Barn-storming Second Half Sees Hatters Through
The Hatters eventually negotiated their way past Barnton by a two-goal margin in the Cheshire Senior Cup – although they were made to battle at Edgeley Park by the visiting ‘Villagers’.
The North West Counties League Premier Division side had led by the odd goal in three at half-time, after Ben McKenna had opened the scoring for County. But an improved second-half performance by the Hatters saw McKenna equalise, before strikes from Harry Brazel and Szymon Czubik in the last quarter of an hour secured a place in the Second Round.
As in the previous stage of the competition at Cheadle Town, several first-team regulars were rested for this tie – although all of the Academy players handed a start, as part of a 4-2-3-1 formation, had featured at some stage of proceedings against Cheadle. Michael Clarke was made captain for the night, while Czubik’s selection for a home debut continued a memorable day for the teenage striker who had earlier signed his first professional contract with County.
McKenna, looking lively from the outset, created the game’s first chance after just two minutes, when he unleashed a low, curling shot from the edge of the box that flew narrowly wide of the left post. And nine minutes later, he had another well-struck attempt deflected behind by Niall Ford.
But with 21 minutes played, it was a case of third time lucky for the pacy winger as he cut in from the left before firing his first-ever County goal into the top-right corner to put the Hatters ahead.
McKenna continued to cause problems for Barnton – forcing goalkeeper Robert Cooke to dive and smother a low drive, and feeding Brazel who fired wide of the left post under pressure. But the visitors, in their first competitive meeting with County, began to respond well, as they forced a series of corners after the half-hour mark – and from the fourth of those deliveries, they drew level, with George Webster connecting to convert off the crossbar from inside the six-yard box.
A minute ahead of the break, Barnton and Webster went one better – courtesy of the attacking midfielder’s strike from the edge of the box that nestled in the bottom-left corner for a 2-1 lead.
HALF-TIME: County 1 (McKenna, 21), Barnton 2 (Webster, 39 and 44).
The Hatters re-emerged to show one change – with Jordan Downing, who had skippered County at Cheadle two months earlier, being brought on for Josh Robinson in defence – and with a greater sense of purpose, as they immediately began to concentrate play in the Barnton half.
Sam Walker struck the far post with a free-kick from the right, before going close as he launched over another set-piece delivery that Cooke parried past the same upright. But with the hour approaching, the midfielder made his most telling contribution of all, and on the opposite left flank, as his pinpoint-perfect cross was bundled in by McKenna to get the Hatters back on terms.
Just as Walker and, in the earlier stages, McKenna had found success with a third manoeuvre, so, too, did Brazel. After firing a low drive past the left upright and shooting another effort over, he made no mistake, with 12 minutes left, as he turned in a McKenna cross from the right.
Four minutes later, the Hatters added a fourth when Czubik raced on to a flick by energetic second-year Academy substitute Sajjad Elhassan, before cooly slotting past Cooke.
The Villagers, who had more than played their part in an entertaining contest, almost grabbed a further consolation five minutes from time. But Ian Ormson, having spent much of the second half unoccupied, denied them twice in succession as he first blocked Ryan Malone’s shot and then tipped over a goal-bound follow-up from captain Chris Smith.
FULL-TIME: County 4 (McKenna, 21 and 58; Brazel, 78; Czubic, 82), Barnton 2 (Webster, 39 and 44).
Team: Ormson, Brazel, Robinson (Downing, 46), Peach, Clarke (Capt.), Whitty, Etches (Elhassan, 61), Walker, Czubik (Farnworth, 88), Jackson, McKenna.
Unused Subs: Willan, Kershaw.
Reporter: Gareth Evans.
Photographer: Mike Petch.