Nottingham And Dudley Make Early Gains, As County’s Hopes Go South
The Hatters were edged out by the odd goal in three at Moor Lane against title-favourites Salford City, whose early goals from Michael Nottingham and Anthony Dudley proved enough for a first-ever victory over County.
Up against a full-time outfit for the second game running, the Hatters – as they had done against Harrogate Town three days earlier – went two-down before the half-hour mark. Unlike last Saturday, they managed to halve their deficit before the break – courtesy of Connor Hampson’s first goal for County – but ultimately, and in spite of another spirited performance after going behind, could not complete the comeback for a share of the spoils.
County took to the field – and at a stadium now with three sides redeveloped – showing two changes from the starting line-up against Harrogate. Michael Clarke was ruled out with a groin injury, and Sam Walker, who had joined the Hatters from Salford in the close season, dropped to the bench. Their places were taken by Scott Duxbury and Darren Stephenson within a 3-4-1-2 formation, while newly-registered Academy defender, Tom Whitty, was named among the substitutes.
The Hatters were hardly into their stride under the lights in M7 when their hosts took the lead. A free kick by Ibou Touray from the right found Nottingham, whose header went in off the near post with only four minutes on the clock.
Salford’s advantage was almost doubled three minutes later, when the first corner of the night was met by Liam Hogan – but the home captain’s point-blank effort was kept out by Ben Hinchliffe.
County looked to have potential claims for penalties when, first, Stephenson appeared to be held back by ex-Hatter Carl Piergianni and – subsequently, as well as more particularly – when Matty Warburton went to ground under a challenge by Hogan. But in both instances play was waved on.
After 26 minutes, the Hatters fell further behind, as Dudley cut into the box from the left and drilled a low, deflected drive past Hinchliffe.
A concerted response from County was necessary, and Warburton sounded the first note just after the half-hour mark with a shot from outside the area that flew narrowly wide of the left upright.
The Hatters were also winning corners galore. And from their ninth of the evening, four minutes before half-time, they earned a more tangible reward when the long delivery to the left was laid back by Harry Winter to Hampson, who fired home through a congested box.
HALF-TIME: Salford 2 (Nottingham, 4; Dudley, 26), County 1 (Hampson, 41).
County re-emerged after the interval with continuing intent, as Winter fired an effort over and Warburton saw a side-footed shot blocked.
Salford, however, went closer still after 61 minutes, when Piergianni – looking to haunt his former club – met a corner with a header that was cleared off the line by Hampson.
And, for the remainder of an evenly-matched second half, the scoreline was to stay unchanged – with the Hatters finding themselves restricted to half-chances, as Winter, whilst under pressure, fired wide of the right post following a nod-down by Jason Oswell, and Duxbury, Jimmy Ball and substitute Harry Brazel all blasted over from distance.
FULL-TIME: Salford 2 (Nottingham, 4; Dudley, 26), County 1 (Hampson, 41).
Team: Hinchliffe, Cowan (Brazel, 79), Hampson, Winter (Capt.), Duxbury, Smalley, Minihan, Ball, Oswell, Warburton, Stephenson (West, 78).
Unused Subs: Whitty, Ormson, Walker.
Attendance: 2,358 (approximately 1,000 representing The Twelfth Man).
Reporter: Gareth Evans.
Photographers: Charlotte Tattersall (first three), James Gill (remainder).