No Kidd-ing – Hatters Halt Harriers Hoodoo And Go Third!
County will enter the new year occupying third place, after a late goal from Sam Minihan saw off fellow play-off contenders Kidderminster Harriers at Edgeley Park.
There remained three minutes of normal footballing time for the Hatters in 2018, when Minihan headed home a Scott Duxbury corner to register his first goal of the season – as well as County’s first league win over the Harriers, following six straight defeats against them, since 2012/13.
The Hatters took to the field showing two changes from their Boxing Day starting line-up against Altrincham in SK3. Both Jordan Keane and Jake Kirby were ruled out due to illness, resulting in recalls for Sam Walker and Elliot Osborne as part of a 4-2-3-1 formation – while the team was led out by Paul Turnbull, as the captain prepared to make his 200th appearance in a County shirt.
Alas for Walker, his first start since the late sending-off at Spennymoor five games previously lasted no longer than eight minutes – when a tight hamstring prevented him from continuing.
Darren Stephenson replaced Walker, as the Hatters reshuffled – but also proceeded to enjoy the better of things as the contest, after a cagey start, began to open up. They earned four corners within three minutes – and following the first delivery, by Duxbury from the right, Matty Warburton saw a shot blocked in front of the far post by the legs of visiting goalkeeper Brandon Hall.
On the quarter-hour mark, Warburton half-volleyed past the left upright – before a delightful chip by Duxbury on the left floated narrowly wide of the opposite one. And just ahead of the half-hour, the Hatters went close twice within less than a minute, as Hall kept out a close-range volley by Adam Thomas and, subsequently, Stephenson angled a shot from the left just shy of the far post.
The visitors, for their part, were restricted largely to efforts from distance – with Ben Hinchliffe comfortably gathering shots by Kane Richards and Russ Penn, and James Baxendale firing over.
A seventh corner for the Hatters, four minutes before the break, almost proved to be a lucky one, as Osborne’s delivery from the left was headed on by Ash Palmer to Frank Mulhern, who nodded into the net – only for the goal to be disallowed, following Palmer’s foul on Hall.
HALF-TIME: County 0, Kidderminster 0.
Just as the first half had taken a while to build up a head of steam, so, too, it seemed, would the second – as County supporters began to contemplate that they might be about to witness their first scoreless draw in over 15 months.
Fifteen minutes into the new half, Kidderminster went close, as a corner from the left was followed by a game of head tennis in the County box – but Hinchliffe caught Fraser Horsfall’s nodded effort on the line.
Nevertheless, the better opportunities, such as there were, continued to fall to the Hatters. A free-kick by Duxbury from the left found Palmer, who, beyond the far upright, headed across goal for Thomas to fire wide. And both Warburton and Stephenson, from inside the area, drilled shots just beyond the right post.
With three minutes remaining, Warburton had another attempt deflected behind. And from Duxbury’s resulting Cheadle End corner on the right, which was aimed towards the near post, Minihan glanced his header into the far-top corner – in a manner uncannily reminiscent of that which had led to Mulhern’s 94th-minute equaliser against Brackley six Saturdays earlier.
Edgeley, as it had done on that mid-November afternoon, erupted. And as well it might. For Minihan’s goal had, in a heartbeat, propelled County up three positions in the ‘live’ table and to within seven points of the summit.
Not a bad way to see out the old year – and Hatters everywhere will now be relishing the arrival of the new!
FULL-TIME: County 1 (Minihan, 87), Kidderminster 0.
Team: Hinchliffe, Minihan, Duxbury, Turnbull (Capt.), Palmer, Stott, Thomas (Cowan, 79), Walker (Stephenson, 8), Mulhern (Bell, 79), Osborne, Warburton.
Unused Subs: Ormson, Jackson.
Man of the Match: Warburton.
Attendance: 3,784 (171 away).
Reporter: Gareth Evans.
Photographer: Mike Petch.