Can’t Get No (Instant) Satisfaction Against The Stones, As Hatters Are Maid To Play Again
History repeated on the Hatters, who, for the second year running, secured a place for their name in the FA Trophy Semi-finals draw – albeit, once again, pending a replay.
And, as had been the case against Brackley Town in 2018, their home-tie in the last eight – on this occasion with the ‘Stones’ of Maidstone United – ended one-apiece, to require another long journey south the day following this Monday’s draw.
Matty Warburton’s 25th goal of the season, just ahead of the half-hour mark, restored parity at Edgeley Park 11 minutes after the National League visitors’ opener – but neither side was able to get its nose in front during the hour or so that followed.
County took to the field showing an identical team-sheet – in respect of both the 4-2-3-1 starting line-up and the bench – to that issued against Southport four days earlier. Manager Jim Gannon was to watch events unfold from the Directors’ Box, as he began a three-match FA touchline ban.
The Hatters began with the confidence that one might have expected from a side looking for its ninth successive win on home turf. Adam Thomas’ glanced header from the first corner of the afternoon flew narrowly over, before Warburton drilled a shot just wide of the left post.
The visitors, for their part, were forced to regroup as early as the seventh minute when captain, and central defender, Will De Havilland hobbled off and had to be replaced.
With 13 minutes played, County went closer still after Ash Palmer headed down to Darren Stephenson, whose half-volley pinged off and over the crossbar. But for all their early efforts in the final third, the Hatters were undone four minutes later by Maidstone’s first attack of note.
Taking advantage of some defensive hesitation around the edge of County’s box, Jake Cassidy jinked into the area, created some space for himself and fired past Ben Hinchliffe from 10 yards.
Goalkeeper-coach Chris Lewington, playing only his second match between the sticks for Maidstone, held on to a heavily-deflected shot from Warburton after 26 minutes, but was powerless to keep out the leading County scorer’s equalising strike two minutes following that.
From County’s third corner – delivered on the right by Sam Walker – a partial Maidstone clearance was intercepted by Jordan Keane, who nodded on for Warburton to tee himself up a left-footed shot from just inside the box that flew past Lewington and into the right corner of the net.
But the leveller appeared to spark more life into the visitors, who enjoyed the better of things in the run-up to half-time. Hinchliffe arched his back to tip over Cassidy’s header from a Simon Walton cross on the right, before Keane denied the same striker by deflecting a snap-shot behind.
HALF-TIME: County 1 (Warburton, 28), Maidstone 1 (Cassidy, 17).
Paul Turnbull replaced Scott Duxbury immediately ahead of the resumption, and, 10 minutes after his introduction, almost made an unwanted mark on the game as his head deflected an Elliott Romain cross goal-wards. But Hinchliffe reacted quickly to parry the ball away.
Hinchliffe again came to the rescue with fewer than 20 minutes remaining, after Michael Phillips had taken advantage of Palmer’s slip to home in on goal – only for County’s Number One to stand tall and save with his legs.
With the prospect of a 500-mile-plus round trip looming for midweek, County regained the initiative in the closing stages. Stephenson cut in from the left, before firing narrowly off target – and the Hatters earned some seven corners, but without converting, in the final quarter of an hour.
FULL-TIME: County 1 (Warburton, 28), Maidstone 1 (Cassidy, 17).
Team: Hinchliffe, Minihan, Duxbury (Turnbull, 46), Keane, Palmer (Capt.), Baines (Kirby, 86), Thomas, Walker, Bell (Mulhern, 58), Warburton, Stephenson.
Unused Subs: Ormson, Osborne.
Man of the Match: Minihan.
Attendance: 2,585 (129 away).
Reporter: Gareth Evans.
Photographer: Mike Petch.