Progress Checked By Pilgrims, As Hatters Are Second-Bost On Home Turf
The Hatters slipped to their third defeat in four matches, and to a second home-reverse in three consecutive Saturday games at Edgeley Park, as a goal in each half deservedly earned the points for the visiting ‘Pilgrims’ from Boston.
County could, in truth, have few complaints about the result, following a game in which the side – unchanged from the victorious 4-3-3 starting line-up against Leamington a week previously – offered little before the break, and, despite an improved performance after it, too often lacked a cutting edge in the final third.
There might have been a feeling that it would not be County’s day at the very outset, when Darren Stephenson, kicking off on a drizzly afternoon, rather bizarrely defied convention to carry the ball forward rather than passing it to a team-mate – conceding a free-kick after just two seconds in the process.
Within five minutes, the Pilgrims had what was to be the first of seven corners in under half an hour. But it could have been a worse outcome for County, given that Nicky Walker had rounded Ben Hinchliffe on the right before sending a delivery across the empty goalmouth that acting skipper Ash Palmer did well to clear behind.
The first quarter of an hour was almost up before the Hatters had their first sight of goal – courtesy of an unlikely candidate in Dan Cowan, who had broken into the Boston area, only to be blocked by opposing defender Ben Middleton.
But much of the action, as the first half proceeded, was in the County area – with Hinchliffe gathering one long-range attempt from Nicky Walker, as well as deflecting past the near post a shot by the same player at much closer quarters on the left.
As the visitors continued to press, their momentum told after 23 minutes when Nicky Walker turned provider with a cross from the left that debutant striker Ahkeem Rose, on loan from Grimsby Town, met with a glancing header from 12 yards out to put his new team ahead.
County began to show signs of life after falling behind, as the Pilgrims’ goalkeeper and captain George Willis was forced to parry at close range a shot from Nyal Bell that had followed an Adam Thomas free-kick into the box. Bell also had an effort deflected behind, as the rain gave way to glimpses of sunshine and, possibly, greater hope to follow for the Hatters after half-time.
HALF-TIME: County 0, Boston 1 (Rose, 23).
County certainly signalled a declaration of intent upon the resumption – bringing on left-back Scott Duxbury for his first appearance in over four weeks, following his injury at York City in the campaign’s second game.
With Cowan consequentially switched to his preferred right side in defence, Thomas was able to play further forward – and promptly produced a series of crosses into the Boston box after the re-start. But, inviting though they were, they failed to attract the much-needed final touches.
And, in the meantime, a sub-plot was developing that saw Pilgrim after Pilgrim go to ground, as the Boston Physio began spending far more time on the pitch than off it. Two of the players concerned – Rose and Andi Thanoj – were replaced within two minutes of each other around the hour-mark, as the game spluttered in fits and starts.
With just over 20 minutes remaining, Bell was played through by Sam Walker – but the striker’s shot was parried by Willis. And, from that, the Pilgrims progressed upfield to double their lead, as Nathan Arnold drew out Hinchliffe to the left of goal before slotting home into the far corner.
The Hatters introduced two further substitutes – and one of those, Matty Warburton, saw a low drive deflected past the left upright, a couple of minutes after Willis had tipped over an angled shot from the right by Stephenson. The other replacement, Sam Minihan, saved County from more ignominy at the opposite end – clearing off the line from Nicky Walker in the dying seconds.
FULL-TIME: County 0, Boston 2 (Rose, 23; Arnold, 70).
Team: Hinchliffe, Thomas, Cowan, Keane (Minihan, 76), Palmer (Capt.), Smalley (Duxbury, 46), Dimaio, Sam Walker, Bell, Mulhern (Warburton, 73), Stephenson.
Unused Subs: Ormson, Downing.
Man of the Match: Walker.
Attendance: 3,050 (101 away).
Reporter: Gareth Evans.
Photographer: Mike Petch.