Hatters Bring Their A-Game To Rock The Robins Again!
County enjoyed a third successive Boxing Day victory, and concluded a four-match unbeaten sequence of matches against clubs whose names begin with ‘A’ in the same way as having begun it in the FA Trophy 11 days earlier – by triumphing over Cheshire near-neighbours, and National League North play-off rivals, Altrincham.
Goals in each half by Jamie Stott and Frank Mulhern saw off the ‘Robins’ at Edgeley Park on this occasion, which also completed a hat-trick of wins against them over a little more than two months – as well as repeating the scoreline from the two sides’ FA Cup-tie in SK3 during October.
The Hatters took to the field showing just one change from their starting line-up at Alfreton Town four days previously – with Sam Minihan replacing Dan Cowan in the right-back berth, as part of a 4-2-3-1 formation – while Altrincham’s 11 included half a dozen players who had not been on the pitch when the mid-December Trophy-tie had got under way at Moss Lane.
Despite their exit from two knockout competitions at the hands of County in recent weeks, the visitors had not suffered a League defeat since late September. And they began strongly, with Ash Hemmings’ fifth-minute shot on the turn striking the left post from 15 yards out.
Either side of that near-miss, Jordan Keane unleashed efforts to sting the hands of goalkeeper Tony Thompson – before Matty Warburton’s low cross on the right just evaded a sliding Mulhern.
After 13 minutes, Stott’s excellent defensive work prevented the pacy John Johnston from advancing on goal. And Ben Hinchliffe stood tall to catch a chip from Josh Hancock, after the visitors had cleared a County corner and broken upfield.
But the Hatters were growing in confidence – and, with 23 minutes played, saw an Adam Thomas shot blocked just in front of the line by central defender Tom Hannigan, after Thompson had spilled Scott Duxbury’s cross from the left.
Two minutes later, they were ahead – when Thomas headed a Duxbury corner on the right towards the far post, where Stott was waiting to bundle the ball home for his second goal in a County shirt and his first in the NLN.
County maintained the attacking momentum ahead of half-time, as Keane blazed over from distance after being teed up from the left by Mulhern – who himself subsequently went close with a venomous, first-time shot that caught the unwitting Hannigan full in the face.
HALF-TIME: County 1 (Stott, 25), Altrincham 0.
Two minutes following the resumption, the visitors earned their first corner of the afternoon – only for County to break from it and almost double the lead, as Duxbury drew out Thompson, ricocheted the ball against the ‘keeper’s legs, and just failed to convert as ex-Hatter Connor Hampson cleared away from an empty net.
But after four more minutes, the Hatters did have themselves a second, as Paul Turnbull’s long ball found Mulhern, who brought it under control superbly before firing past Thompson.
In the immediate aftermath of scoring, County had cause to thank Hinchliffe who saved low drives from distance by Max Harrop and captain Jake Moult. The Hatters were then by and large successful in restricting chances for the usually-free-scoring Robins, although Johnston wasted a good opportunity to halve the arrears as he fired wide of the left post when in space.
Ash Palmer headed over a Minihan cross from the right, before Darren Stephenson’s low delivery on the opposite flank just failed to attract a touch by fellow substitute Nyal Bell. But the Hatters’ thoroughly professional approach saw the game out, as well as enabling them to leapfrog their visitors in the process of jumping three places to fourth.
FULL-TIME: County 2 (Stott, 25; Mulhern, 51), Altrincham 0.
Team: Hinchliffe, Minihan, Duxbury, Keane, Palmer, Stott, Thomas, Turnbull (Capt.), Mulhern (Bell, 79), Warburton (Walker, 72), Kirby (Stephenson, 67).
Unused Subs: Ormson, Osborne.
Man of the Match: Turnbull.
Attendance: 4,549 (588 away).
Reporter: Gareth Evans.
Photographer: Mike Petch.