High Five For Starters, As County Crush The Red Rebels In Curtain-Raiser!
The new National League North campaign could hardly have got off to a more exhilarating start for the Hatters, as they notched up their first five-goal opening-day haul in 27 years clinically to destroy near-neighbours FC United before a 4,600-plus crowd at Edgeley Park.
A brace for Matty Warburton, sandwiched in between Frank Mulhern’s opener and late goals from captain Paul Turnbull and substitute Kallum Mantack, destroyed the ‘Red Rebels’ from Moston – for whom one-time County trialist Kurt Willoughby netted a consolation 20 minutes from time.
The Hatters took to the field, showing just one change from the starting line-up for their final friendly, at home to Macclesfield, a week earlier. Darren Stephenson was brought in as part of a 4-2-3-1 formation – replacing Chris Smalley, who was named among the substitutes. FC United, meanwhile, included three former Hatters in captain Harry Winter, Stephen O’Halloran – both of whom had moved on from SK3 and up the M60 during the summer – and Liam Dickinson.
The Rebels’ cause was dealt an early blow when Brad Barnes twisted his knee, after a collision with Stephenson, and had to be replaced after just five minutes – but they still created the first chance of the game, as Dickinson broke through to force a save from Ben Hinchliffe.
The Hatters, however, were beginning to get into their stride. From their first corner, Mulhern’s shot was cleared off the line by Joel Senior, before Sam Walker fired narrowly wide of the right post on the rebound. And from their second – also taken by Turnbull on the left – Mulhern again connected to head County into the lead, with 12 minutes played.
A minute ahead of the half-hour, County’s advantage was doubled, courtesy of a second assist from Turnbull who broke into the box, before squaring on his left to Warburton – with the latter gratefully converting from six yards out.
Hinchliffe, who had earlier parried a low shot by Jack Banister, was briefly called into action again to save Willoughby’s angled effort from the right. But action was otherwise concentrated in the opposite final third, where Mulhern, Stephenson, Warburton and Sam Minihan all went close.
And a minute ahead of half-time, Warburton made it three with another close-range finish – after Minihan had picked up and played across Scott Duxbury’s cross from the left.
HALF-TIME: County 3 (Mulhern, 12; Warburton, 29 and 44), FC United 0.
Any fears that County’s first-half momentum would fade after the break were dispelled, when Mulhern saw one goal-bound shot blocked by O’Halloran within a minute of the resumption, and another, four minutes later, kept out by teenage debutant-goalkeeper, William Crellin.
Mulhern then headed a Walker corner from the right against the crossbar, before Willoughby’s shot, from a cross by newly-arrived substitute, Sam Tattum, on the right, took a heavy deflection off Ash Palmer and fizzed past Hinchliffe to reduce the arrears.
If there were nerves among the Hatters at this stage – which would have been quite understandable, given around half of the team had featured on the receiving end of the three-goal FC United comeback that forced an FA Cup replay less than a year previously – they did not show, and County’s overall supremacy was to be deservedly emphasised further before the end.
With a minute of normal time remaining, Mantack’s cross from the left was headed back by fellow substitute Nyal Bell for Turnbull to fire in from the edge of the box.
And, on the stroke of full-time, Mantack superbly chipped a through-ball over Crellin to spark a back-flip celebration on the former FC United loanee’s part and, simultaneously, the latest in the series of an extremely agreeable afternoon’s collective roars from The County Faithful.
FULL-TIME: County 5 (Mulhern, 12; Warburton, 29 and 44; Turnbull, 89; Mantack, 90), FC United 1 (Willoughby, 70).
Team: Hinchliffe, Cowan, Duxbury, Turnbull (Capt.), Palmer, Keane, Minihan, Walker, Mulhern (Bell, 68), Warburton (Dimaio, 81), Stephenson (Mantack, 74).
Unused Subs: Smalley, Ormson.
Man of the Match: Minihan.
Attendance: 4,689 (761 away).
Reporter: Gareth Evans.
Photographer: Mike Petch.
Sam Walker interview
Jim Gannon interview