Two Smalleys Make A Biggie, As Hatters Make Early New Year’s Impact
The Hatters got 2018 off to the best of starts with an impressive victory at Alfreton’s Impact Arena, which, in the process, saw them record a first ‘double’ of the campaign – as well as continuing an unbeaten record for New Year’s Day matches that now extends back seven years.
And they had two defenders to thank for their goals, as Chris Smalley’s pair of strikes early in each half, combined with a Scott Duxbury corner that was punched in by home goalkeeper Chris Elliott, saw off the Derbyshire ‘Reds’ – who were reduced to 10 men just after the half-hour mark.
Both sides took to the field showing two changes from the Boxing Day reverse-fixture at Edgeley Park. For County, Adam Thomas and Matty Warburton featured in a 4-2-3-1 formation – replacing captain Harry Winter (in whose absence Stephen O’Halloran wore the skipper’s armband at the outset) and Kallum Mantack (whose season had been brought to a premature end after sustaining a broken fibula and dislocated ankle in SK3 six days earlier).
Kicking off in the winter sunshine, the Hatters only had to wait six minutes before earning their first corner. And moments later they were ahead, as Alfreton failed to clear Thomas’ delivery from the left. In the home-area mêlée, Darren Stephenson fed the ball back out to Thomas, whose cross was met by Smalley with a scissor-volley that flew past Elliott to give County the lead.
A quarter of an hour passed before the Reds created an attacking chance of note – and when they did, Ben Hinchliffe was equal to Frank Mulhern’s shot as he dived to catch the effort in mid-air. But Alfreton looked to be settling into the game, and in County’s half, as a James Baxendale shot and Craig Westcarr’s 25-yard free kick were both fired just wide of the right post.
Then, with 33 minutes played, Westcarr prodded an effort shy of the same upright. Claiming a corner, he vented his fury on the linesman who had awarded a goal kick – and, subsequently, on Referee Tankard, who promptly showed the striker a straight red card for abusive language.
The hosts were now up against it. But, ahead of the break, further County chances amounted to little more than a Jason Oswell header that Elliott caught with ease, and a skewed shot by Jimmy Ball wide of the left post – while, at the other end, Hinchliffe did well to tip over Mulhern’s volley.
HALF-TIME: Alfreton 0, County 1 (Smalley, 7).
The second half began for the Hatters just as nicely as the first. Within minutes of the re-start, and at almost precisely the same stage of proceedings as that which had seen his fateful Boxing Day challenge on Mantack, Cieron Keane conceded a free kick on the right after fouling Oswell. By way of a second assist, Thomas delivered it – and Smalley converted it to double his and County’s tallies, by stabbing the ball home after Elliott had saved an initial header.
The hosts, in response, endeavoured literally to use their heads to get back on terms – as Mulhern nodded over twice, and Luke Shiels had an effort palmed clear of the crossbar by Hinchliffe. Up the other end, Warburton almost marked his return from injury with a goal – when, fed by Ball from the left, his low shot from 12 yards struck the left upright.
But with just over a quarter of an hour left on the clock, the Hatters made the game, to all intents and purposes, safe. After earning their first corner since the interval, Duxbury’s trademark in-swinging delivery from the right proved too much of a handful for Elliott who put it over the line.
Seven more corners were forced by the Hatters in the time remaining – albeit without any further addition to their score. And perversely, for all County’s continued dominance, there was to be a consolation goal for Alfreton during added time, after Dan Cowan was adjudged to have fouled substitute Brendon Daniels in the box.
Daniels dusted himself down to send the resulting penalty past Hinchliffe. But, if you may wonder, will the travelling Hatters have been happy ones as they wended their way home?
FULL-TIME: Alfreton 1 (Daniels (penalty), 90 + 2), County 3 (Smalley, 7 and 50; Elliott (o.g.), 74).
Team: Hinchliffe, Cowan, Duxbury, Ball, Smalley (Clarke, 58), O’Halloran (Capt.), Thomas (McKenna, 78), Stopforth (Winter, 40), Oswell, Warburton, Stephenson.
Unused Subs: Ormson, Dixon.
Booked: Stopforth, Ball.
Attendance: 949 (469 representing The Twelfth Man).
Reporter: Gareth Evans
Photographer: Mike Petch
Video – Smalley Scissor Kick