County achieved a creditable away score-draw with the table-toppers, who had hitherto boasted the League’s only remaining hundred per-cent record - and who had not conceded a goal since the opening day of the season.
The sharing of honours was a fair outcome on the balance of play overall. And one that many of the County faithful would have taken prior to kick-off. But the Hatters had also proved the first team this season to take a lead against Nuneaton - with the dream prospect of three points having been dashed when only ten minutes were left on the clock.
On an afternoon alternately bathed in sunshine and awash with short, sharp showers, the Hatters - donning the pink ‘Dizzy Blonde’ look for a second successive Saturday - took to the field in an unfamiliar 4-3-3 formation. Andy Robinson and Lamin Colley were selected for their first competitive starts in County shirts - with Karl Ledsham and Micah Evans stepping down to the bench. Joe Garvin was also recalled and named among the substitutes - who, in accordance with County’s current away-day practice, did not include a replacement goalkeeper (a tactic, incidentally, replicated by the hosts on this occasion).
The contest’s early exchanges saw both sides attempt shots from distance. Robinson presented Jordan Smith, in the home goal, with a routine catch - before David Morgan fired two efforts high and, subsequently, wide at the other end.
The Boro proceeded to enjoy a greater share of possession as the first half progressed - but generally lacked a cutting edge in the final third. The area surrounding the left-hand post at the away end was a particular focus for attention, as Jack Lane headed shy of it following a corner, and big-name Summer signing, Marlon Harewood, fired wide. Danny Hurst was, however, called into action when a shot from the hosts’ leading scorer, Aaron Williams, forced County’s Number One to dive and parry.
With a little over five minutes of the half remaining, and County, perversely, beginning to regain some initiative, the players were ushered towards the dugouts for a drinks break. While this curious interlude stalled their momentum, the Hatters nonetheless came close to signing off at the stroke of half-time with a goal, when Calum Dyson unleashed a curling shot from beyond the home area. Smith tipped the effort onto the underside of the crossbar, and would have been mightily relieved to wrap his gloves around the rebound.
HALF-TIME: Nuneaton 0, County 0.
Both ‘keepers were tested again shortly after the re-start: Smith, catching a Dyson cross, after the Everton Youth-loanee had skipped past Ivor Lawton and delivered from the left; and Hurst, saving from Williams, who had been teed up by Harewood to shoot from the right of County’s goal.
Just ahead of the hour, County made a double-substitution - bringing on Garvin and Sefton Gonzales - which was to preface a spell of concerted pressure by the Hatters: Glenn Rule threaded a delightful through-ball to Colley, whose cross from the right narrowly evaded the on-rushing Gonzales; Garvin, in receipt of a nod-back by Colley, unleashed one of his trademark low left-footed drives from distance that flashed wide of the right-hand post; and another Dyson cross - this time from the right - was well cut out by Smith.
County’s pressure was rewarded with the first corner following the break, and, from this, the Hatters took the lead. Garvin’s delivery from the right was punched out by Smith. To the home ‘keeper’s credit, his clearance saw the ball exit his area. Unfortunately for him and his team, however, Rule was waiting just beyond the edge of the box to return it with interest - of which there would be plenty across the wider Planet Football, via YouTube, well after the gates at Liberty Way had been closed for the evening.
Rule’s movement - involving a swivel on his left foot - and his strike of the ball - constituting a full volley with his right that flew into the top corner of the net, and directly in front of the jubilant Twelfth Man representatives - were, together, utterly stunning. Think Stephen Gleeson at Wycombe, and you’re getting there. Proof, too, if proof were needed - given the quality of scoring shots by Dyson and Garvin over the last two weeks (and not forgetting Ledsham’s Beckham-esque pre-season ‘worldie’, either) - that County’s eventual ‘Goals of 2015/16’ competition is already set to be rather tasty!
County’s lead was to last eleven minutes before Nuneaton drew level. A cross from the right by Lawton - making his debut on loan from Coventry, and as a late replacement for Boro Captain, Joe Maguire - found Harewood unmarked, and the much-travelled striker would have converted few easier opportunities, as he headed home from close range for his 150th career-goal.
As the match entered its closing stages, the Hatters were not without chances to get their noses back in front: Rule, fed by Danny Morton, cut in from the right, before shooting at Smith; Ledsham fired wide from distance, following a knock-down by Garvin; and a Gonzales shot from the edge of the box was smothered by the home ‘keeper.
Nuneaton substitute, Liam Canavan - with a shock of curly hair evoking memories of Gilbert O’Sullivan, once he had moved on from the pudding basin-cut and cloth cap - took centre stage in the dying minutes. He was first booked for a foul on Rule, before heading a corner over the County bar, and then himself winning a free kick just outside the box. The ensuing set-piece was blocked by the County wall, only for Canavan again to make his presence felt by reacting quickest - and, with what turned out to be the final kick of the game, letting fly with a follow-up shot that was thankfully deflected into orbit.
With a full week to go before their next fixture, and following an opening set of matches that had caused some trepidation among supporters ahead of the season’s start, the Hatters sit in third place and without a defeat to their name.
And, as Mr O’Sullivan (in his curly-haired phase) would surely remind us, this, all told, doesn’t leave our needing to find too much to ‘Get Down’ about just yet...
FULL-TIME: Nuneaton 1 (Harewood, 80), County 1 (Rule, 69).
Team: Hurst, Morton, Roberts, O’Hanlon, Thorniley, Rule, Dyson, Montrose, Odejayi (Gonzales, 59), Robinson (Garvin, 59), Colley (Ledsham, 84).
Unused Subs: Ellison, Evans.
Booked: Robinson, O’Hanlon.
Attendance: 1,047 (251 representing The Twelfth Man).
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