Relentless County battled to a 0-1 win at play-off hopefuls Halifax Town on Saturday afternoon, as Paddy Madden’s cracking finish on the stroke of half-time moved The Hatters into the top three of the National League.
Manager Simon Rusk named a starting line-up showing two changes to that which started in Tuesday’s comfortable 0-4 win at King’s Lynn Town, as Will Collar returned from a bout of illness to replace the injured Elliot Newby in midfield, whilst Macauley Southam-Hales replaced Sam Minihan on the right-hand side.
Minihan took a place on the bench alongside the returning Richie Bennett, featuring once again for The Hatters following his recall from a loan spell at Hartlepool Utd on Thursday.
County started brightly in the clash of fourth vs fifth prior to kick-off, with Liam Hogan’s superb cross from the right mere inches over the head of the lurking Paddy Madden inside the six-yard box early on.
The majority of the first half was played in the middle third of the pitch, with two promotion-chasing sides rather cancelling each other out and neither side dominating, in an understandably cagey affair.
Neither goalkeeper had a save to make in the opening half-hour, although Shaymen midfielder Kieran Green came closest to opening the scoring for the hosts when he met Jake Hyde’s clever knockdown and volleyed over Ben Hinchliffe’s crossbar from inside the penalty area.
With five minutes until the break, the marauding Hogan’s cross was headed narrowly over the bar by Madden as the search for the opening goal continued – before County’s prolific Irishman did then make the breakthrough before-half time.
A long ball forward was looped up into the air by ‘Fax defender Niall Maher, with Harry Cardwell seizing the opportunity to nod into the path of the waiting Madden, who lashed an unstoppable half-volley superbly into the roof of the net from the edge of the area – with County taking that hard-earned lead into the interval moments later.
The second half started in much the same fashion as the first, with both sides looking to get forward – albeit with The Hatters looking more comfortable following Madden’s stunner.
Will Collar went down in need of treatment following an awkward landing off the ball on the hour mark, with St. Kitt’s international Lois Maynard entering proceedings in place of the former Hamilton Academical midfielder.
And Maynard burst straight into the action, as he surged forward from midfield after cleverly stealing possession in the centre of the park, with Maynard teeing up Rooney to eventually curl just over the crossbar.
The hosts saw a big chance to level come and go into the final twenty minutes, when Kieran Green turned nicely and played one in behind for the lively Jamie Allen to race through on goal – only for Ben Hinchliffe to block superbly and put behind for the corner.
With Halifax pressing for an equaliser, County earned a duo of corners on the counter-attack, the first of which saw Ash Palmer rise highest and produce a brilliant fingertip save by Halifax stopper Sam Johnson, as The Hatters looked to make the game safe in the latter stages.
Richie Bennett returned to action in County colours to replace the workmanlike Cardwell, whilst striker Billy Chadwick also entered the fray for Halifax, with time running out for the hosts.
Four minutes of additional time were signalled, with the first of those four seen out successfully following a crucial Ash Palmer block as Jake Hyde shaped to shoot on the edge of the area.
And the remaining three minutes followed suit, with a resolute County rear-guard action producing a magnificent eighth clean sheet amidst a thirteen-game unbeaten run, with nine wins and just four draws in that period.
County line-up (3-4-1-2): Hinchliffe; Hogan ©, Palmer, J. Jennings; Southam-Hales, Croasdale, Collar (Maynard, 60), Walker (Minihan, 87); Rooney; Cardwell (Bennett, 84), Madden.
Unused subs: Fitzsimons, Reid.