The Hatters, making only their second-ever visit to Grosvenor Vale, returned from North West London with maximum points after a four-goal victory against Wealdstone.
In an entertaining contest that defied the blustery conditions, Scott Quigley netted shortly after the first half’s mid-point, and Ollie Crankshaw bagged an 18-minute hat-trick after the interval to make emphatically sure of the triumph that elevated County into the play-off positions.
Although the capital had escaped the worst ravages of Storm Arwen, there was a palpable wind chill as the teams took to the field – rather oddly, a couple of minutes apart! – with County’s starting line-up the first to appear, and unchanged from that at Edgeley Park against King’s Lynn four days earlier. Two changes occurred on the bench, as Paddy Madden, having recovered from illness, took the place of Alex Reid, whist Sam Minihan replaced Arjan Raikhy.
The hosts, unbeaten in five games, had first sight of goal during the opening exchanges – although, even taking into account the potentially tricky wind factor, Connor McAvoy’s spooned effort proved a routine catch for Ben Hinchliffe. The Hatters’ initial attempt, a few minutes later, required more action on the part of Hinchliffe’s opposite number, George Wickens, who had to dive at full stretch and parry a well-struck shot by Ryan Croasdale.
County did have the ball in Wealdstone’s net just after the quarter-hour mark – although the free-kick, from Ryan Rydel on the right, that led to Mark Kitching’s tap-in at close range was taken ahead of the whistle, and Referee Jackson duly disallowed the goal.
Some end-to-end fare ensued – with Hinchliffe tipping around the right post a low shot by Jayden Sweeney through a crowded area, and Wickens saving at the feet of Quigley, before denying Crankshaw on the follow-up, as well as keeping out another Rydel free-kick.
In the 26th minute, the Hatters went ahead, as Quigley – from 12 yards out, and after an effort from Crankshaw had been blocked – unleashed a shot that took a deflection past Wickens for the striker’s sixth goal in as many games.
Sweeney continued to pose the biggest threat for the hosts, and went close just ahead of the break when he connected with, but volleyed wide of the far upright, a deep cross from the left by captain Jerome Okimo. And in added time, Hinchliffe did well to deflect past the same post a shot from leading scorer Josh Umerah.
HALF-TIME: Wealdstone 1, County 0 (Quigley, 26).
Playing against the wind and up the Grosvenor Vale slope upon the resumption, County nevertheless fashioned the inaugural second-half chance when Antoni Sarcevic cut in from the right – forcing Wickens to punch the ball towards Quigley, who fired over. And a Rydel header also cleared the crossbar, following Macauley Southam-Hales’ cross from the right.
Then, two minutes past the hour, the lead was doubled. Will Collar dispossessed Charlie Cooper just inside the home half on the right, before involving Sarcevic and Southam-Hales – the latter of whom’s cross was drilled towards goal from beyond the far post by Rydel, with Crankshaw applying the final touch.
Four minutes later, and as the ‘Stones’ were lining up a pair of substitutions, Crankshaw had a second and the Hatters a third – when the winger took advantage of a hesitant defence to rifle home from the edge of the six-yard box.
One of the home substitutes, once introduced, had an instant opportunity to reduce the arrears, but Ira Jackson saw his shot saved by the legs of Hinchliffe.
The match-ball was Crankshaw’s, and the points County’s, when, with 10 minutes remaining, he capitalised on a mistake by Jack Cook to slot past Wickens and make it four.
The hosts netted a consolation three minutes from the end, when Jackson’s low shot from outside the area fizzed beyond the reach of Hinchliffe and into the bottom-right corner.
There was still time for the Hatters to put the ball in the net once more – although Sarcevic’s effort was ruled out for offside after he had converted a Southam-Hales delivery from the right.
FULL-TIME: Wealdstone 1 (Jackson, 87), County 4 (Quigley, 26; Crankshaw, 62, 66 and 80).
Team (3-4-1-2): Hinchliffe; Keane (Barclay, 73), Palmer (Capt.), Kitching; Southam-Hales, Collar, Croasdale, Rydel; Sarcevic; Crankshaw (Jennings, 82), Quigley (Madden, 71).
Unused Subs: MInihan, Rooney.
Reporter: Gareth Evans.
Photographer: Mike Petch.