Stockport County 3-0 Larkhall Athletic

Edgeley Park hosted its first match action of the new year, as County’s FA Trophy campaign continued with a three-goal victory against Larkhall of the Southern League First Division South.

The inaugural meeting between the two clubs, separated by three non-league tiers, saw Connor Jennings net a first-half brace that put County in the driving seat, before Ryan Johnson, making his first start, added a third on the hour to ensure the Hatters their place in the last 16.

The Hatters took to the field in the mid-January sunshine showing 10 changes from the midweek starting line-up against Altrincham – with only Mark Kitching featuring for a second time in four days (although half a dozen starters at Moss Lane were included among the seven substitutes permitted for the competition). Academy skipper Scott Holding made his competitive debut, and John Rooney took the captain’s armband.

County created the afternoon’s first chance after just under four minutes – and following a patient build-up that culminated in a chip forward from Tom Walker to Alex Reid, who fired wide of the left post from six yards.

The ‘Larks’, competing beyond the Trophy’s qualifying rounds for the first time, went close three minutes later – when a cross from the left by Jack Goodall found Alex Lambert, whose volley flashed narrowly shy of the far upright.

But the next opportunity, after a further minute or so, was to see the Hatters go ahead, as Sam Minihan’s cross from the right was tucked home by Jennings inside the far post from close range.

Ollie Crankshaw unleashed a thunderbolt from distance that fizzed past the left post, as County went in search of a second – but when it arrived, it did so again courtesy of Jennings who, two minutes before the half-hour, headed in Rooney’s corner from the left.

Five minutes later, a long clearance by Ethan Ross found Reid, who looped the ball on the half-volley over goalkeeper Shaun Semmens – only to see it bounce just wide of the left post. And, with half-time imminent, an unfortunate steward was on the receiving end of an effort fired over the crossbar by Walker from the edge of the box.

HALF-TIME: County 2 (Jennings, 8 and 28), Larkhall 0.

The Hatters went back on the attack upon the resumption, as Jordan Keane propelled a half-volley into the arms of Semmens, Jennings fired into the side-netting, and Crankshaw saw a well-struck shot parried by the visiting ‘keeper in the early second-half stages.

It was then a case of ‘cometh the hour, cometh the new man’, when, with 60 minutes on the clock, another Rooney corner from the left found Johnson who headed home County’s third.

The visitors, in a rare foray following the interval towards County’s goal, hit the side-netting through Lambert, after he had cut in from the right. But the Hatters continued to press for the remainder of the tie, and in part through set-pieces – as Walker fired in a free-kick that Semmens gathered at the second attempt, followed by a corner from the right for Jennings to head over, and Rooney tested Semmens with a free-kick of his own from 25 yards.

FULL-TIME: County 3 (Jennings, 8 and 28; Johnson, 60), Larkhall 0.  

Team (4-3-3): Ross; Minihan, Holding, Johnson, Kitching (Edwards, 67); Rooney (Capt.), Keane, Walker; Crankshaw, Reid, Jennings.

Unused Subs: Hinchliffe, Hogan, Madden, Croasdale, Quigley, Sarcevic.

Booked: Walker, Jennings.

Man of the Match: Jennings.

Attendance: 3,514 (169 away).

Reporter: Gareth Evans.

Photographer: Mike Petch.

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