‘Snow Stopping Jason, As He Scores Three Moor!
There were flurries of snow at Edgeley Park, and, for the second County match running, a flurry of five goals – although, on this occasion, the Hatters ended up on the right side of the scoreline, thanks to leading scorer Jason Oswell’s second hat-trick of the season.
In the process, and on a day that the wintry weather put paid to all but one other fixture in the National League North, County rose two places in the table to ninth – a couple of points away from the play-off positions – as well as registering a first-ever victory against Spennymoor Town.
The Hatters took to the field showing three changes from the starting line-up at Brackley, where they had been edged out by the odd goal in five a week previously. Michael Clarke, Darren Stephenson and returning captain Harry Winter replaced Bohan Dixon, Ben McKenna and the injured Matty Warburton, as County kicked off in a 4-3-3 formation.
The ‘Moors’ started very much the brighter – with Glen Taylor, after only two minutes, unleashing a shot from the edge of the box that deflected off Jimmy Ball and just shy of County’s right post. And they were subsequently to cause consternation around the home box after dispossessing the Hatters twice in quick succession.
With just over 20 minutes on the clock, the visitors took the lead from the penalty spot after Stephen O’Halloran tripped Taylor while the striker was going away from goal. Taylor himself stepped up to convert past Ben Hinchliffe and put Spennymoor ahead. And just four minutes later, the advantage could have been doubled but for Hinchliffe, who bravely blocked David Foley.
County had offered little by way of an attacking threat – save for an earlier Stephenson effort from the left that hit the side-netting – but they were to go close after 27 minutes when an in-swinging corner from the right by Ball was punched off the line by visiting goalkeeper Shane Bland.
Then, following the half-hour mark, the Hatters were handed a lifeline after Stephenson went to ground in the away box under a challenge from James Curtis, and were duly awarded a penalty of their own. In the absence of regular taker Warburton (whose only miss from 12 yards had been at Spennymoor on the season’s opening day), Oswell made no mistake in rifling his kick past Bland.
Duly inspired by the equaliser, the Hatters ended the first half rather more impressively than they had begun it. And Bland had to be at his best in parrying an effort from Ball, before cutting out Kallum Mantack’s angled cross, from the left as the break approached.
HALF-TIME: County 1 (Oswell, 34 (penalty)), Spennymoor 1 (Taylor, 21 (penalty)).
County re-emerged with intent intact, and continued to make the running from the first-half closing stages – as Gary Stopforth fired wide of the left upright and O’Halloran looped the ball narrowly off target from the left byline.
Within 13 minutes of the resumption, the Hatters were ahead. Stopforth’s flick to Ball was teed up by the latter to Oswell, who, from 18 yards out, turned with aplomb to fire in off the right post.
The joy was short-lived, as the visitors were back on level terms two minutes later. A cross into County’s box from captain Chris Mason found the unmarked Robert Ramshaw who headed past Hinchliffe.
But just after the second half’s mid-point, Oswell netted his and County’s third of the match, as well as the game’s third inside a little over 10 hectic minutes, when he dived to head Dan Cowan’s cross from the right into the top corner and register his 20th goal of the season.
Bland denied Oswell a fourth when he tipped over the prolific striker’s shot from the edge of the box – before the Hatters had to sustain a late spell of sustained Spennymoor pressure.
Substitute Andrew Johnson hit the bar with a curling shot, and Hinchliffe punched behind a dangerous cross from the right by Kallum Griffiths, as well as tipping away an attempt from Taylor. But the Hatters held on under the falling snow to send the County Faithful home feeling decidedly warm inside.
FULL-TIME: County 3 (Oswell, 34 (penalty), 58 and 69), Spennymoor 2 (Taylor, 21 (penalty); Ramshaw, 60).
Team: Hinchliffe, Cowan, O’Halloran, Ball, Clarke, Smalley, Mantack (Thomas, 65), Winter (Capt.), Oswell (Dixon, 88), Stopforth, Stephenson (McKenna, 61).
Unused Subs: Duxbury, Ormson.
Man of the Match: O’Halloran.
Attendance: 3,379 (68 away).
Reporter: Gareth Evans.
Photographer: Mike Petch.