The Hatters defied historical odds with an emphatic victory in their FA Trophy replay at Southport that saw them through to a First Round away-date with Lancaster City on 16 December.
County had not previously won a match in Southport for 61 years, and had never before either triumphed there in a cup-tie (other than during First World War-time) or emerged victorious from any replay in the Trophy – including one at Haig Avenue five years earlier.
But all of that changed, following an impressive performance on a bitterly cold night near the seaside – as a goal from Jason Oswell and Matty Warburton’s brace left the ‘Sandgrounders’ feeling well and truly, shall we say, atrophied!
Both teams had taken to the field showing changes from the initial line-ups at Edgeley Park on Saturday. The hosts made four of them – including, interestingly, the replacement of County goal-scoring nemesis Jason Gilchrist, who was named among their substitutes – while, for the Hatters, Callum Mantack, Chris Smalley and ex-Sandgrounder Ben McKenna were brought in for Scott Duxbury, Michael Clarke and Sam Walker. Stephen O’Halloran, on his 30th birthday, was handed the captain’s armband in the absence of Clarke who had picked up a knock at the weekend.
Oswell had the first scoring opportunity of the evening in the sixth minute – but after racing through to connect with a long ball, he saw his shot saved by home goalkeeper Jon Worsnop.
County’s leading marksman did not have to wait long for a second, similar chance, though. A through-ball from Warburton, with 18 minutes played, split the home defence, and Oswell timed his run perfectly to half-volley past Worsnop for his 17th goal of the season in all competitions.
The Hatters doubled their lead with a penalty just after the half-hour mark, following a foul in the home area on Warburton by Southport’s recent signing from Curzon Ashton, Steve Howson. Referee Garreth Rhodes – who had also presided over County’s six-goal thrashing of the Sandgrounders at EP in early September – pointed to the spot, and Warburton dusted himself down calmly to send Worsnop the wrong way and roll the ball in from 12 yards.
The hosts were offering little in attack by way of response, and shots from Jack Sampson and Josh Hine were caught comfortably by Ben Hinchliffe. And as the Hatters continued to control proceedings, they went close before the break with a Jimmy Ball free kick from 25 yards that fizzed narrowly wide of the left upright.
HALF-TIME: Southport 0, County 2 (Oswell, 18; Warburton 32 (penalty)).
The hosts made a double-substitution upon the resumption in an attempt to salvage the tie, although County continued to offer the greater threat going forward. And Warburton, after firing just wide of Southport’s left post from outside the box, tested Worsnop with a volley from close range that the Sandgrounders’ ‘keeper did well to parry.
But after 65 minutes, Warburton was to increase his and County’s tallies – courtesy of an excellent counter-attack following a Southport corner that Hinchliffe punched clear for McKenna and Warburton to exchange passes, before setting up Ball to the right of goal. Worsnop succeeded in blocking Ball’s low drive, but not in preventing Warburton from poking home on the rebound.
Worsnop was called upon again to smother a shot by Mantack. And he also denied substitute Darren Stephenson four minutes from the end, at precisely the same point in time that had seen Stephenson – once of Southport – grab Saturday’s closing-stages equaliser for County.
Not, for a change, that a late goal was needed by the Hatters, mind. They will surely hope to display a similar cutting edge when continuing their Trophy adventures at Lancaster’s Giant Axe ground a week on Saturday!
FULL-TIME: Southport 0, County 3 (Oswell, 18; Warburton 32 (penalty) and 65).
Team: Hinchliffe, Cowan, Mantack, Ball (Winter, 68), Smalley, O’Halloran (Capt.), McKenna, Stopforth, Oswell (Stephenson, 76), Warburton (Duxbury, 70), Dixon.
Unused Subs: Ormson, Etches.
Attendance: 424 (66 representing The Twelfth Man).
Words: Gareth Evans
Pics: Mike Petch