe to ensure that some greater possession in the visitors‘ half might ensue. He was also about to introduce Russell for Churchman when the latter, with most unlucky timing, picked up a second yellow card for a challenge that saw him take an ever-so-slightly early bath and leave County to hold on with ten men.
The Hatters of old might very well not have done... but County are made of resilient stuff these days, and, thankfully, did - to ensure that their name will be in the hat for Monday’s First Round draw. Not only that, but, having avoided a replay and a trip to the Welsh coast next Tuesday, we will instead have the Coast(ers) coming to us. Fylde also edged their Trophy match this afternoon, meaning that our eagerly-anticipated Conference North return-fixture against Dave Challinor’s team can go ahead as planned.
A successful afternoon on the pitch was well and truly embellished off it with the excellent news that Dennis, Gregson and Mark Lees had all signed contracts committing themselves to the County cause until May 2016. Whisper it... but this club that we love is really starting to go places again.
FULL-TIME: County 2 (Spencer, 4; Dennis, 39), Colwyn Bay 1 (Taylor, 84).
Team: Hurst, Lees, Duxbury (Fagbola, 12), Churchman, Gregson, O’Halloran, Dennis, Baker, Spencer (Woolfe, 89), Milligan, Sharp.
Unused Subs: Ormson, Belezika, Russell.
Sent Off: Churchman.
Man of the Match: O’Halloran.
Attendance: 1,452 (17 away).