Early Strikes York The Minstermen
The Hatters returned to winning ways to end their January as it began – with a League victory. And, for good measure, they did so against an in-form York City side that had arrived at Edgeley Park without having been beaten in six matches.
Goals from Darren Stephenson and the returning Matty Warburton, within seven first-half minutes, ultimately settled the contest to take County up to ninth place, and three points away from the play-off positions – as well as registering a first triumph over the ‘Minstermen’ since 1997.
The Hatters took to the field showing two changes from the starting line-up at Harrogate four days previously. Ben Hinchliffe was preferred to Ian Ormson in goal, while Warburton returned for his first appearance since County’s previous home League match – against Salford, on the first Saturday of the month – as he replaced the injured Gary Stopforth within a 4-2-3-1 formation.
After losing twice on their travels during the past week, the Hatters looked eager at the outset to prevent any further slippage back in SK3. And Warburton sounded a warning to York after just 40 seconds, courtesy of a low drive that fizzed narrowly wide of the left post.
Before the first quarter of an hour was up, the Minstermen had rallied sufficiently to concentrate some five minutes of play almost entirely in the County half. But the Hatters soon countered with another ferocious shot from Warburton that visiting goalkeeper Adam Bartlett did well to tip over.
After 23 minutes, Warburton turned provider with a pass that found Stephenson to his right in the York box. Taking one touch to steady himself, Stephenson then drilled home a shot that stayed low as it rocketed past Bartlett, and into the far-bottom corner, to give the Hatters the lead.
Just ahead of the half-hour mark, Dan Cowan cleared a Jon Parkin flick off the line – and a minute later, rather than being pegged back on level terms, County had doubled the advantage with a proverbial goal out of nothing. Finding himself in space 25 yards out, Warburton unleashed a speculative shot that was to pay dividends as it squirmed underneath the unfortunate Bartlett.
The visitors looked foremost to their six-foot-four striker and leading scorer, Parkin, as a potential saviour of the cause – but ‘the Beast’ could only volley one effort wide and toe-poke another into the arms of Hinchcliffe as half-time approached.
HALF-TIME: County 2 (Stephenson, 23; Warburton, 30), York 0.
Two York substitutes entered the fray upon the resumption – including Amari Morgan-Smith, who, with visiting captain Sean Newton and Adriano Moke, formed a trio of ex-Hatters in opposition.
And so commenced a spell of sustained pressure from the Minstermen, as they became dominant in both possession and creation. Hinchliffe had to be at his best in tipping over a volley by Simon Heslop, and also claimed the ball after Chris Smalley and Jamie Stott had combined to deny Morgan-Smith on the goal-line.
Moke and Morgan-Smith then sought jointly to haunt their old club, as the former chipped County’s defence for the latter, through on goal, to convert. But Hinchliffe stood tall to block.
Parkin and Hamza Bencherif fired efforts wide, before Parkin’s free-kick from inside the County ‘D’ cannoned off the wall for a grateful Hinchliffe to catch. And Stott executed a third clearance off the line for the Hatters – spectacularly bicycle-kicking away a Parkin header from the left.
With much of their half spent repelling attacks, the Hatters came close to adding a third goal at the other end two minutes from time when Duxbury let rip with a thunderbolt of a shot that narrowly cleared the crossbar. And one minute later, the visitors, having failed to breach the home defence in open play, had a penalty appeal waved away after Morgan-Smith went to ground in the home area under a challenge by Stott.
FULL-TIME: County 2 (Stephenson, 23; Warburton, 30), York 0.
Team: Hinchliffe, Cowan, O’Halloran, Ball, Smalley, Stott, Thomas, Winter (Capt.), Oswell (Dixon, 70), Warburton (Duxbury, 51), Stephenson (West, 86).
Unused Subs: Ormson, McKenna.
Man of the Match: Hinchliffe.
Attendance: 4,407 (607 away).
Words: Gareth Evans
Pic: Mike Petch