The Hatters’ fourth pre-season outing saw them defeat National League North hosts Chorley to maintain their unbeaten record in this summer’s friendlies.
A goal from Ben Whitfield shortly after the half-hour mark put the Hatters ahead following a first half in which they had been largely dominant – before Scott Quigley, Ollie Crankshaw, Ryan Rydel and young substitute Cody Johnson all added to the haul after the break.
With the forecast extreme heat for much of the country still 72 hours away, County took to the field on a rather welcomingly fresh Friday evening – with on-loan goalkeeper Vit Jaros donning the gloves as a Hatter for the first time. Chorley old boy Elliot Newby, who had appeared for the hosting ‘Magpies’ between 2018 and 2021, featured on his old stomping ground, and Ash Palmer – County’s sole starter to have played in the two teams’ most recent meeting three years earlier – wore the captain’s armband for the night.
So it was that the Hatters – as had been the case with their opening friendly-destination, Nuneaton’s Liberty Way, 13 days before – were visiting Victory Park for the first time since April 2019, during the closing stages of what would ultimately be a triumphant NNL campaign, despite a two-goal defeat in Lancashire that temporarily gave the Magpies an advantage in the title race.
Two of the Chorley players from that occasion survived in the hosts’ current starting line-up, and one – ‘keeper-skipper Matt Urwin – comfortably collected the inaugural County shot towards goal, fired from the right by Crankshaw, after half a dozen minutes.
Connor Jennings, forming a two-pronged attack with Quigley, twice threatened the home side with his head in as many minutes – with the first attempt, from a Macauley Southam-Hales cross on the right, striking the near post, before Jennings nodded over Whitfield’s delivery from the opposite flank.
Urwin held on to a shot by Whitfield, and saw two others from Crankshaw respectively clear the crossbar and spin past the left upright, as County continued to monopolise the contest’s chances.
Chorley’s second survivor from three Easter Saturdays previously, Adam Blakeman, delivered a corner from the left that led to his side’s first opportunity on the half-hour, as Connor Hall met it to head into the near side-netting.
But a couple of minutes later, the Hatters were ahead – albeit in rather unconventional fashion, as Whitfield, having chased a long ball forward from Quigley to the left by-line, chipped a cross towards goal that looped over Urwin and into the net’s far corner from the tightest of angles.
HALF-TIME: Chorley 0, County 1 (Whitfield, 32).
With a first foray following the resumption, the Hatters doubled their lead – after Urwin could only parry Ryan Croasdale’s shot from just inside the area, and Quigley reacted quickest to bundle the ball home.
And six minutes later, they were three up – as Crankshaw, who had been denied a few moments earlier by Urwin, executed a delivery from the right that deceived all in attendance to nestle in the bottom far corner.
A Chorley break just before the hour saw the hosts go close, as a cross from the right by substitute Cian Spencer-McDermott found Ollie Shenton, only for the latter’s shot to be blocked by Jaros.
County’s almost-immediate response was to net a fourth – with Newby coming back to haunt his former club, courtesy of a pin-point cross from the right that was powerfully headed in by Rydel.
Rydel turned provider on the left to tee up Jennings, whose header was caught by Urwin, before Hall fired beyond the left post at the other end – and Urwin and Jaros kept out shots from Jennings and Harry Scarborough, respectively.
Seventeen-year-old Johnson, a quarter of an hour following his introduction, converted the fifth goal with a shot on the turn from 12 yards out to complete the night’s scoring and a most satisfactory team workout.
FULL-TIME: Chorley 0, County 5 (Whitfield, 32; Quigley, 47; Crankshaw, 53; Rydel, 60; C. Johnson, 85).
Team (4-3-1–2): Jaros; Southam-Hales (Minihan, 61), Palmer (Capt.), R. Johnson, Rydel; Newby, Croasdale (C. Johnson, 70), Whitfield; Crankshaw; Jennings, Quigley.
Reporter: Gareth Evans.