The Hatters returned to action at Edgeley Park for the first time in March, and secured a second successive victory that also saw them achieve the ‘double’ over struggling Barnet.
But they were made to work hard for the three points by the National League’s second-bottom side, who looked to have earned a draw after cancelling out Liam Hogan’s early opener – until substitute Jack Stretton bagged the winner with seven minutes remaining.
County took to the field under the lights, and showing just one change from the starting line-up at Solihull a week previously – with Elliot Newby replacing the injured John Rooney. Newly-arrived striker Paddy Madden, who had been signed from Fleetwood the previous day, went straight into the match-day squad and was named among the substitutes.
Alex Reid unleashed the first shot of the night – drilling wide of the left post with just over a minute on the clock – before Courtney Baker-Richardson, one of four visiting players with double-barrelled surnames, did likewise at the home end.
Fewer than five minutes had been played when Harry Cardwell headed against the far post a cross from the right by fellow Chorley loanee Newby – who himself shortly afterwards forced visiting goalkeeper Aymen Azaze to parry a low effort around the right post.
From the resulting corner, and before the 10-minute mark had been reached, County went ahead. A short delivery taken by Tom Walker was promptly returned to him – and his subsequent cross found Hogan. The skipper saw his initial, point-blank header kept out by Azaze, but made no mistake on the rebound to stab the ball over the line.
At the other end, Ben Hinchliffe held on cleanly to both a long-range shot by Ephron Mason-Clark and a ricocheted effort off Michael Petrasso – before Baker-Richardson headed over Lee Vaughan’s cross from the right.
It was a case of cometh the half-hour, cometh the new man – with Madden taking his bow as a County player earlier than anticipated, after Cardwell had picked up a knock. And the striker was soon in action in the visitors’ area – seeing a first-time shot blocked, having latched on to a low cross from the right by Sam Minihan.
Reid earned County’s and the game’s sixth corner, courtesy of a snap-shot that Azaze tipped beyond the right post – with the Hatters seeing out the half dominant in possession.
HALF-TIME: County 1 (Hogan, 9), Barnet 0.
An early free-kick on the edge of County’s box gave the visiting ‘Bees’ hope of getting off to a second-half flyer – but Alexander McQueen’s delivery was well blocked by Hinchliffe. And Petrasso fired high and wide from outside the area, as they continued on the front foot.
Madden came close to opening his account just ahead of the hour, when he headed Walker’s cross from the left beyond the far post – and Minihan saw a shot cleared off the line by visiting captain Liam Daly.
But within minutes, Barnet had drawn level – after McQueen brought the ball under control with an excellent touch and slotted past Hinchliffe from close range.
Azaze held on to another header from Madden, as well as a low shot by Newby, and Ryan Croasdale volleyed just shy of the left post as the Hatters strove to get their noses back in front.
And following their final substitution, they managed to do so – with Stretton, three minutes after his arrival on the pitch, picking up Minihan’s through-ball to the right of goal, before dinking an angled shot that was deflected past Azaze.
FULL-TIME: County 2 (Hogan, 9; Stretton, 83), Barnet 1 (McQueen, 62).
Team (4-2-3-1): Hinchliffe; Minihan, Keane, Hogan (Capt.), J. Jennings; Maynard, Croasdale; Reid, Newby (Stretton, 80), Walker (Collar, 76); Cardwell (Madden, 29).
Unused Subs: Barnes, Shaw.
Booked: Croasdale, Jennings, Maynard.
Man of the Match: Newby.
Reporter: Gareth Evans.
Photographer: Mike Petch.