Early Glad Tidings, As County Ground Magpies
The Hatters continued in free-scoring form, following up their five-goal haul on the English Riviera seven days earlier with four at Edgeley Park against the ‘Magpies’ of Chorley.
Having gone behind early on, County notched up a third successive home triumph over the Lancashire visitors, thanks to a brace from Nyal Bell, a first league strike for Festus Arthur and another contender for goal of the season by Tom Walker, before Chorley netted a second in the dying stages.
The Hatters took to the field on a mild December afternoon, showing two changes from the starting line-up at Torquay a week previously. Captain Paul Turnbull returned in central midfield to replace Sam Walker, who was ruled out with a knee injury – and, further upfield, Devante Rodney was recalled in Adam Thomas’ stead. Two former County defenders, Courtney Meppen-Walter and Mark Ross, started for the visitors, while a third, Lewis Baines, featured on their bench.
The first chance of the contestfell to the Magpies, and saw them take the lead, with seven minutes played. Martin Smith’s free-kick from the left, and just inside the County half, found Meppen-Walter, who brought the ball under control on the edge of the box before squaring for Alex Newby to curl a shot that deflected over Ben Hinchliffe and into the top-left corner.
The Hatters responded, by way of Elliot Osborne’s drive from distance that Matt Urwin parried into Rodney’s path – but the visiting goalkeeper recovered to save the follow-up shot. At the other end, Meppen-Walter headed over the afternoon’s inaugural corner – from Newby on the left – and Newby drilled narrowly wide of the right post, as the Magpies looked to extend their advantage.
But three minutes ahead of the half-hour mark, the Hatters got themselves back on level terms. A well-worked move down the left, involving Tyler Garratt and Tom Walker, culminated in Rodney’s break into the Chorley area and low pass across the six-yard box to Bell, who tapped home.
The contest continued in open fashion, as Smith and Osborne fired shots wide from outside the respective boxes within a minute of each other, Chris Holroyd saw an angled effort from the right deflected beyond the far post, and Marcus Carver blasted over from just inside the area.
A County break two minutes ahead of the interval led to a low drive from Walker that dragged wide of the right post. But as added time approached, his free-kick on the edge of the area, following Smith’s foul on Rodney, was fumbled by Urwin, and, in the midst of a packed six-yard box, Arthur reacted first to bundle the ball over the line and send the Hatters in ahead at half-time.
HALF-TIME: County 2 (Bell, 27; Arthur, 45 + 1), Chorley 1 (A Newby, 7).
Within three minutes of the resumption, the Hatters came close to netting a third after Ash Palmer headed on Walker’s corner from the right – only for Urwin somehow to claw the ball off the line. Three minutes later, good work by Bell on the right saw the striker force the ‘keeper to save at the near post – and, shortly afterwards, Rodney flashed a shot narrowly wide of the same upright.
County kept up the pressure with a move that saw the Hatters break with a two-player advantage, but sole visiting defender, Matt Challoner, kept them at bay by deflecting Walker’s shot behind. And Jordan Keane fired two shots from outside the box narrowly off target in quick succession.
With 66 minutes on the clock, County’s second-half pressure finally paid off. A superb 70-yard clearance from the County box by Turnbull, in the immediate aftermath of blocking Nortei Nortey’s shot, found Bell upfield – and the latter twisted and turned around the right side of the opposite area past both visiting skipper Andy Teague and Meppen-Walter, before firing past Urwin and into the far-bottom corner of the net.
Bell just missed out on a hat-trick, as he glanced over Osborne’s corner from the left – but, with 10 minutes remaining, Walker made the game safe beyond doubt with an excellent strike that flew into the top-right corner from 25 yards.
Alex Newby latched on to a pass from twin-brother substitute Elliot, before drilling past the far upright, and Nortey saw a shot parried by Hinchliffe, as the visitors strove to reduce the arrears. The finally did so in added time, when a short corner from the right was headed in by substitute Ntumba Massanka. But the Magpies’ two goals were, at the end, a source for them merely of consolation, rather than any great joy.
FULL-TIME: County 4 (Bell, 27 and 66; Arthur, 45 + 1; T Walker, 80), Chorley 2 (A Newby, 7; Massanka, 90 + 1).
Team (4-2-3-1): Hinchliffe; Minihan, Palmer, Arthur, Garratt; Keane, Turnbull (Capt.), Keane; Rodney (Thomas, 72), Osborne, T Walker (Leesley, 86); Bell (Mulhern, 79).
Unused Subs: Cowan, Ormson.
Man of the Match: Bell.
Attendance: 4,510 (217 away).
Reporter: Gareth Evans.
Photographer: Mike Petch.