Stockport County 3-0 Eastleigh

The Hatters’ return to National League action at Edgeley Park for the first time since the advent of the new year saw them triumph over mid-table Eastleigh, to jump four positions up into third place and five points behind leaders Halifax.

An early own goal, followed by Paddy Madden’s 10th successful league strike of the season, put County in control at the break, before substitute Connor Jennings added a third against the ‘Spitfires’ – who were reduced to 10 players following Christian Maghoma’s second-half dismissal.

The Hatters took to the field on a crisp winter’s night showing 10 changes from the FA Trophy starters against Larkhall three days earlier, but with a line-up identical to that deployed against Altrincham for their most recent league outing. There was one change among the substitutes from those on the bench at Moss Lane the previous Tuesday, with Elliot Newby replacing the injured Ollie Crankshaw.

Having earned a couple of corners in the opening 10 minutes, County then executed the evening’s first chance – as Madden’s run towards the box culminated in a low shot from its edge that visiting goalkeeper Joe McDonnell dived to smother.

The Hatters’ next attack of note, a little over five minutes later, saw them take the lead. A cross whipped in from the right by Macauley Southam-Hales was aimed towards the waiting Scott Quigley – only for central defender Andrew Boyce to leap first for the delivery and head it into his own net.

Three minutes before the half-hour, a dangerous corner from the left by Antoni Sarcevic soared across the goalmouth in search of a touch, but McDonnell denied County to claim on the line.

With 10 minutes of the first half remaining, the Hatters lost Quigley’s services after he picked up a knock, although Jennings, as his replacement up front, was soon in action – heading over the crossbar a delivery from the left by Ryan Rydel.

Rydel then turned from provider to predator, as he seized on a loose ball to the left of goal and unleashed a fierce shot that McDonnell did well to parry – before the Hatters’ next attempt, which was hit with far, far less venom but doubled their advantage five minutes prior to the interval.

Sarcevic was the architect, advancing into the area to tee up Madden, whose shot, with the striker off balance, appeared on first sight to be harmless enough – until, that is, it took a deflection, deceived McDonnell and squirmed over the line into the bottom-right corner.

HALF-TIME: County 2 (Boyce (o.g.), 14; Madden, 40) Eastleigh 0.

Jennings was the first Hatter to try his luck shortly after the resumption, spinning a shot towards goal that was deflected by the unfortunate Boyce – although, on this occasion, McDonnell was well placed to collect.

Ten minutes into the new half, Madden’s through-ball to Southam-Hales saw the wing-back cut in from the right before shooting straight at McDonnell. And at the other end, Ben Hinchliffe advanced out of his area to clear from Ryan Hill who had been put through on goal.

It was a case of ‘cometh the hour, departeth the man’, as Gillingham loanee Maghoma picked up two yellow cards within the space of three minutes and received his marching orders in the 63rd minute. In the aftermath, Rydel fired narrowly over the bar the free-kick which had been awarded in response to Maghoma’s final deed – a foul on Will Collar.

With the numerical advantage, County began to run rampant. And strikes against the right post by Collar and Ryan Croasdale sandwiched the Hatters’ third goal, tucked away by Jennings at close range 16 minutes from time.

FULL-TIME: County 3 (Boyce (o.g.), 14; Madden, 40; Jennings, 74), Eastleigh 0.

Team (3-4-1-2): Hinchliffe; Hogan (Capt.), Palmer, Kitching; Southam-Hales, Collar (Rooney, 79), Croasdale, Rydel; Sarcevic (Newby, 79); Madden, Quigley (Jennings, 35).

Unused Subs: Minihan, Johnson.

Booked: Sarcevic.

Man of the Match: Collar.

Attendance: 4,634 (49 away).

Reporter: Gareth Evans.

Photographer: Mike Petch.

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