The Hatters’ first of two home fixtures in the week, and their inaugural one of the campaign under the Edgeley Park floodlights, saw them share the spoils in a high-octane encounter with Bradford City.
The visitors took the lead shortly following half-time, before County equalised through substitute Tanto Olaofe – but the Hatters also had Ben Hinchliffe to thank for their first point of the campaign, as County’s Number One subsequently saved a penalty to keep honours even.
County took to the field on a mildly sunny Tuesday evening – and showing three changes from the starting line-up at Walsall three days earlier, with Will Collar, Connor Evans and County’s weekend goal-scorer Ryan Rydel comprising the trio of players brought in. Of those replaced, Ethan Pye was named as a substitute, while minor injuries ruled out both Nick Powell and Antoni Sarcevic.
The visitors earned the first corner, and then created the initial chance, of the night with half a dozen minutes on the clock – as Clarke Odour’s delivery from the right was met by Matty Platt, whose header took a deflection beyond the near post.
Three minutes later, the Hatters went rather closer – again from a header, after Collar latched on to a Macauley Southam-Hales cross from the right. But the attempt was gathered up on the line by Harry Lewis, grandson of the former County goalkeeping legend Ken Mulhearn.
Evans was next to try his luck, with a first-time strike that was deflected behind off Platt, before Louie Barry, following the subsequent corner from the left, curled a shot that soared past the crossbar and far-post intersection.
As the half-hour approached, visiting captain Richie Smallwood’s corner from the left found Andy Cook, leading scorer across League Two for 2022/23, who headed over and on to the top netting. And five minutes later, one-time County target Tyler Smith unleashed a shot from distance that Hinchliffe dived to smother.
At the other end, skipper Paddy Madden fired a shot on the turn beyond the near upright, after being teed up from the left by Rydel. And, in added time, Ibou Touray drilled narrowly past the same post through a crowded box.
HALF-TIME: County 0, Bradford City 0.
The Hatters started the new half brightly with a promising attacking move down the right immediately following the resumption – but within two minutes they had fallen behind, after Cook, on the right, took advantage of Touray’s hesitation, before squaring for Alex Pattison to rifle home.
The goal provoked a spell of pressure by the Hatters, as they strove to get themselves back on terms. Madden, who was subsequently flagged offside, deflected the ball into the arms of Lewis at point-blank range – and Barry, also from inside the six-yard area, blasted over, after the Bradford ‘keeper had spilled a Kyle Knoyle cross from the right.
County then sought to pep up the attack by introducing Olaofe and former ‘Bantam’ Ollie Crankshaw. And the two played their part to great effect 11 minutes from time, as Crankshaw’s corner from the right was headed towards goal by Fraser Horsfall, palmed out by Lewis and fired into the roof of the net on the rebound by Olaofe.
The celebrations were swiftly muted a minute later, when Touray’s challenge on Pattison in the County box saw Referee Stockbridge point to the spot – but Hinchliffe, in front of the Railway End filled with visiting fans, dived to his right and kept out Cook’s penalty.
During five minutes of added time, Hinchliffe denied Cook again – this time, using his legs to block, after the striker had broken through to go one-on-one – and Crankshaw went close to haunting his previous club by lobbing on to the top netting.
FULL-TIME: County 1 (Olaofe, 79), Bradford City 1 (Pattison, 47).
Team (3-5-2): Hinchliffe; Knoyle, Horsfall, Touray; Southam-Hales (Crankshaw, 72), Collar (Croasdale, 84), Johnson, Evans (Olaofe, 63), Rydel; Barry, Madden (Capt.).
Unused Subs: Smith, Wright, Byrne, Pye.
Booked: Knoyle, Croasdale.
Man of the Match: Johnson.
Attendance: 9,296 (1,331 away).
Reporter: Gareth Evans.
Photographer: Mike Petch.