The Hatters got back to much-needed winning ways after coming from behind to edge out fellow pre-season title favourites Wrexham by the odd goal in three, and before a crowd of over 7,000, at Edgeley Park.
The contest got off to the worst possible start, courtesy of a Wrexham goal inside the first minute – but second-half strikes by Paddy Madden and substitute Ryan Rydel, netting, respectively, for the first time in 2021/22 and for the first time as a Hatter, secured all three points for County and an inaugural win of the season in SK3.
County took to the field on a cloudy early autumn afternoon showing three changes from the starting line-up at Halifax one week earlier. Ethan Ross made his competitive debut as a Hatter between the sticks, whilst Ash Palmer and Ben Whitfield were recalled – with Will Collar and skipper Liam Hogan the outfield players to make way, and to be named, along with goalkeeper Ben Hinchliffe, among the substitutes. Madden took the captain’s armband in place of Hogan, and ex-Hatter Liam McAlinden started for the ‘Red Dragons’.
Only 52 seconds were on the clock when the visitors stunned the home contingent by taking an early lead. A long clearance by goalkeeper Ron Lainton, who moments earlier had gathered up a volley from Whitfield, found Paul Mullin. And Wrexham’s headline summer capture from Cambridge United made no mistake – dinking the ball over Ross and into the net at the Railway End packed with much of the sizeable, and ecstatic, away following.
McAlinden came close to haunting his former club before the quarter-hour mark with a shot from distance, but his attempt took a deflection off one-time Red Dragon John Rooney before fizzing past the left post. And Mullin was twice denied by Ross, who first used his legs and then his fingertips to keep out the now-leading Wrexham scorer’s respective shot and header.
At the other end, chances were in scant supply for the Hatters – who were also forced to make a substitution shortly before half-time, when Ben Barclay suffered a cut to his head.
HALF-TIME: County 0, Wrexham 1 (Mullin, 1).
Just as the first half had begun with a goal, so too did the second – with Madden getting County back on level terms in the third minute after the resumption, as he headed home Rooney’s corner from the left.
Visiting captain Luke Young fired high and wide, and Ben Tozer connected with a Young corner from the right before volleying past the near upright – but the next decisive blow was to be struck by County, just two minutes after Rydel’s introduction.
Whitfield was the initial architect – crossing from the left to Madden, who laid the ball off to Ryan Croasdale. The latter’s shot was then deflected into the path of Rydel, and the super sub converted from close range.
Five minutes of added time enhanced the tension late on, but the Hatters held firm to finish their September schedule on a high.
FULL-TIME: County 2 (Madden, 48; Rydel, 80), Wrexham 1 (Mullin, 1).
Team (3-4-3): Ross; Barclay (Hogan, 42), Palmer, Fryers; Southam-Hales, Rooney, Croasdale, Kitching (Rydel, 78); Reid (Collar, 86), Madden (Capt.), Whitfield.
Unused Subs: Hinchliffe, Fish.
Booked: Madden, Whitfield, Southam-Hales, Reid.
Man of the Match: Whitfield.
Attendance: 7,771 (1,700 away).
Reporter: Gareth Evans.
Photographer: Mike Petch.