Saved By The Bell, As Last-minute Cutting-edge Slays Daggers
An added-time header by substitute Nyal Bell proved the difference at Edgeley Park, as County got back to winning ways against the ‘Daggers’ from Dagenham & Redbridge in the only National League match to be staged during a weekend of FA Cup First Round ties.
The match, which had been rescheduled in the light of unfortunate travel difficulties suffered by the visitors four Saturdays earlier, saw the Hatters climb three places in the table to 13th, four points away from the play-off positions, and leapfrog their opponents – against whom they have now completed a hat-trick of 1-0 wins in the three matches ever played between the two clubs.
County took to the field showing two changes from the starting line-up in SK3 against Woking a week previously. Central midfielders Paul Turnbull and Sam Walker dropped to the bench, while Jordan Keane and Frank Mulhern earned recalls, and birthday boy Ash Palmer, who was turning 27, wore the captain’s armband in Turnbull’s stead.
With two minutes on the clock, Devante Rodney unleashed the first attempt on target – courtesy of a low drive from the edge of the box that visiting goalkeeper Elliott Justham dived to smother. And five minutes later, Tom Walker’s deflected shot curled narrowly over from a similar distance.
At the other end, Joe Quigley was County’s would-be tormentor-in-chief – seeing his first attempt on goal deflected past the right post, before firing two shots wide of the opposite upright in as many minutes.
Just after the mid-point of the half, Mulhern fired beyond the right post, following good build-up work by Adam Thomas and Tom Walker – the latter of whom shortly afterwards forced a good save from Justham with an angled shot initiated to the left of goal.
The hitherto under-employed Ben Hinchliffe prevented the Daggers from taking the lead when he tipped behind Quigley’s goal-bound effort following a corner from the right. And County’s Number One then made a more routine stop, smothering Matt Robinson’s effort from distance, before Spanish winger Juan Luque blazed wide of the right post.
The two recalled Hatters combined well as the half entered its final 10 minutes, when Mulhern latched on to Keane’s through-ball and fired into the right side-netting. And with three minutes remaining, Alex McQueen teed up Quigley whose scooped shot cleared Hinchliffe – only to end up on the other net’s top.
HALF-TIME: County 0, Dagenham & Redbridge 0.
An open start to the second half saw County create the first chance of note before the 50-minute mark – as Tom Walker threaded the ball through to Mulhern, who took a touch before seeing his low shot smothered by Justham.
Mulhern and Mitch Brundle went to ground in the respective penalty areas within a minute of each other, before a break by the Hatters saw Rodney outpace all challengers on the left and deliver a cross to Mulhern, who fired over.
Substitute Ben Jackson came spectacularly close to breaking the deadlock within five minutes of his introduction, when his right-footed thunderbolt of a shot from 25 yards rattled the crossbar. And four minutes from time, Festus Arthur flicked Osborne’s, and County’s ninth, corner narrowly shy of the left upright.
But with their 10th corner, and in the 93rd minute, the Hatters earned the three points that their performance, on balance, deserved. Another Osborne delivery from the left found Bell, who headed inside the near post at the Cheadle End to send nigh-on 3,700 Twelfth Man Representatives home happy.
A pretty perfect end to the afternoon was made all the more so by news from faraway Maidstone, where the hosts’ single-goal FA Cup triumph over Torquay United ensured that County’s long league schlep down to Devon could proceed as scheduled on Second Round day, three weekends hence, rather than on a Tuesday night in December!
FULL-TIME: County 1 (Bell, 90 + 3), Dagenham & Redbridge 0.
Team (4-1-4-1): Hinchliffe; Minihan, Palmer (Capt.), Arthur, Garratt (Dimaio, 84); Keane; Thomas (Jackson, 68), Osborne, T Walker, Rodney; Mulhern (Bell, 65).
Unused Subs: Turnbull, S Walker.
Man of the Match: Palmer.
Attendance: 3,771 (75 away).
Reporter: Gareth Evans.
Photographer: James Gill.