Boro-illiant Hatters Are Second To Nun!
County got back to winning ways in style – registering a first victory in just under a month and an all-time inaugural triumph at Liberty Way, the home of Nuneaton Town.
Goals from Jason Oswell, Gary Stopforth and Jimmy Ball saw the Hatters home against ‘Boro’ – a team with whom they had previously produced nothing but a quartet of one-all draws in the National League North.
County had earlier taken to the field on a blustery afternoon created by ‘Storm Brian’ – and, in doing so, showed two changes from the starting line-up for Blyth Spartans’ visit to Edgeley Park a week earlier. Ian Ormson was handed the goalkeeping gloves for his first appearance of the season, in place of the hitherto (and only) ever-present Ben Hinchliffe. And Michael Clarke returned to a three-man defence, within a 3-5-2 formation, following a six-week absence, as well as assuming the captaincy – with another Ben (McKenna) the player to make way.
Having lost manager Tommy Wright to Darlington on the eve of the match, the hosts – under acting bosses Jon Ashton and Dino Maamria (the latter of whose brace had put paid to County’s FA Cup hopes in 2003 at then-non-league Stevenage) – looked to impress at the outset, courtesy of shots by Jordan Nicholson that, successively, flew over from the edge of the ‘D’ and wide of the right post from six yards out.
And around the midway-point of the first half, they thought they had gone ahead. Their first corner of the day, from French defender Joël Dielna on the right, swung in so markedly that Ormson needed to step back on to his line and catch it – but, fortunately, was adjudged by the Assistant Referee to have prevented a goal.
Fewer than 10 minutes before the break, however, and just as drizzle began to combine with gusts to make playing conditions potentially all the more difficult, the Hatters went ahead. Chris Smalley’s wind-assisted throw-in from the right was headed clear, although only as far as Scott Duxbury – whose clever overhead flick was volleyed home by Oswell from close range for his 14th goal in all competitions.
Home skipper Ashley Chambers had a late first-half chance to get his side back on level terms with a chip towards an empty County net, but the effort floated beyond the right post. And a minute later, into added time, the Hatters doubled their advantage when Stopforth opened his personal scoring account for the campaign – thanks to a deflection off his back that had got in the way of an attempted clearance by former County trialist Brad Gascoigne.
HALF-TIME: Nuneaton 0, County 2 (Oswell, 36; Stopforth, 45).
County’s second goal had been preceded by an unsuccessful (albeit, ultmately, an inconsequential) penalty appeal for handball, and the Hatters were to make another shortly after the re-start when Oswell went to ground in the home box as a corner was delivered – but play was once again waved on by Referee Jackson.
Nuneaton went close after Ormson spilled a cross by substitute Ryan Beswick on the left by-line, only to retrieve the ball from the unsuspecting head of Daniel Nti. And Luke Trotman also had a goal-bound shot cleared.
But the Hatters further increased their lead after 68 minutes, when Stopforth was fouled by Beswick 25 yards out – and Ball drove a low free kick past home goalkeeper Dean Lyness, into the bottom-right corner.
The hosts pulled one back eight minutes from time, after a cross from the right by Trotman struck the hand of Stephen O’Halloran and they were awarded a penalty. Ormson managed to save Nti’s spot-kick, but the ex-Worcester front-man reacted quickly to convert on the rebound.
There were thankfully no additions to the Nuneaton goal-tally following that, although Boro’s player-count took a hit 25 seconds from the end of added time as giant substitute Exodus Geohaghon, after a cameo appearance of eight minutes, was shown a straight red card for bringing down Oswell when County’s leading scorer was through on goal.
Exit Exodus, then. And very shortly afterwards, Exeunt Omnes – including 11 happy Hatters!
FULL-TIME: Nuneaton 1 (Nti, 82), County 3 (Oswell, 36; Stopforth, 45; Ball, 68).
Team: Ormson, Cowan, O’Halloran, Ball, Clarke (Capt.), Smalley, Stopforth, Walker (McKenna, 63), Oswell, Warburton (Winter, 87), Duxbury (Hampson, 77).
Unused Subs: Hinchliffe, Dixon.
Reporter: Gareth Evans.
Photographer: Paul Bell.