The Hatters missed out on an unbeaten pre-season record on the road, as their earlier victories at Cheadle Heath and Altrincham were followed by a single-goal defeat to their Evo-Stik Northern Premier League hosts Ashton United.
This third and final away-friendly, at Hurst Cross, proved to be a tale of two second-half penalties on the rebound – with the Robins converting theirs, but County’s George West striking his against the crossbar, in each case after the initial spot-kick had been kept out by the goalkeeper concerned.
The match also gave Jim Gannon an opportunity to hand a first start of the month to no fewer than seven players – namely, Ian Ormson, Scott Duxbury, Adam Etches, Tom Whitty, Adam Thomas, Harry Brazel and West – who had hitherto only made substitute appearances during the pre-season schedule.
Stephen O’Halloran also took to the field from the outset – having missed the visit to Edgeley Park of Preston North End three days earlier – but several members of the senior squad were rested for the evening.
The first half saw some useful build-up play on the part of the Hatters – albeit with few clear-cut chances resulting. Captain Harry Winter drilled a low shot wide of the left upright, while a snap-shot by West fizzed narrowly over. But County arguably had cause to feel more frustrated after 21 minutes when Sam Minihan was felled in the home area, only for play to be waved on.
HALF-TIME: Ashton 0, County 0.
The Hatters continued to make the greater share of the running upon the resumption. Winter’s goal-bound volley, following a cross by the lively Thomas from the left, was blocked by former County defender Tom Eckersley. And substitute Jordan Peach curled an effort just beyond the left post, shortly after his introduction in place of the injured Whitty.
With just over a quarter of an hour left on the clock, the hosts benefited from what appeared a rather generous penalty decision – after big striker Yaw Gwimah went to ground under an innocuous-looking challenge by Duxbury.
Ormson guessed the right way to keep out Alex Johnson’s kick to his right – but the parried ball fell at the feet of the penalty-taker who lashed home at the second attempt to put the Robins in front.
A further penalty appeal by Gyimah was turned down, before Duxbury was on the more positive end of a decision when appearing to be held by Ashton skipper Cavell Coo in the 85th minute.
Up stepped West, also to fire his spot-kick to the right of the ‘keeper (in this instance, a second-half substitute trialist) – who, in turn, palmed the effort against the post. But while West, like Johnson earlier, was first to react to the rebound, his follow-up shot was to ricochet off the bar and away to safety.
FULL-TIME: Ashton 1 (Johnson (penalty), 74), County 0.
Team: Ormson, Minihan (Jackson, 73), Duxbury, Winter (Capt.), O’Halloran, Smalley, Etches (Downing, 59), Whitty (Peach, 66), Thomas (Holt, 73), Brazel, West.
Unused Sub: Gorst.
Reporter: Gareth Evans.