Less Is Moor, As New Month Sees County March-ing On!
Having scored thrice on the way to each of their last three victories, the second-placed Hatters edged out Spennymoor Town, in third, courtesy of a single goal – and before an astonishing Edgeley Park attendance that broke County’s own record for the National League at Step Two (North/South Divisions).
Over 6,300 were present – and some 6,100 rejoiced – to see Sam Walker’s long-range free-kick 18 minutes from time ensure a successful start to March for the Hatters, who moved to within a point of leaders Chorley following a 15th league game, and 22nd in all competitions, without defeat.
Manager Jim Gannon – serving the final game of his three-match touchline suspension – watched from the EP Directors’ Box, as County took to the field in a 4-2-3-1 formation, and showing four changes from the FA Trophy starting line-up at Maidstone United four days earlier.
Minor injuries ruled out Scott Duxbury and Adam Thomas (the latter of whom was withdrawn from the original team following his pre-match warm-up), and both Frank Mulhern and Paul Turnbull dropped to the bench, as Lewis Baines, Nyal Bell and Sam Minihan were recalled, together with central defender Jamie Stott who was beginning his latest spell on loan in SK3 from Oldham.
In a contest involving the National League North’s two meanest defences – and visitors who had not conceded at all in the five most recent league games of their seven-match winning run – it was perhaps not surprising to see chances at a premium. And 10 minutes had passed before the first of any note was created – with Andrew Johnson’s shot blocked by acting skipper Ash Palmer.
The Hatters went closer to goal around the half-hour mark, after their first corner of the day – delivered by Elliot Osborne on the left – found Matty Warburton, whose left-footed shot from just inside the box was kept out by ‘keeper Matt Gould.
But the ‘Moors’ finished the half on top, and almost scored twice from corners of their own – only to be denied on each occasion by Palmer, who glanced over a header from visiting captain James Curtis, before clearing off the line as leading scorer Glen Taylor stabbed towards goal.
HALF-TIME: County 0, Spennymoor 0.
County earned two corners within nine minutes of the resumption, without truly threatening to breach the Spennymoor defence – but five minutes later, Warburton, having been teed up by Bell, again tested Gould, who was forced to parry the former’s well-struck effort from outside the area.
At the other end, Ben Hinchliffe tipped over Johnson’s header from a corner on the right – but while that set-piece delivery did not quite break the deadlock, another, falling to the Hatters, was to do so in the most unexpected fashion.
With 72 minutes played, County earned a free-kick 35 yards out. Walker’s lofted delivery into the area then evaded all in attendance, before taking a bounce and leaving Gould snatching at air as it settled in the back of the net.
Two minutes later, Walker was in the spotlight once more – this time in his own box, as the subject of a penalty appeal for handball – but the visitors’ pleas were dismissed by referee Smith.
And that pretty much was that – with the final momentous point in time coming some 10 minutes from the end, in the form of the attendance announcement, which saw the Hatters’ final-day crowd from the previous campaign against Darlington exceeded by nearly 150 to set that new Sixth Division record.
A phenomenal piece of icing on, one might say, an extremely Moor-ish result!
FULL-TIME: County 1 (Walker, 72), Spennymoor 0.
Team: Hinchliffe, Minihan, Baines, Keane, Palmer (Capt.), Stott, Osborne, walker, Bell (Mulhern, 61), Warburton (Turnbull, 78), Kirby (Stephenson, 68).
Unused Subs: Ormson, Cowan.
Man of the Match: Walker.
Attendance: 6,311 (218 away).
Reporter: Gareth Evans.
Photographer: Mike Petch.