Bravo Dimaio, As Late Winner Halts Haig Hoodoo!
The Hatters came away with their first maximum points-haul from Southport in more than six decades, to move up to fourth place in the National League North.
And just like the last County team to win a Football League match at Haig Avenue, in late August 1956, the modern-day victors enjoyed a single-goal triumph – thanks to substitute Connor Dimaio, who netted five minutes from time.
The success, then, was a long time coming in more ways than one! But the afternoon almost turned out to be one of frustration for County, who played for almost two thirds of the contest against 10 men following home defender Billy Priestley’s first-half dismissal.
The Hatters took to the field in a 4-3-3 formation, and showing one enforced change as a consequence of the injury suffered by Scott Duxbury at York four days previously. More happily, Sam Walker was able to return to the starting line-up in Duxbury’s stead – having recovered from the virus that kept him out for the visit to Bootham Crescent.
County came close to taking the lead with just over a minute played… and without launching a direct attempt on goal! Jordan Richards’ back-header, under pressure from Darren Stephenson, provided Dan Hanford with more of a testing early touch than he ideally would have liked – but Southport’s Number One tracked back in time to catch the ball on the line.
Seven minutes later, the home goalkeeper had to be at his best to keep out an opposing player, rather than one of his own. Frank Mulhern’s 20-yard pile-driver was heading for the net, before Hanford stretched to tip the shot over.
The Hatters continued to enjoy a greater share of possession and the best chances – as Paul Turnbull’s chipped delivery from the right soared narrowly wide of the far post, before Stephenson cut in on the opposite flank and fired into the side-netting.
Former County loanee Elliot Osborne threatened to haunt his old club on more than one occasion – blasting high from just inside the box, testing Ben Hinchliffe with a shot on the right by-line and crossing from the left for Jack Sampson to head over.
But with 34 minutes played, Osborne and his current team-mates were up against it, as Priestley brought down Mulhern in full flight, 25 yards out, to be shown a straight red card.
The Hatters had one further opportunity of note prior to the break, when Matty Warburton’s close-range shot on the stroke of half-time was kept out by Hanford’s one-handed save.
HALF-TIME: Southport 0, County 0.
Having performed well against the hosts’ full complement of players, County proceeded to find their 10 a tougher nut to crack. And, indeed, Southport appeared more threatening in attack for a second-half spell that saw Richards and Josh Langley produce, respectively, a curling shot from outside the box and a header following a corner that each fizzed just shy of the right post.
As the final five minutes approached, the Hatters’ only significant attempt on goal since the break had come courtesy of Dimaio, who, just one minute after replacing Turnbull, fired an effort from the edge of the box narrowly over.
But the young midfielder, who shares his surname with Italian Deputy Prime Minister Luigi, was to send social media into a frenzy from Southport to Sicily with his more decisive strike. Stephenson and Minihan combined well to win the ball on the right, before the latter teed up Dimaio to drill home from 12 yards, win the latest ‘battle of the ‘Ports’ and, of course, end 62 years of Haig hurt.
FULL-TIME: Southport 0, County 1 (Dimaio, 85).
Team: Hinchliffe, Cowan, Walker, Keane, Palmer, Smalley, Minihan, Turnbull (Capt.) (Dimaio, 55), Mulhern (Mantack, 88), Warburton (Bell, 55), Stephenson.
Unused Subs: Downing, Ormson.
Reporter: Gareth Evans.
Photographer: Mike Petch.