The Hatters’ final game before their eagerly-awaited return to the Football League saw them remain unbeaten throughout pre-season, as they ended the schedule of summer friendlies with a two-goal victory at National League near-neighbours Altrincham.
An early penalty from skipper Paddy Madden and a headed goal by Fraser Horsfall around the first half’s mid-point put the Hatters in control, and provided them with another useful workout one week ahead of Barrow’s visit to Edgeley Park for the League Two opener.
County took to the field In light Cheshire drizzle – and including among the starters, in Cal Camps, Horsfall, Connor Lemonheigh-Evans, Joe Lewis and Kyle Wootton, a quintet of the close-season arrivals at Edgeley Park. The hosts, for their part, featured a pair of former Hatters – namely, Lewis Baines and Elliot Osborne – in their line-up.
With half a dozen minutes played, and following an opening spell of patient possession, the Hatters created the afternoon’s first chance. Will Collar’s long ball down the right flank found Macauley Southam-Hales, whose cross was fired wide of the far post by Lemonheigh-Evans.
Five minutes later, County were given an opportunity to go ahead – with Referee Simpson awarding a penalty after an Alty hand was struck by a shot from Wootton that had followed up Osborne’s goal-line clearance to deny Collar. Madden duly stepped up to convert the spot-kick past Matt Gould.
Madden’s opposite captaining number Jordan Hulme went close for the ‘Robins’, back-heeling past the far post, after being teed up from the right by newly-arrived Fleetwood loanee Chris Conn-Clarke – before Madden latched on to another Southam-Hales cross, only to see Gould parry his snapshot behind.
But from the resulting corner, the Hatters doubled their lead, as Ryan Rydel’s delivery was headed home inside the far upright by Horsfall for his second pre-season goal in as many Saturdays.
A phase of end-to-end action ensued ahead of the break – with Wootton looping a header narrowly off target, Ryan Colclough firing just beyond County’s right post, Rydel stinging Gould’s hands after cutting in from the left, and Ryan Johnson and Southam-Hales heading respectively over and wide after connecting with deliveries from Rydel on the left.
HALF-TIME: Altrincham 0, County 2 (Madden (penalty), 11; Horsfall, 21).
Colclough blasted high and wide shortly after the resumption, before Collar and Southam-Hales unleashed early second-half shots to test substitute goalkeeper Ollie Byrne.
Having made two saves a few minutes into his introduction, Byrne showed himself to have his eye well and truly in as the hour-mark approached by keeping out Wootton at point-blank range, after the striker had connected with a Southam-Hales cross from the right. And Osborne cleared off the line for a second time to prevent Lewis from opening his scoring-account as a Hatter, courtesy of a header from Rydel’s left-sided corner.
Byrne proceeded to parry a Rydel free-kick, before County’s previously-untroubled Number One Ben Hinchliffe got his palms behind a rasping effort from Marcus Dinanga – one of a raft of outfield Alty substitutes brought on in the course of the game’s final third.
Madden, from the left, squared for Lemonheigh-Evans to fire over, as the hors d’oeuvres to the coming campaign were cleared away – ready for a hopefully appetising feast of EFL action in 2022/23.
FULL-TIME: Altrincham 0, County 2 (Madden (penalty), 11; Horsfall, 21).
Team (3-5-2): Hinchliffe; Lewis, Horsfall, R. Johnson; Southam-Hales, Collar, Camps, Lemonheigh-Evans, Rydel; Wootton, Madden (Capt.).
Unused Subs: Barugh, Farrar, Tanswell-Vargas.
Attendance: 2,119 (1,056 away).
Reporter: Gareth Evans.
Photographer: Mike Petch.