Another Late Daz-zler For The Hatters!
For the third successive Saturday, County scored late on to salvage a draw – and, in this instance, courtesy of substitute Darren Stephenson’s equaliser four minutes from time, an FA Trophy replay at Southport on Wednesday night.
Before Stephenson struck, the ‘Sandgrounders’ looked to have ensured that their name of the two ‘Ports alone would go in the hat for Monday’s First Round-proper draw – having scored either side of half-time at Edgeley Park to cancel out Bohan Dixon’s opener and put themselves ahead.
The Hatters had initially taken to the field on a wintry afternoon showing just one change from the side that had started against Chorley one week earlier. Sam Walker was selected ahead of Kallum Mantack within a 4-3-2-1 formation – although, with less than half an hour played, the former was to be replaced by the latter, as County reverted to the 3-4-1-2 line-up from the previous Saturday.
Prior to that, each side had scored in quick succession. After 11 minutes, Walker won an aerial challenge to find Jason Oswell, whose subsequent flick fell to Warburton in the Southport box. Warburton’s progress was checked by a challenge, only for the ball to return to Oswell – now directly facing visiting goalkeeper Jon Worsnop – who squared to his right for Dixon to slot home.
Three minutes later, Southport drew level. The visitors’ starters included just four players who had lined up for their six-goal league drubbing in SK3 during the first week of September – but two of those combined to create the equaliser, as Brad Jackson beat Scott Duxbury on the right before cutting back to deliver a ball that Stephen O’Halloran could only head as far as Andy White, who converted with a low drive from 12 yards out.
With 26 minutes played, County looked to have a huge claim for a penalty when Warburton was held back in the visitors’ box, and right in front of Referee Herczeg – but play was waved on.
The two goals represented the sole attempts on target throughout the first half, although David Lynch and David Morgan fired efforts narrowly wide for the Sandgrounders, while County’s leading scorer Oswell flicked on a Warburton cross from the left just shy of the far upright.
HALF-TIME: County 1 (Dixon, 11), Southport 1 (White, 14).
The Hatters emerged with intent after the break, and t
heir superiority in possession during the early stages of the second half was almost rewarded with a goal after 64 minutes, when the ever-industrious Gary Stopforth’s chip from the right was met by Oswell – whose downward header grazed the near post.
But four minutes later, the visitors broke and took the lead – as Jackson notched up a second assist for the afternoon, crossing from the right for their recent signing from FC United, and County nemesis, Jason Gilchrist, to fire past Ben Hinchliffe for a goal on his Southport debut and his third against the Hatters in eight weeks.
Stephenson was brought on with fewer than 20 minutes remaining, and came close to making an early impact when, with his back to goal, he swivelled to connect with Dixon’s cross from the left and shot narrowly over the Cheadle End bar.
But he made no mistake after 86 minutes – turning in a low delivery by Stopforth from the right to get County back on level terms. And, in added time, he almost avoided the need for a midweek trip to the seaside for good measure – when he drilled a shot across goal from the right that ricocheted off an unsuspecting Jackson, but was scrambled away from the line by Worsnop.
FULL-TIME: County 2 (Dixon, 11; Stephenson, 86), Southport 2 (White, 14; Gilchrist, 68).
Team: Hinchliffe, Cowan, Duxbury, Ball, Clarke (Capt.), O’Halloran (Stephenson, 71), Stopforth, Walker (Mantack, 28), Oswell, Warburton (Winter, 79), Dixon.
Unused Subs: Smalley, Ormson.
Man of the Match: Stopforth.
Attendance: 1,215 (84 away).
Words: Gareth Evans
Pics: Mike Petch