Saved By The Bell In A Contest Of Two ‘Alfs
The Hatters concluded their travelling for 2018 in the same way as they had begun it, with a visit to Derbyshire to play Alfreton Town – but, having won there on New Year’s Day, had to be content on this occasion with a share of the points.
An equaliser by substitute Nyal Bell 10 minutes from time secured the draw for County, who had gone behind almost a quarter of an hour earlier to one of two penalties awarded to the hosts – although the result was a fair one, following an entertaining game that had seen the Hatters start and finish strongly either side of a spell in which Alfreton applied the greater pressure.
Manager Jim Gannon named an unaltered 4-2-3-1 starting line-up from that which had taken to the field at Ashton United four days earlier. The bench featured one change – with Sam Walker returning from a one-match suspension to replace Darren Stephenson.
The Hatters earned a corner before the first minute was up – and birthday boy Jamie Stott went close to making it a 21st to remember, as well as celebrating the recent extension of his loan-spell, when he connected with Paul Turnbull’s delivery and volleyed narrowly wide of the left post.
After five minutes, Matty Warburton went even closer – curling a shot from the edge of the box that was heading for the top-right corner before home ‘keeper Sam Ramsbottom tipped it behind.
The hosting ‘Reds’, who had created an unwanted club record when last at home in the League by losing 7-1 against Spennymoor Town, took until the 12th minute to fashion an opportunity of note. But even then, Tom Allan’s header from a James Clifton cross on the left was comfortably held by Ben Hinchliffe.
At the other end, Turnbull fed Warburton, whose low shot was smothered by Ramsbottom – before the County captain fired high from the home area’s ‘D’. And excellent work by Jake Kirby on the left culminated in a cross, from which Adam Thomas also cleared the crossbar.
From around the midway-point in the half, Alfreton moved into the ascendancy – and Reece Styche looked to add to an impressive scoring record for his previous clubs against the Hatters with two shots that he blasted, respectively, wide of the right post and over the crossbar.
Richard Peniket then headed his side’s first corner beyond the left post, before Styche struck a shot from distance past the same upright, and Josh Wilde’s curling shot was caught by Hinchliffe.
HALF-TIME: Alfreton 0, County 0.
The hosts continued to press after the break – winning two corners within six minutes of the resumption that were both delivered by Clifton from the left and headed off target by Allan.
Then, with 63 minutes on the clock, they were awarded a penalty, following a foul by Dan Cowan on Allan. Clifton stepped forward to take it, but skied over from 12 yards.
County’s relief was short-lived, as, three minutes later, Wilde went to ground in the box under a challenge by Frank Mulhern. Styche took this one – and the Gibraltarian International made no mistake, sending Hinchliffe the wrong way to convert into the bottom-right corner.
Both Cowan and Mulhern were substituted within a minute of conceding the penalties concerned – but before their replacements had a touch of the ball, Alfreton almost doubled the lead when Styche weaved in from the right, before unleashing a shot that Hinchliffe brilliantly tipped over.
The Hatters had summoned up little by way of chances for almost an hour when, with 10 minutes remaining, they got back on level terms. Thomas, by now deployed in the right-back berth, advanced forward on the right, before delivering an excellent cross that one-time Alfreton loanee Bell, from beyond the far post, struck first time to beat Ramsbottom.
Alfreton, having conceded, replaced both Styche and Peniket up front – and sat deep, as County went in search of a winner. But while Scott Duxbury went close with a shot from the left that flashed across the goalmouth and beyond the far post, Bell and Kirby both had headers comfortably caught by Ramsbottom, as honours remained even.
And, with that, half of the League programme was completed – as the Hatters go into Christmas beaten just once in their previous dozen matches, and occupying the last of the play-off places.
FULL-TIME: Alfreton 1 (Styche (penalty), 66), County 1 (Bell, 80).
Team: Hinchliffe, Cowan (Bell, 64), Duxbury, Keane, Palmer, Stott, Thomas, Turnbull (Capt.) (Walker, 74), Mulhern (Osborne, 67), Warburton , Kirby.
Unused Subs: Minihan, Ormson.
Attendance: 825 (466 representing The Twelfth Man).
Reporter: Gareth Evans.
Photographer: Mike Petch.