A season that, for the Hatters, had been more eagerly awaited than many in recent years got off to a tremendous start with victory, by the odd goal in three, at Edgeley Park.
While the win, in terms of its scoreline, was a narrow one, County will have taken great heart from an excellent all-round team performance against a strong Boston side - which, having finished third, before bowing out in the play-offs, last term, will be sure to feature at the business-end of the table again this season.
Furthermore, there was a bit of history with which the Hatters needed to contend. Opening days of seasons, you see, had not been terribly kind to them - with only one since 2008 having yielded all three points. The visiting Pilgrims, on the other hand, were on the crest of a wave - winning every single opener since their relegation from the Football League in 2007. Worse still, one of those eight victories had seen them rattle in four at EP two years ago, to provide County with the rudest of awakenings to life in the Conference North (as was).
Still, different seasons, different teams, and all that...
Indeed, in County’s case, the entire starting eleven and bench consisted of players who had not featured in any way, shape or form when the Hatters played their immediately-previous League match to round off the 2014/15 campaign just over three months earlier. (Even Danny Hurst - continuing as County’s Number One - had missed the final-day victory over Harrogate due to illness.)
Hurst excepted, there were competitive debuts all round. And a first-ever appearance in a County shirt for Calum Dyson, who had recently arrived in SK3 on a youth-loan from Everton. With Dyson taking his bow as part of a fluid midfield in an initial 4-4-2 formation, how tempting it might have been to describe him as a sweeper...!
The Pilgrims, for their part, included a former Hatter, Carl Piergianni, in defence - a defence which, as it happened, had to undergo hasty last-minute adjustment when Zak Mills was injured in the pre-match warm-up and, consequently, unable to take to the field at 3pm.
In spite of this unexpected disruption, the visitors created the game’s earliest chances, as Kaine Felix, prowling the right flank with pace and agility, whipped in two crosses. The first of these found Jack Friend - originally named as a substitute, but subsequently drafted in as part of the reshuffle to replace Mills - whose header flew wide of the far post. Sean O’Hanlon, meanwhile, made it his business to intercept and clear the second.
The Pilgrims looked to have created an even better opportunity for themselves when another cross - on this occasion, from the left - fell the way of their leading scorer from the previous campaign, Dayle Southwell. His resulting header, however, lacked pace, and was comfortably gathered by Hurst.
As County settled down, so began a spell that, for the remainder of the half, saw the Hatters command midfield and find themselves in a variety of potential scoring positions. First up, Karl Ledsham, whose shot from distance - a somewhat relative term, remembering his recent 45-yard success! - stung the hands of visiting Slovakian ‘keeper, Henrich Ravas. And, shortly afterwards, Sefton Gonzales played in Dyson - whose first touch, as he cut into the Boston area, was sublime, but second released the ball into Railway End orbit.
The ever-imposing Piergianni, his blond locks a-flowing in the August sunshine, made his presence felt by providing five minutes of theatre towards the end of the first half-hour. Beginning with a header from a Kyle Dixon free kick that flew wide of County’s post, ‘Pidge‘ then raced to the other end to clear from the Boston line a goal-bound, headed effort by Ledsham that had followed a Dyson cross from the right. His third act in the course of this centre-stage appearance ended with a yellow card, after a foul on Danny Morton. (An improvement, mind, on the straight red that he had been shown on his last return-visit to EP!)
The Hatters continued to press, and to carve out opportunities. Gonzales was next to try his luck, with a shot straight at Ravas from the edge of the box. And Ledsham latched onto a defence-splitting through-ball from Glenn Rule, before his shot from an angle was blocked.
A little over ten minutes ahead of the break, County’s pressure finally paid off. As Boston failed to deal with a Jordan Thorniley free kick, Kay Odejayi, to the left of goal, cut the ball back into the six-yard area, where Rule was waiting to dive and head home with bullet force.
Moments later, the lead was almost doubled, when a Morton delivery from the right began life as a cross but, as it evaded all who waited for it, turned into an attempt on goal and fizzed narrowly wide of the far post.
The Pilgrims hit back with two attacks involving Friend. The forward, on loan from Peterborough, first unleashed a low drive across County’s goalmouth from the left, skimming the far post in the process, before volleying high into the Cheadle End from a Felix cross.
Braces of chances appeared to be on trend as the first half entered its closing stages, and a couple fell to Gonzales. The County striker poked an attempt narrowly wide of the right post after stretching to connect with a cross from Ledsham - and then, by way of near-perfect symmetry, headed beyond the left upright following Morton’s right-sided delivery.
HALF-TIME: County 1 (Rule, 34), Boston 0.
The Hatters had been good value for their lead at the break, and, immediately following the resumption, created two further opportunities with a view to extending this. Dyson was involved in both: firstly, playing a neat one-two with Morton, before firing over the Boston bar; and, subsequently, executing a cross from the right that looped over to the far post, where Ledsham prodded wide.
Boston made two substitutions in the first ten minutes after the interval - bringing on Jay Rollins and Jamie McGhee. And the arrival of these two pace merchants heralded a period of pressure from the Pilgrims, as the visitors sought to get back on terms. Their best chance of the game to date followed a deep corner that found Piergianni. The ex-County defender proceeded to cross the ball back towards the home goalmouth - and at the feet of Mark Jones, who fired wide of an inviting net. Piergianni decided to take matters into his own hands when the next corner came over - or, rather, onto his head, as he nodded wide.
The threat of an equalizer felt ominous. And it duly followed on the hour, when a Dixon free kick caused pandemonium in the County box - culminating in a parry by Hurst that fell to Southwell, who fired into the roof of the net.
The Hatters were duly woken back up, and looked to counter without delay. Lewis Montrose fired high and wide from distance, before Rule went a good deal closer - firing just wide from two yards out after his initial near-post attempt, following a Ledsham cross, had been saved at point-blank range by Ravas.
In the meantime, Neil Young had made County’s first substitution - introducing Joe Garvin two minutes after Boston’s goal. And just as the visitors‘ early second-half replacements had altered the course of the game, so, too, did that made by the Hatters... and how!
There seemed to be little obvious danger when Garvin - playing in the ‘hole’ behind County’s front two - had the ball at his feet some 35 yards out. But what followed was a sweet left-footed drive that continued the Hatters’ predilection from pre-season for spectacular conversions, as it flew past Ravas into the bottom corner of the net.
Into the final ten minutes, the Hatters had cause on two occasions to be grateful for Hurst. County’s custodian had almost single-handedly kept Boston at bay when the two sides last met, in Lincolnshire, just after the turn of the year. And, by first beating Rollins to a loose ball in the home area, before brilliantly tipping over a 20-yard half-volley from the same player, Hurst once again played a key role in stifling the... erm, Pilgrims’ progress.
The curtain was brought down on a thoroughly entertaining - and, at times, exhilarating - contest, with a mazy dribble into the Boston area by Gonzales that led to a final scoring opportunity for County - but Lamin Colley fired over.
Not that this mattered, with the final whistle just moments away. On hearing it sounded, Mad-with-joy Hatters everywhere could rejoice at a most promising beginning to the campaign. And what’s the betting, on this Summer’s afternoon, having beaten these particular opponents, that a good few will have gone home to celebratory Tea Parties?!
FULL-TIME: County 2 (Rule, 34; Garvin, 68), Boston 1 (Southwell, 60).
Team: Hurst, Morton, Roberts, O’Hanlon, Thorniley, Rule, Dyson (Garvin, 62), Montrose, Odejayi (Colley, 79), Gonzales, Ledsham (Ellison, 87).
Unused Subs: Robinson, Tyson.
Booked: O’Hanlon, Rule.
Man of the Match: Rule.
Attendance: 3,396 (179 away).
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