County’s pre-season programme began with what is now something of an annual curtain-raiser, and with a sixth successive win, at near-neighbours Cheadle Heath Nomads.
The latest one-mile pilgrimage to The Heath – which, in the course of a five-minute drive from Edgeley Park, takes travellers up as many post-codes, from SK3 to SK8 – saw the Hatters score three first-half goals to repeat the 2016 scoreline against their Cheshire League Premier Division hosts, whose training facilities are used by County’s first team and Academy squads.
All six of Jim Gannon’s close-season signings made their debut appearances during a game which featured almost completely different County line-ups either side of half-time.
Beginning proceedings in the bright sunshine with a senior 11 captained by Harry Winter, County got off the mark in the second minute, when Jimmy Ball headed home Sam Walker’s corner from the right.
The Hatters had the ball in the net following their third corner of the afternoon, on 25 minutes, although Jason Oswell was flagged offside as he tapped in from close range.
But further goals were not long in arriving – and in each case courtesy of ex-Chorley winger Darren Stephenson, who was to kick off his County career with a well-taken brace.
Stephenson first struck just after the half-hour mark, when he latched on to a neat lay-off by Oswell before advancing into the box and rifling home.
His second, like his first, came from a central position – when, three minutes ahead of the break, he reacted quickest to apply a finishing touch after home goalkeeper Aaron Tyrer could only parry Matty Warburton’s shot.
HALF-TIME: Nomads 0, County 3 (Ball, 2; Stephenson, 33 and 42).
Nine senior and youth substitutes took to the field for County following the interval – and, perhaps unsurprisingly in view of such wholesale alterations, the score was to remain unchanged thereafter.
That said, keeping the second half even was thanks in no small measure to Tyrer, who saved goal-bound efforts from Adam Thomas, Jordan Dowling, Adam Etches and Ball.
FULL-TIME: Nomads 0, County 3 (Ball, 2; Stephenson, 33 and 42).
First-half Team: Hinchliffe, Minihan, Hampson, Winter (Capt.), Clarke, O’Halloran, Ball, Walker, Oswell, Warburton, Stephenson.
Second-half Team: Ormson, Downing, Whitty, Cowan, Clarke (O’Halloran, 69), Duxbury, Brazel, Walker (Ball, 69), Etches, Thomas, West.