STOCKPORT COUNTY FC

AFC Fylde 1-2 Stockport County

Fylde Under Festively Fantastic, As County End 2019 With A Double To Go Fifth

The Hatters’ final fixture of a memorable year saw them achieve an inaugural ‘double’ of the campaign and a first win at Fylde’s new stadium, after goals shortly after the break from Tom Walker and Dan Cowan overturned a first-half deficit to duplicate the scoreline from the reverse-fixture in SK3 at the beginning of September.

County boss Jim Gannon announced a quartet of changes from the line-up that had taken to the field at Edgeley Park against Halifax two afternoons earlier. Cowan and Joe Leesley took up the respective right-back and left-back berths in place of Sam Minihan and Tyler Garratt, while Sam Walker and Devante Rodney were also recalled – with captain Paul Turnbull and Adam Thomas joining Minihan among the substitutes. Of the ex-Hatters now at Fylde, neither Scott Duxbury nor Lewis Montrose featured in the home squad – which also included four revisions to its starting 11 from Boxing Day – although former loanee-striker Danny (L) Rowe was selected up front.

The ‘Coasters’ exerted some early pressure – earning a pair of corners in the opening two minutes, before Ryan Croasdale saw a shot blocked by acting County skipper Ash Palmer with five minutes on the clock. But less than a minute later, Croasdale’s disappointment turned to delight as he turned in at close range Rowe’s low cross from the left to give his side the lead – as well as a first-ever goal in a match between the two sides at Mill Farm following two scoreless draws.

The Hatters responded in positive attacking fashion, as they sought to get back on level terms. Festus Arthur headed Tom Walker’s corner from the right towards goal – only to see it deflected off target by team-mate Nyal Bell, who himself went close shortly afterwards when he turned and fired narrowly wide of the left post. And Rodney’s low shot around the quarter-hour mark was tipped past the opposite upright by home goalkeeper Sam Hornby – before the Salford loanee delivered a low cross from the right to Bell who blasted over.

Boxing Day hat-trick hero Elliot Osborne saw two shots deflected behind in quick succession – but, for all County’s chances, the hosts went closer to scoring when Rowe’s chip was headed by captain Neill Byrne against the left post and Palmer cleared the rebound off the line.

Nine minutes ahead of half-time, Jordan Williams, who had netted Fylde’s consolation in the course of the fixture at EP nearly four months previously, was played through on the break – but County’s Number One, and former Coaster, Ben Hinchliffe, brilliantly deflected the shot behind.

HALF-TIME: Fylde 1 (Croasdale, 6), County 0.

The general openness of the first half was replicated as the second got under way – although it was a dead-ball situation that proved significant within seven minutes of the resumption, when Bell was fouled by Alex Whitmore just outside the home area, and Tom Walker converted the resulting free-kick in off the left post to restore parity.

Eight minutes later, the Hatters went ahead when a ball from Rodney fell to Cowan on the right side of goal – and the recalled defender thundered home with a right-footed finish for his first County goal since the final afternoon of the 2017/18 campaign.

On more than one occasion, a  second-half Rowe free-kick for Fylde had been known to break Hatters’ hearts – but Hinchliffe kept out a delivery from his old club-mate, before Tom Walker forced a save by Hornby, and Rodney drilled a shot wide of the right post.

The Coasters introduced Nick Haughton, Dan Bradley and one-time County trainee Matty Kosylo, as they strove to earn something from the game – and a minute ahead of added time, they went close when Jordan Keane cleared off the line following a Kosylo corner from the left.

But the Hatters stood firm during five extra minutes to register their second win in 48 hours, and propel themselves up another two places to fifth, as well as only five points off the summit.

FULL-TIME: Fylde 1 (Croasdale, 6), County 2 (T Walker, 52; Cowan, 60).

Team (4-2-3-1): Hinchliffe; Cowan, Palmer (Capt.), Arthur, Leesley; Keane, S Walker; Rodney (Turnbull, 86), Osborne (Minihan, 83), T Walker (Thomas, 71); Bell.

Unused Subs: Mulhern, Ormson.

Booked: Cowan, Keane.

Attendance: 2,764 (1,288 representing The Twelfth Man).

Reporter: Gareth Evans.

Photographer: Mike Petch.

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