The Hatters’ final home match of 2021 saw them return to National League action with a victorious goal-fest against near-neighbours Altrincham, in front of a bumper Boxing Day crowd just short of 9,000 at Edgeley Park.
First-half strikes from Antoni Sarcevic, Paddy Madden, Scott Quigley and, following a Ryan Croasdale own goal, Will Collar put County well in command, before substitute Ollie Crankshaw added a fifth eight minutes from the end.
County took to the field on a mild, damp afternoon, showing four changes from the FA Trophy starting line-up in SK3 against Grimsby eight days earlier. Jordan Keane, Mark Kitching, Quigley and Macauley Southam-Hales made up the quartet of players to return – replacing Zeki Fryers, Liam Hogan, Connor Jennings and Sam Minihan. With skipper Hogan named among the substitutes, Madden took the captain’s armband.
Both teams were sporting away colours in aid of homeless charity Shelter, and the ‘whites’ of County were the first to create not only a chance, but one that ended up in the back of the net.
With just four minutes on the clock, a low cross from the left by Kitching skimmed the length of the six-yard box – narrowly evading Madden’s touch in front of goal – before the ball was recycled back, courtesy of Southam-Hales, whose lay-off was drilled in by Sarcevic for his first goal as a Hatter.
Altrincham’s inaugural opportunity fell to Adam Porter, who fired high and wide from distance – but half a dozen minutes after opening the scoring, the Hatters doubled their advantage, as Madden seized upon a loose ball six yards out and fired past visiting goalkeeper Tony Thompson.
And three minutes later, it was three for County – as Quigley celebrated his return from illness by picking up the ball just inside the Alty area and left-footing home.
A curling shot from outside the box by Sarcevic floated just just shy of the right post, Keane fired an effort wide from the edge of the area, and Quigley and Kitching were both thwarted by Thompson, as County continued to dominate proceedings throughout the first 30 minutes.
A minute after the half-hour mark, Altrincham reduced the arrears when Ryan Colclough’s low, angled shot from the left was turned into County’s net by Croasdale. Moments later, Croasdale went close to atoning with a goal at the other end, but his shot, which took a deflection off Porter, was tipped behind by Thompson.
With eight minutes of the first half remaining, the Hatters restored their three-goal lead. Sarcevic released Southam-Hales on the right, and the wing-back’s cross was converted by Collar whose successful strike was his fourth goal in three matches.
Josh Hancock also had an attempt on target for the visitors shortly before the break, but his free header was comfortably caught by Ben Hinchliffe.
HALF-TIME: County 4 (Sarcevic, 4; Madden, 10; Quigley, 13; Collar, 37), Altrincham 1 (Croasdale (o.g.), 31).
Attacking a packed Cheadle end upon the resumption, the Hatters looked to extend their advantage – going close through Sarcevic, whose shot was deflected past the left upright, Madden, who saw an effort saved by Thompson, and the recently-introduced Hogan, whose header was tipped over by the visiting ‘keeper.
The chances kept coming even after County had taken off Madden and Quigley 20 minutes from time. Sarcevic almost netted himself a second with a fierce shot that fizzed past the right post, before Collar played a one-two with Madden’s replacement, Crankshaw, who volleyed home from a tight angle to make it five and send more than 8,000 of those in attendance away feeling full of continued festive joy.
FULL-TIME: County 5 (Sarcevic, 4; Madden, 10; Quigley, 13; Collar, 37; Crankshaw, 82), Altrincham 1 (Croasdale (o.g.), 31).
Team (3-4-1-2): Hinchliffe; Keane, Palmer, Kitching; Southam-Hales, Collar, Croasdale, Rydel (Hogan, 53); Sarcevic; Madden (Capt.) (Crankshaw, 70), Quigley (Jennings, 70).
Unused Subs: Minihan, Rooney.
Man of the Match: Sarcevic.
Attendance: 8,896 (740 away).
Reporter: Gareth Evans.
Photographer: Mike Petch.