Freak Goal Sees Hatters Lose One-Nun
A fixture that had been frustrating for both sides upon its late postponement 10 days earlier proved all the more so for County when it actually went ahead as the first midweek League game of 2018 at Edgeley Park.
In-form Nuneaton claimed all three points as a result of what was, for the Hatters, a most unlucky goal. Ashley Chambers’ shot deflected in off the back of Ben Hinchliffe shortly before half-time, to hand victory to the visitors and leave County remaining five points away from the play-off places.
The Hatters took to the field in search of a third ‘double’ of the season, having secured their second at FC United over the preceding weekend. Two changes were made to the starting line-up from that of three days previously, as captain Harry Winter returned from his one-match suspension and Scott Duxbury was recalled as part of an initial 3-4-1-2 formation. Stephen O’Halloran, who had acted as skipper at Broadhurst Park in Winter’s absence, was rested, while leading scorer Jason Oswell – without a goal since mid-January – dropped to the bench.
Each team went into the contest unbeaten in five matches. And it was perhaps no surprise that much of the early play was tightly contained in the middle third, with nothing to note by way of scoring chances – save for a low Chambers shot from distance that Hinchliffe dived to smother at the second attempt.
After 20 minutes, the Hatters earned the contest’s first corner – which Chris Smalley headed wide of the left post. And two minutes later, Matty Warburton fired a shot from the Nuneaton ‘D’ that was of convenient midriff-height for visiting goalkeeper Ross Etheridge to catch.
But the game was opening up, and a greater share of opportunities began to fall the way of the visitors. Tom Elliott (not the ex-Hatter!) blasted over – before Daniel Nti drilled an effort just shy of the right post, and then teed up George Green whose snap-shot was cleanly held by Hinchliffe.
A Hinchliffe clearance found Jimmy Ball, who was forming part of the attack in place of Oswell – but, after cutting in from the left, the stand-in striker saw his angled shot blocked by Etheridge.
With the break approaching and the teams remaining in deadlock, Green’s pass found Chambers, whose curling shot towards the top-right of goal struck the underside of the Cheadle End crossbar, before rebounding from the diving Hinchliffe’s back and just over the line – despite a desperate attempt by County’s Number One to scramble the ball clear.
HALF-TIME: County 0, Nuneaton 1 (Hinchliffe (o.g), 41).
The visitors had not conceded a goal in six weeks – and upon the resumption showed why, as they set themselves up defensively to soak up any County pressure and attack on the break.
But when they did counter-attack, they did so quickly and dangerously. And Hinchliffe was tested in the early second-half stages, as he parried away a shot from Green and caught another by ‘Boro’ captain Ryan Beswick that concluded a fine, flowing move from the visitors’ own area.
The Hatters made three attacking substitutions between the hour-mark and 10 minutes from time, as first Oswell, and then Rhys Turner and Bohan Dixon, entered the fray. And their play following the interval was generally a good deal livelier than it had been over the first 45 minutes.
But clear-cut opportunities remained at a relative premium, as EP was host to a third County defeat on home turf – and a first under the lights in SK3 – of the campaign.
FULL-TIME: County 0, Nuneaton 1 (Hinchliffe (o.g), 41).
Team: Hinchliffe, Cowan, Duxbury, Winter (Capt.) (Dixon, 80), Smalley, Stott, Thomas (Oswell, 60), Stopforth (Turner, 69), Ball, Warburton, Stephenson.
Unused Subs: Clarke, Ormson.
Man of the Match: Stephenson.
Attendance: 2,629 (30 away).
Reporter: Gareth Evans.
Photographer: Mike Petch.