A Gr-8 Start In SK8!
County’s pre-season programme began with an 11th successive friendly win, and with a margin of victory that eclipsed those of the previous 10, at near-neighbours Cheadle Heath Nomads.
The latest one-mile pilgrimage to the Proseal Stadium – which, in the course of a five-minute drive from Edgeley Park, takes travellers up as many post-codes, from SK3 to SK8 – saw the Hatters score five times in the first 30 minutes and on a further three occasions after the break, with an almost completely different second-half line-up in play, against the North West Counties League outfit, whose training facilities continue to be used by County’s Academy squads.
The early morning rain had given way to sunshine by the time the teams took to the field in front of a record home attendance for the hosts, as they marked the beginning of their centenary celebrations by wearing the canary yellow and green colours that adorned the original Nomads upon the club’s establishment in 1919.
When the Hatters had last appeared in SK8 two years previously, they scored a first after two minutes – courtesy of a Jimmy Ball header from Sam Walker’s corner on the right. In this latest instance, they took four minutes longer, although history repeated in part – with Ash Palmer nodding home the delivery by Walker to open the scoring in a third consecutive match.
Frank Mulhern, sporting a rather less severe haircut than in 2018/19, netted the second seven minutes later, after collecting the ball on the halfway line and advancing to let rip from 25 yards with a shot that looked fierce enough to have gone right through home goalkeeper Aaron Tyler.
After 17 minutes, it was three – thanks to Elliot Osborne, who rounded Tyler to the right of goal, before slotting home into the far corner. And with only a couple more on the clock, Mulhern picked out the same spot, after shooting on the turn from just inside the box for his second.
Mulhern came close on two occasions to celebrating a hat-trick – but clipped the crossbar with one shot, and then saw his free-kick from the edge of the area parried by Tyler.
One minute before the half-hour, a fifth goal arrived in the form of another header from a Walker corner on the right – with Jake Kirby this time applying the finishing touch, after Tyler had failed to claim the delivery.
HALF-TIME: Nomads 0, County 5 (Palmer, 6; Mulhern, 13 and 19; Osborne, 17; Kirby, 29).
Eight substitutes were brought on for County following the interval – including former Academy players at Fulham and Rochdale in, respectively, Stockport-born striker Michael Elstone and left-back Deven Golden.
Elstone, within two minutes of his introduction, unleashed a low shot from the edge of the box that Tyler did well to tip around the left upright. And two minutes later, the trialist went one better – as Tyler spilled a looping cross on the right by Szymon Czubik, before new County signing Alex Curran claimed the ball and played it back for Elstone to drill home from 15 yards.
Czubik sent an angled shot narrowly wide of the right post, before Elstone hooked over a chip from Osborne, and the hosts, with just over 20 minutes remaining, fashioned their first attempt on goal – only for the hitherto-unemployed Ian Ormson to dive and smother Jake Wright’s low drive.
Substitutes Tom Rogers and Andrew Simpson also went close, courtesy of the former’s free-kick that narrowly cleared the County crossbar – and the latter’s header, glanced beyond the left post.
But the Hatters ended the contest with two further goals in the final five minutes, as Elstone turned in Golden’s low cross from the left, before Czubik dispossessed a wandering Tyler on the right flank and cut in to hit the back of an empty net.
FULL-TIME: Nomads 0, County 8 (Palmer, 6; Mulhern, 13 and 19; Osborne, 17; Kirby, 29; Elstone, 49 and 85; Czubik, 87).
First-half Team: Ormson, Minihan, Cowan, Turnbull (Capt.), Palmer, Keane, Thomas, Walker, Mulhern, Osborne, Kirby.
Second-half Team: Ormson, Downing, Palmer (Thomas, 72), Arthur, Curran, Stephenson, Dimaio, Osborne, Elstone, Czubik, Golden.
Reporter: Gareth Evans
Photographer: Mike Petch