Hatters Soar Into Proper-Round Alty-tude!
A goal in each half at Edgeley Park saw County safely through the final qualifying round of the FA Cup against Cheshire near-neighbours, and fellow National League North side, Altrincham.
In an archetypal ‘game of two halves’, the Hatters gained the upper hand by taking the lead through Frank Mulhern just prior to the end of a first 45 minutes in which ‘Alty’ had largely dominated possession, before Matty Warburton increased the advantage – and ensured County a place in the First Round proper – in the midst of an improved County performance after the break.
County took to the field in a 4-2-3-1 formation – and showing just one change from the starting line-up at EP for the NLN meeting with Hereford a week previously, as Sam Minihan replaced Dan Cowan in the right-back berth.
Altrincham had the first chance of note with 13 minutes on the clock, after Jordan Hulme sent Andy White through – only for Ben Hinchliffe to save with his legs. And 12 minutes later, Sean Williams jinked into the County box before unleashing a shot that was cleared by Sam Walker.
It was, then, rather against the run of play when, four minutes before half-time, County went ahead. Walker and Elliot Osborne linked up well following a corner to play the ball out to Adam Thomas, whose subsequent cross from the right was headed down by Ash Palmer from beyond the far post and poked home by Mulhern for the striker’s fourth goal in three matches.
HALF-TIME: County 1 (Mulhern, 41), Altrincham 0.
The Hatters – clearly buoyed by their opening goal – emerged after the interval in resolute mood, with both Walker and Thomas sounding early declarations of shooting intent that were blocked.
The visiting ‘Robins’ attempted to press, albeit without their first-half energy and in the face of a well-drilled County defence that restricted them to attempts from distance.
With 68 minutes played, Warburton doubled the lead, after taking advantage of a mix-up in the visiting defence on the right flank, rounding goalkeeper Tony Thompson and left-footing home.
Three minutes later, the impressive Jamie Stott looked to have extended it further – having put the ball in the net after latching on to Osborne’s free-kick – but the goal was ruled out for a foul on Thompson.
And 10 minutes from time, Warburton’s trusty left foot fired an effort against the post after Stott had left four defenders in his wake to unleash a perfectly-weighted through-ball.
But disallowed goals and woodwork strikes notwithstanding, the Hatters are through to Round One – with the potential of facing Football League opposition – three weekends from now.
FULL-TIME: County 2 (Mulhern, 41; Warburton, 68), Altrincham 0.
Team: Hinchliffe, Minihan, Duxbury (Cowan, 78), Osborne, Palmer (Capt.), Stott, Thomas, Walker, Mulhern, Warburton (Dimaio, 88), Stephenson (Keane, 61).
Unused Subs: Ormson, Bell, Smalley, Mantack.
Man of the Match: Duxbury.
Attendance: 2,931 (652 away).
Reporter: Gareth Evans.
Photographer: Mike Petch.