Jimmy Stuns Saints And Ensures A Trip To St James!
County’s first appearance among the last eight of the Buildbase FA Trophy saw the Hatters secure a place for their name in the Semi-finals draw this Monday.
But they will need to undertake a 280-mile round trip to Brackley’s St James Park the day following the draw to compete in the club’s fourth Trophy-replay of the campaign for the right to play in the last four, after their home-tie against the ‘Saints’ ended one-apiece.
The game’s two goals, on a bright but near-freezing afternoon at Edgeley Park, arrived within four second-half minutes of each other – with Jimmy Ball heading an equaliser for County – during a contest that had often appeared to catch cold rather than igniting Trophy fever.
County took to the field showing two changes from the starting line-up at EP against Nuneaton four days earlier. Stephen O’Halloran (who also assumed the captaincy) and Jason Oswell were recalled in a 4-2-3-1 formation – replacing skipper Harry Winter and the ineligible Jamie Stott.
The first half, if truth be told, will not go down in County folklore, following 45 minutes in which there were few opportunities of note. In fact, the Hatters took until what was technically the 46th before registering an attempt – when Gary Stopforth’s added-time shot from distance flew wide of the right post.
The visitors, for their part, did enjoy greater shares of possession during the half. But their own scoring chances were largely restricted to efforts from distance – with James Armson firing beyond the Cheadle End’s left upright and, subsequently, crossbar, and Adam Walker seeing his low drive comfortably held by Ben Hinchliffe, whose contract-extension to the end of 2018/19 had been announced by County just ahead of kick-off.
HALF-TIME: County 0, Brackley 0.
The tie had clearly yet to catch fire – although the early stages of the second half showed signs of the odd attacking spark, as each side looked markedly brighter going forward. And after 54 minutes, the Hatters produced a move to surpass anything that had gone before, as Darren Stephenson weaved in from the left before squaring to Adam Thomas who shot narrowly over.
The game was without doubt opening up – and at both ends. Matty Warburton unleashed a curling shot that visiting goalkeeper Danny Lewis tipped beyond the left post, before Oswell’s flick from a long-range O’Halloran drive shaved the same upright. Then, two minutes later, Luke Graham struck County’s bar following a corner – although a flag had already been raised for handball by Lee Ndlovu.
Brackley’s next corner, after 69 minutes, saw Ndlovu make a more telling contribution with his feet. Shane Byrne’s delivery from the left was headed back across goal by Alex Gudger from beyond the far post – leaving Ndlovu to tap in from close range and give the Saints the lead.
But within four minutes, the Hatters were back on level terms. Recently-introduced substitute Rhys Turner fed Dan Cowan on the right, before the latter’s cross was headed against the bar by Oswell and Ball reacted quickest on the rebound to nod home.
Warburton fired a free kick from the left beyond Brackley’s far post, and Hinchliffe had to be at his best in diving to keep out Adam Walker’s shot five minutes from time. But – leaving aside a long midweek trek south for County, and the further clogging-up of both teams’ National League North fixture schedules – a draw was the fairest outcome with a continued route to Wembley at stake.
FULL-TIME: County 1 (Ball, 73), Brackley 1 (Ndlovu, 69).
Team: Hinchliffe, Cowan, Duxbury, Ball, Smalley, O’Halloran (Capt.), Thomas (Turner, 66), Stopforth, Oswell, Warburton, Stephenson.
Unused Subs: Clarke, Ormson, Winter, Dixon.
Man of the Match Stephenson.
Attendance: 2,213 (106 away).
Reporter: Gareth Evans.
Photographer: Mike Petch.