Hatters Up And Running, As The Nash Get The Backlash
The Hatters provided a perfect response to their disappointing opening-day defeat at Spennymoor by turning on the style to see off Curzon Ashton under the Edgeley Park lights.
A first County goal for captain Harry Winter midway through the first half, followed by two shortly after the break by Matty Warburton and Jason Oswell, saw off the Hatters’ near-neighbours, who themselves had got their season off to an impressive start at the weekend after netting four times without reply against North Ferriby.
County took to the field against the ‘Nash’ showing two changes from the team that had started at Spennymoor, albeit with the same 3-4-1-2 formation. Connor Hampson replaced Scott Duxbury, while Chris Smalley was brought into the defence as a consequence of the knee injury suffered by Stephen O’Halloran on Saturday.
The Hatters got off to an explosive start, and twice came close to opening the scoring, in the first minute, when visiting goalkeeper Cameron Mason blocked both Warburton’s close-range shot and a follow-up header from Oswell.
Former Glossop North End striker Max Leonard drilled two efforts past County’s left upright, although the Hatters increasingly looked to be exercising control of the game. And after 21 minutes, they went ahead when Oswell’s cross from the right found Winter, before the skipper swivelled and fired in a low drive off the far post.
County went close to increasing the lead five minutes before the break, when Mason was forced to push out a free kick by Warburton from the left of Curzon’s box – but, to the ‘keeper’s relief, the parried ball could only ricochet off Darren Stephenson and beyond the near upright.
HALF-TIME: County 1 (Winter, 21), Curzon Ashton 0.
Mason was not to be so fortunate with the very next free kick of the contest, awarded to County three minutes after the resumption when Stephenson was impeded. Warburton’s execution of the set-piece from 25 yards out was impeccable, and left his former Curzon team-mate grasping at air as the ball rocketed into the top-right corner to double the Hatters’ advantage.
And just seven minutes later, they added a third, when Steven Howson, under pressure from Stephenson, sliced a clearance that found another of County’s 2017 Curzon signings, Connor Hampson – who, in turn, played through Oswell for the striker to finish clinically from six yards.
The visitors made attacking substitutions in an attempt to get themselves back in the game, and proceeded to enjoy their best spell of the evening as, first, Joe Guest and, subsequently, one of the replacements, Matthew Crothers, fired efforts narrowly over the County bar – before former Hatter Paul Marshall stung Ben Hinchliffe’s hands with a rasping shot that followed James Baillie’s cross from the right.
But the Hatters, with their three-goal cushion, stood firm. And they themselves had the ball in the net on a fourth occasion eight minutes from time when Oswell converted a clever ball in from the left by substitute (and a third Hatter to be appearing against his former club from OL7), Sam Walker – only for last season’s Welsh League Golden Boot winner to be adjudged offside.
The game was safe as four minutes of added time were announced, but Hinchliffe ensured that a clean sheet was maintained in the dying stages when he brilliantly tipped past the right post a well-struck free kick by Baillie from the edge of the County ‘D’.
FULL-TIME: County 3 (Winter, 21; Warburton, 48; Oswell, 55), Curzon Ashton 0.
Team: Hinchliffe, Cowan, Hampson, Winter (Capt.), Clarke, Smalley, Minihan, Ball, Oswell (West, 86), Warburton (McKenna, 86), Stephenson (Walker, 76).
Unused Subs: Duxbury, Ormson.
Man of the Match: Warburton.
Attendance: 3,002 (44 away).
Reporter: Gareth Evans.
Filmed by Ben Powell
Graphics and Editing by Robert Schofield