County kicked off a series of four successive matches at Edgeley Park during the campaign’s final scheduled month by notching up a fourth win and clean sheet running, with a two-goal victory over first-time visitors Wealdstone.
Second-half goals from Ryan Croasdale and John Rooney, sandwiching an Alex Reid brace, also saw them nudge up one National League place to third.
County took to the field on a wet, blustery Early May Bank Holiday afternoon showing two changes from the starting line-up at Halifax two days previously – with Sam Minihan and Reid replacing Macauley Southam-Hales and the injured Will Collar.
The Hatters looked lively from the outset, as Rooney curled the afternoon’s first shot around the right post with two minutes on the clock – and Reid had a goal disallowed for offside shortly afterwards, having bundled the ball over the line following good work on the right by Minihan.
In a rare, early foray by the ‘Stones’ into the County half, Dan Wishart drilled a low shot from distance beyond the right post. And, with 20 minutes played, a Charlee Hughes scissors kick took a bounce before being comfortably gathered by Ben Hinchliffe.
Tom Walker, after collecting the first yellow card of his current County spell, fired wide of the far upright, following a short corner on the left by Rooney – who, moments later, unleashed another shot of his own beyond the opposite post.
It was a case of cometh the the half-hour, almost cometh the man, when Harry Cardwell went closest to giving County the lead after connecting with Paddy Madden’s cross from the left – but the Chorley loanee’s downward header was superbly tipped over by visiting goalkeeper Jake Askew.
Rooney, from another Madden delivery on the left, and Liam Hogan, following a Rooney corner from the same flank, both headed efforts over. And Minihan teed himself up for a volley straight at Askew, as the Hatters continued to be dominant in possession and chances without making a breakthrough ahead of the interval.
HALF-TIME: County 0, Wealdstone 0.
The Hatters earned their, and the game’s, sixth corner within half a dozen minutes of the resumption – with Cardwell heading Rooney’s delivery from the left just shy of the near post.
But just two minutes later, they were ahead. Askew did well to keep out successive shots by Cardwell and Madden, before Croasdale made it third time lucky by converting with a low strike from just inside the box into the bottom-right corner for his first goal in a County shirt.
And, within another two minutes, the advantage was doubled when Reid latched on to substitute Elliot Newby’s cross from the right to unleash a first-time shot past Askew that made it 20 goals in all competitions for County’s leading scorer.
County continued to press, and Askew again saved Wealdstone by keeping out an in-swinging corner by James Jennings on the right, as well as a follow-up, goal-bound effort from Hogan.
With five minutes remaining, Reid scored his second, and the Hatters’ third, after cutting in from the left and unleashing a shot that beat Askew for flight. And Rooney, on the stroke of normal full-time, added the icing on County’s cake with an exquisitely-struck free-kick into the top-right corner from just outside the area.
FULL-TIME: County 4 (Croasdale, 53; Reid, 55 and 85; Rooney, 90), Wealdstone 0.
Team (3-4-1-2): Hinchliffe; Hogan (Capt.), Palmer, J. Jennings (Rydel, 81); Minihan, Croasdale, Rooney, Walker (Newby, 41); Madden; Cardwell (Bennett, 63), Reid.
Unused Subs: Maynard, Southam-Hales.
Man of the Match: Croasdale.
Reporter: Gareth Evans.
Photographer: Mike Petch.