Solihull Moors 0-1 Stockport County

The Hatters continued their programme of festive season matches with a one-goal victory at fellow play-off contenders Solihull Moors.

Paddy Madden’s second-half headed goal settled a close encounter, during which each team’s crossbar had been rattled, and and took County up into the play-off places for the new year.

County took to the field on an overcast, blustery West Midlands afternoon showing two changes from the Boxing Day starting line-up at Edgeley Park against Altrincham 48 hours earlier. Ollie Crankshaw and skipper Liam Hogan were the recalled players, replacing Jordan Keane, who was named among the substitutes, and the suspended Antoni Sarcevic – while the bench also included Elliot Newby, following his recent recall from just short of three months on loan at Halifax.

Solihull’s captain, Jimmy Ball, would have been well and fondly remembered by many of the travelling supporters from his time in SK3. But current Hatter Lois Maynard, in the middle of a season-long spell at Damson Park, was not permitted under the terms of the loan to feature in midfield for the hosts against his parent club.

With a couple of minutes on the clock, the diminutive and dangerous leading home scorer, Joe Sbarra, fired the first shot of the afternoon – just clearing County’s bar after being teed up by Adam Rooney.

Ten minutes later, the Hatters had their inaugural chance of note, as Mark Kitching’s effort from outside the box took a deflection past the right post.

Sbarra and Rooney swapped roles a quarter of an hour following their initial interplay, as the former crossed from the left for the latter to skew beyond the far upright – before County went close twice in quick succession, through Will Collar, whose angled shot on the right was tipped behind by home goalkeeper Ryan Boot, and Hogan, who headed over a Crankshaw corner from the left.

Boot again came to the Moors’ rescue just after the first half’s mid-point – pulling off a double save to keep out Madden’s header and the follow-up shot by Scott Quigley. And at the other end, half a dozen minutes before the break, Ash Palmer stood firm to block Rooney’s delivery from the right and put it out beyond the near post.

As half-time approached, Boot did well to parry a dipping strike from Crankshaw, before Madden’s shot on the rebound was deflected behind. And moments later, Crankshaw had the ball in the home net – only for his header to be ruled out for offside.

HALF-TIME: Solihull 0, County 0.

Attacking the sold-out away end upon the resumption, County went close with only three second-half minutes played when Crankshaw’s cross from the right fell at the feet of Quigley – but the big forward’s efforts to convert from close range were blocked by defender James Clarke, who literally lay his body on the line in the Moors’ cause.

Some end-to end fare followed to keep each Number One busy – as Boot and Hinchliffe parried respective shots by Kitching and Josh Lundstram, who was making his league debut for the hosts. And 10 minutes after the re-start, Jamey Osborne struck County’s bar after cutting in from the right.

The contest was truly opening up, and Quigley again tried his luck – firstly with a header that cleared the bar after he had connected with Ryan Rydel’s cross from the left, and, subsequently, with two shots that were respectively smothered by Boot and blocked in a crowded area.

Four minutes after the hour, the Hatters emulated their hosts by hitting the bar – courtesy of Crankshaw – before Harry Boyes drilled wide of the right post from distance, and Crankshaw fired narrowly over following a County break.

With 17 minutes remaining, the deadlock was finally broken – after Collar’s deep cross from the right found Madden beyond the far post, and the striker’s header looped over Boot to put County ahead.

The hosts strove to get back on level terms through Sbarra, whose goal-bound shot was blocked by Hogan. And County survived a penalty appeal late on, after substitute Andrew Dallas went to ground in the Hatters’ box under a challenge by Palmer.

FULL-TIME: Solihull 0, County 1 (Madden, 73).

Team (3-4-1-2): Hinchliffe; Hogan (Capt.), Palmer, Kitching; Southam-Hales, Collar (J. Rooney, 85), Croasdale, Rydel; Crankshaw; Madden (Keane, 90 + 3), Quigley (Jennings, 78).

Unused Subs: Minihan, Newby.

Attendance: 2,984 (720 away).

Reporter: Gareth Evans.

Photographer: Mike Petch.

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