Friday night was County friendly night, as the Hatters received Blackburn by way of their second successive Championship opponents at Edgeley Park, for a well-matched workout that was settled in Rovers’ favour by Zak Gilsenan’s 70th-minute penalty.
County took to the field for a slightly early evening kick-off of 7:30pm, showing eight changes – with only Ryan Croasdale, skipper Paddy Madden and Macauley Southam-Hales surviving – from the line-up that had started the meeting with Huddersfield six days earlier.
The visitors, featuring a mix of senior squad representatives and younger players, launched a couple of forays into the County box during the opening eight minutes – but County goalkeeper Jordan Smith and Akil Wright were on hand to block the progress of Gilsenan and Tom Bloxham, respectively.
The Hatters’ – and, indeed, the contest’s – first attempt on target followed a couple of minutes later, as Connor Evans unleashed a shot from the edge of the box that took a deflection, and then a bounce, before being smothered by Aynsley Pears in the visitors’ goal.
Blackburn’s Sam Barnes (not the one-time Hatter, who, as a youngster, had appeared briefly in County’s defence during the penultimate season of the club’s previous Football League residency) blocked shots by Tanto Olaofe and Madden, before one of the two County Trialists (‘B’) fired over with a free-kick from 30 yards around the first half’s mid-point.
At the other end, Smith did well on two occasions in front of the left post – first, to hold on to a well-struck effort from distance by John Buckley, and, just ahead of half-time, to parry Jake Barry’s effort after the full-back had cut in from the left.
A trial run of the FL’s recently-announced added-time rules that would come into force for the forthcoming season-proper saw five extra minutes announced at the end of a relatively uneventful first 45. During those, County earned a couple of corners, and Olaofe and Madden both brought out the best in Pears, as the Hatters enjoyed an attacking spell late on.
HALF-TIME: County 0, Blackburn 0.
Evans, as had been the case in the first half, let rip with the initial attempt after the resumption – firing narrowly over from just outside the area. And, half a dozen minutes later, another shot by the same player from further out forced Pears to dive and parry.
The Blackburn ‘keeper was again called into action shortly before the hour, when, following a cross by Southam-Hales from the right, he threw himself in the way of Trialist B’s volley and deflected the ball beyond the far post.
The Hatters continued to press, as a break on the right saw Olaofe’s delivery across the goalmouth put behind by captain Scott Wharton with Croasdale lurking by the far post in the hope of applying a final touch. And Madden, after being fed by young substitute Ashton Mee, fired wide from close range with the goal at his mercy.
It was very much against the run of play, then, when, with 20 minutes remaining, the visitors took the lead. Wright’s challenge on Batty was penalised, and Gilsenan sent Smith the wrong way to convert his spot-kick.
James Edmondson twice had the opportunity to extend Rovers’ advantage – only to drag a shot wide of the left upright, and, after advancing a few minutes later from the right, be stopped in his tracks by Ethan Pye. And Gilsenan went close to doubling his personal tally with a well-struck low shot that cannoned off the right post.
Another eight minutes were added on after the 90 were up, without the scorers being troubled further – but providing a glimpse of the potential for some rather late finishes once the new campaign gets under way.
FULL-TIME: County 0, Blackburn 1 (Gilsenan (penalty), 70).
Team (3-4-3): Smith; Wright, Byrne, Pye; Southam-Hales, Croasdale, Trialist (A) (Mee, 62), Trialist (B) (McMahon, 85); Evans, Madden (Capt.) (Omoruyi, 85), Olaofe.
Unused Sub: Jones.
Booked: Croasdale, Southam-Hales, Pye.
Man of the Match: Olaofe.
Attendance: 2,416 (878 away).
Reporter: Gareth Evans.
Photographer: Mike Petch.