The Hatters followed up their narrow Second Round FA Cup exit with victory at the same stage of the Cheshire Senior Cup, as they put out North West Counties League hosts Macclesfield FC.
First-half goals from Connor Jennings and Millenic Alli put the Hatters ahead at half-time – having arrived either side of a Macclesfield penalty conceded just after the first half’s mid-point. Young substitute Josh Edwards then made the tie safe with a third for County after the hour-mark.
County rang the changes completely, with not one player taking to the 4G pitch who had featured in the FA Cup starting line-up at Rotherham four days earlier. The team, as it had done for the First Round at Chester during October, included Alli and Lewis Earl who had again been permitted to turn out by way of a break from their respective loan spells at Chorley and Warrington Rylands – while the bench comprised in its entirety players from the club’s Academy.
The hosts, whose predecessor club Macclesfield Town remain record winners of the CSC with 21 victories, fashioned the first shot of the evening with a couple of minutes on the clock – although Ethan Ross, in front of the near post, comfortably caught Elliot Rokka’s effort from the left.
County’s inaugural attempt shortly afterwards forced Ross’ opposite Number One, Sam Ashton, into more concerted action – with the home goalkeeper forced to dive and parry behind a low drive by Zeki Fryers, who had run on to Arjan Raikhy’s well-threaded through-ball.
The hosts lost the services of striker Scott McGowan to an injury after only 20 minutes – and two minutes later, they suffered by the deeds of a former ‘Silkman’ as Jennings, making his first start of the campaign, beat the offside trap after picking up a Will Fish header that had been flicked on by a defender, and advanced towards goal to slot calmly past Ashton.
County’s advantage only lasted three further minutes, as captain Liam Hogan was penalised for a foul in the area on Brandon Lonsdale, Referee Nolan pointed without hesitation to the spot, and Rokka converted the penalty.
Astonishingly, another goal almost followed to restore the Hatters’ lead – but a free-kick by Tom Walker, fresh from his loan period at Altrincham, struck Macclesfield’s right post and was cleared.
The Silkmen went close with just over five minutes of the half remaining, when Jordan Simpson headed on Aaron Dwyer’s corner from the right, but Ross dived swiftly to smother at the far post.
County had the last word before the break – and it was an emphatic one as, with added time looming, Alli, on the edge of the home box and to the right of goal, left-footed the ball around the diving Ashton and into the far-bottom corner of the net.
HALF-TIME: Macclesfield 1 (Rokka (penalty), 25), County 2 (Jennings, 22; Alli, 45).
The Hatters looked further to strengthen their foothold in the tie after the interval – although, for all their possession, they did not create a scoring opportunity until Edwards had taken to the field and, fewer than 10 minutes after his introduction, cut in from the left to net from a tight angle.
Alli looked set to score his second and County’s fourth after rounding Ashton to the left of goal – only for defender Curtis Obeng to track back and block. And another shot by the forward was parried by the home ‘keeper, with newly-arrived County substitute Leandro Tanswell just missing the chance of a final touch on the rebound.
Ashton again saved the Silkmen with 10 minutes left – parrying an effort from Jennings around the right post. And a shot by Fish, from the resulting corner, hit the far upright – before a rare second-half foray by the hosts saw Lonsdale fire wide late on.
FULL-TIME: Macclesfield 1 (Rokka (penalty), 25), County 3 (Jennings, 22; Alli, 45; Edwards, 66).
Team (3-1-4-2): Ross; Fish, Hogan (Capt.), Pye (Edwards, 57); Earl (Nock, 65); Minihan, Walker, Raikhy (Tanswell, 77), Fryers; Jennings, Alli.
Unused Sub: Schofield.
Reporter: Gareth Evans.