County began their Papa John’s Trophy Group C campaign with a narrow 1-0 defeat at Port Vale, as Chris Hussey’s second-half strike won it for the home side.
Hussey found the top corner from the edge of the area just past the hour mark to earn his side three points, just minutes after Paddy Madden had hit the crossbar at the other end.
Dave Challinor hinted last weekend that his priority would be Saturday’s game against Wimbledon and he made nine changes for our opening trophy game, with a debut in the middle of the park for Summer signing Akil Wright. Wright, recently back from a spell out with illness, started as part of a two-man midfield alongside captain for the night Ryan Croasdale, who was making his 100th appearance for the Club.
Ben Hinchliffe returned in goal behind a back four, with Macauley Southam-Hales and Mark Kitching either side of Fraser Horsfall and Ryan Johnson. Connor Evans and Myles Hippolyte provided support on the flanks, with Connor Jennings partnering Kyle Wootton up front.
In a first-half low on goal action, it was the home side who threatened first through Tommy McDermott, who latched on to a loose pass from Myles Hippolyte and bent a shot just past the top corner.
County’s best chance of the half fell for Wootton, who got on the end of Kitching’s pinpoint cross from the left but steered his header into the arms of the goalkeeper.
The Valiants almost got the breakthrough just before the break, Dan Jones’ long throw bouncing all the way through to Captain Tom Pett, who scuffed his effort wide of the far post – an effort that rather summed up what was a scrappy opening 45 minutes.
Half-Time: Port Vale 0-0 County
It was much of the same in the opening period of the second-half, both sides cancelling each other out until a triple change from County sparked some life into proceedings. On came Joe Lewis, Will Collar and skipper Paddy Madden, replacing Wootton, Hippolyte and the impressive Wright.
Within a few minutes of the changes, County came within inches of taking the lead – Evans nodding a clearance into the path of Madden, whose first-time strike cannoned back off the crossbar with the goalkeeper beaten.
Just a moment later however, County were picking the ball out of the back of the net. Gavin Massey’s shot on the edge of the penalty area was initially blocked by Joe Lewis, but the ball fell kindly for Hussey to drill into the top corner from 20 yards to give Port Vale the lead.
County should have found themselves back level within a minute of the restart, Connor Jennings doing well to roll his man inside the area before flashing an effort just past the post on his left foot.
County’s response to the goal was positive and aggressive, pinning the home side back in search of an equaliser as Joe Lewis sent a spectacular overhead kick crashing over the bar, before Kitching saw a dipping volley blocked on the way through.
Ollie Crankshaw came close in the dying seconds, cutting in on his left foot and curling towards the top corner, only for a Port Vale leg to divert it up and over the bar – consigning County to defeat.
Our remaining group games see us take on Shrewsbury Town and Wolves U21s at Edgeley Park, with the top two from Group C progressing to the knockout stages.
Full-Time: Port Vale 1-0 County (Hussey, 64’)
County Line-up: Hinchliffe; Southam-Hales; Horsfall; Johnson; Kitching; Evans (Crankshaw, 82’); Wright (Lewis, 57’); Croasdale (Camps, 82’); Hippolyte (Collar, 57’); Jennings; Wootton (57’).
Unused subs: Jaros; Palmer.
Photographer: Mike Petch