Hatters Beat Robins To Close Gap On Magpies
The Hatters returned to National League North action under the Edgeley Park lights – and also to winning ways, as they beat near-neighbours Ashton United by the odd goal in three.
It was just what they needed, following a league defeat at Brackley Town 17 days earlier, as well as an FA Trophy exit over two legs against Fylde in between – and not least because three points for triumphing over the ‘Robins’ brought them back to within four points of the table-topping ‘Magpies’ of Chorley, with a game still in hand.
But the match, which County had dominated while going ahead thanks to goals in each half from Nyal Bell and Adam Thomas, was not without its anxiety – after struggling Ashton, who ended proceedings with 10 men, halved the arrears 18 minutes from time to set up a nervy finish.
Three changes were made to the line-up that had taken to the field in SK3 for the Trophy Semi-final second leg three days earlier. Dan Cowan, Paul Turnbull (who also reassumed the captaincy) and Matty Warburton were recalled to County’s 4-2-3-1 formation in place of, respectively, Sam Minihan, Jordan Keane and Elliot Osborne, who were all named among the substitutes.
The Hatters were on the front foot from the outset – so much so that the ball scarcely had sight of the home half in the early stages. At the other end, Scott Duxbury blazed two efforts off target, Warburton and Darren Stephenson both saw shots defected behind, Cowan sliced a volley past the right post, and Bell headed Warburton’s cross from the left into the arms of Josh Ollerenshaw.
Ashton had failed to register a chance during the first half-hour – although did go close a minute later when skipper Aaron Chalmers headed on to Liam Goulding, whose angled overhead kick hit the left side-netting.
But nine minutes ahead of the break, the Hatters gained the lead their dominance deserved. And a cheeky, yet perfectly-executed, one it was, too! Sam Walker’s free-kick from the right found Thomas, whose shot was blocked, before Bell, from outside the six-yard box, back-heeled into the bottom-left corner for his 10th goal in all competitions.
HALF-TIME: County 1 (Bell, 36), Ashton United 0.
The largely one-way traffic continued upon the re-start, as the Hatters earned three corners within as many minutes of resuming. And the third of them, delivered by Turnbull from the left, went close to doubling County’s advantage – before Ollerenshaw punched the in-swinger off his line.
As the hour-mark approached, Thomas and then Bell were questionably flagged offside when played through on goal within a minute of each other. And several minutes later, after Ollerenshaw had been penalised for picking up Chalmers’ back-pass, Warburton’s free-kick from six yards out was blocked by the close-knit round of Robins perched side-by-side on the line.
But after 68 minutes, another mistake by the visiting goalkeeper proved more critical. Ollerenshaw dropped a harmless-looking delivery from Turnbull, leaving Thomas well placed to tap home the spilled ball from close range and double County’s lead.
That, in truth, should have been that. But just four minutes later, and by way of Ashton’s first attempt on target, Chalmers turned the ball across County’s goalmouth from the right for Liam Tomsett to volley past the previously-unemployed Ben Hinchliffe.
The goal prompted hope, and some worrying pressure, on the part of the visitors – while County’s remaining efforts, from the head of Bell and left foot of Warburton, were, respectively, high and wide.
But Ashton’s cause was blunted with four minutes of time remaining, when Scott Kay – courtesy of a foul on Bell, directly under the gaze of Referee Copeland – received his marching orders for a second yellow card – and the Hatters saw out the game to register their eighth straight home league victory.
FULL-TIME: County 2 (Bell, 36; Thomas, 68), Ashton United 1 (Tomsett, 72).
Team: Hinchliffe, Cowan, Duxbury, Turnbull (Capt.), Palmer, Stott, Thomas, Walker, Bell (Keane, 89), Warburton (Mulhern, 81), Stephenson (Osborne, 63).
Unused Subs: Minihan, Ormson.
Man of the Match: Cowan.
Attendance: 3,257 (30 away).
Reporter: Gareth Evans.
Photographer: Mike Petch.