Ad-vantage County, As Thomas Strike Sees Hatters Through
The Hatters safely negotiated their way into Monday’s 1pm draw for the FA Cup Third Qualifying Round, after edging out near-neighbours Curzon Ashton, thanks to an Adam Thomas goal, at Edgeley Park.
But, in a contest of relatively few chances, they could quite well have needed to make plans for a replay at the Tameside Stadium later on 18 September – with only the County goal’s woodwork standing between the ‘Nash’ and a draw in the dying seconds of the tie.
The Hatters took to the field showing three changes from the starting line-up at Telford four days earlier. Jimmy Ball was ruled out by a knock from that game, while Connor Hampson and Darren Stephenson dropped to the seven-player bench permitted for FA Cup matches – with their places being taken by Sam Minihan, Scott Duxbury and Chris Smalley as part of a 3-4-1-2 formation.
There was little to be found by way of FA Cup magic in the first half – which, had it ended after 40 minutes, would have recorded a complete absence of shots on target. As it happened, the visitors did then offer Ben Hinchliffe some stopping practice, courtesy of low strikes from the edge of the box by Joe Guest and James Baillie. And just ahead of added time, Thomas went close for County when his glanced header from Sam Walker’s corner took a deflection behind.
HALF-TIME: County 0, Curzon Ashton 0.
County made a change upon the resumption – bringing on Gary Stopforth for Matty Warburton, who had come off worst in an early 50-50 challenge with Daniel Shaw.
Within six minutes, the Hatters put together an excellent move that led to their first on-target attempt. Visiting goalkeeper Cameron Mason did well to parry Walker’s thunderbolt of a shot from 18 yards, after Dan Cowan’s right-sided cross had been squared to Walker by Jason Oswell.
And a minute later, they took the lead as acting captain Stephen O’Halloran’s cross on the left found Oswell, who, in turn, teed the ball up for Thomas to swivel and blast home a right-footed shot from inside the Curzon ‘D’.
County’s performance had become much livelier, and even the onset of a heavy second-half shower could not dampen the attacking initiative. A low drive by Minihan fizzed just wide of the left post. Oswell headed over the third of three corners won by the Hatters in as many minutes – before meeting, and firing over, a Duxbury cross from the left. And Duxbury transformed himself from provider to marksman – drilling a shot narrowly shy of the right upright.
The Nash – having never before beaten County in a competitive fixture, and facing a third defeat at EP for the calendar year – had offered little since the interval. But with two minutes of normal time remaining, a rare attack required O’Halloran to be at his defensive best, as he blocked Guest just before the visiting midfielder was ready to shoot on goal.
And in the final minute of added time, nerves were pinging after Smalley fouled Niall Cummins just outside the area. The delivery by Crothers was punched out by Hinchliffe, but, before County could fully clear, Matthew Regan struck the crossbar. Cowan then blocked any further attempts, and Referee Mather mercifully called time on what, in football-seasonal terms, had been County’s earliest-ever FA Cup assignment.
A close-run thing at the end, then. But Hatters everywhere will now get to enjoy a very much more relaxed Monday afternoon and evening!
FULL-TIME: County 1 (Thomas, 52), Curzon Ashton 0.
Team: Hinchliffe, Minihan, Duxbury, Cowan, Smalley, O’Halloran (Capt.), Thomas (McKenna, 66), S Walker, Oswell, Warburton (Stopforth, 46), Dixon (Hampson, 78).
Unused Subs: Smith, Stephenson, T Walker, West.
Man of the Match: Thomas.
Attendance: 1,922 (73 away).
Reporter: Gareth Evans.
Pics: Mike Petch