The Hatters suffered their first losing start to a campaign in three years – and a first League defeat since going down at Kidderminster during late February – after they were edged out in County Durham by a spirited Spennymoor Town.
David Foley’s goal for the newly-promoted hosts after 41 minutes separated the two sides at the break – and continued to make the difference for the remainder of the game, although the Hatters were denied a point when Matty Warburton’s penalty was saved 18 minutes from time.
Jim Gannon handed competitive debuts to four of his close-season signings – namely, Dan Cowan, Jason Oswell, Darren Stephenson and Warburton – whilst a fifth, Stephen O’Halloran, also took to the field, as part of a 3-4-1-2 starting formation, for the first game of his second spell at Edgeley Park.
County’s three-man defence was put under pressure on the flanks in the early stages – with Foley, on the left, seeing a shot saved by Ben Hinchliffe’s legs, and former Curzon Ashton right-winger Ryan Hall blasting over from close range.
But as the Hatters, kicking down a pronounced Brewery Field slope, settled into the game, they began to make their presence felt at the home end. Jimmy Ball twice went close – courtesy of a goal-bound strike towards the top-left corner which required Moors captain Joe Tait to head behind, and a free kick from 25 yards out that stung the hands of goalkeeper Daniel Lowson.
With the contest approaching half-time and looking increasingly even, the much-travelled Foley, who had spent four years of his career playing in Puerto Rico and the United States, dealt what was to be the afternoon’s decisive blow – cutting in from the left and rifling home from 15 yards.
HALF-TIME: Spennymoor 1 (Foley, 41), County 0.
County adopted a flat back-four upon the resumption in an attempt to counter the Spennymoor attack’s width and pace, although the hosts continued to look lively up front and from set-pieces. Glen Taylor headed over an early second-half corner, before Tait headed wide of the left post following a free kick.
Shortly before the hour-mark, Oswell, fed by Warburton, curled a snap-shot narrowly over from the edge of the area. And, just over 10 minutes later, Warburton himself was closer still with a low drive that hit the left upright.
Within a matter of seconds, County’s number 10 was handed an opportunity to go one better, as Spennymoor failed to clear the rebound and substitute Connor Hampson, on for the injured O’Halloran, was felled in the box by Hall.
Warburton’s spot-kick was well struck, but without the height or width to get past Lowson, who dived to his right to keep it out.
And, with that, County’s opening-day fate was sealed, as the hosts – unbeaten at home for six months – were caused no undue difficulty by three further County corners towards the end.
FULL-TIME: Spennymoor 1 (Foley, 41), County 0.
Team: Hinchliffe, Cowan, Duxbury (Walker, 46 (McKenna, 85)), Winter (Capt.), Clarke, O’Halloran (Hampson, 62), Minihan, Ball, Oswell, Warburton, Stephenson.
Unused Subs: Smalley, Ormson.
Reporter: Gareth Evans.
Filmed by Ben Powell
Graphics and Editing by Robert Schofield