Jake Makes No Mistake, As Nash Get The Lash
The Hatters stepped a short distance beyond the Stockport postcode area, as well as four non-league tiers up in terms of opposition, for their third friendly match of the summer – but still succeeded in dominating play as they recorded a hat-trick of pre-season wins at Curzon Ashton.
Having scored 18 times in the two local fixtures at Cheadle Heath Nomads and Stockport Town – both from Division One South of the North West Counties League – County added two more to the July tally against the National League North ‘Nash’, courtesy of a goal in each half for Jake Kirby.
But the Hatters will be pleased with a performance at the Tameside Stadium that saw them enjoy by far the greater shares of possession and chances, as well as a fifth clean sheet in a series of matches that stretches back to their home NLN fixture against the same opponents during April.
County took to the pristine-looking pitch in a new white and dark navy alternate away kit, showing just one change from the first 11 at Stockport Sports Village four days earlier – with Connor Dimaio, in place of Alex Curran, making his first start of the pre-season campaign.
Sam Minihan, who was to be the only Hatter to complete the full 90 minutes, fashioned an early chance in the second minute – courtesy of a delivery from the right that bounced off the top netting. And nine minutes later, Frank Mulhern went closer with a well-struck shot from 25 yards out that rattled the hosts’ crossbar.
Around the midway-point of the half, the Hatters’ early superiority was rewarded with a goal as Kirby advanced towards the edge of the area before firing a low drive past home goalkeeper Cam Mason – and becoming leading pre-season scorer, with four successful strikes, in the process.
Mason proceeded to keep the Nash in the contest – blocking a Sam Walker free-kick with his feet, and tipping over another shot from Mulhern – before Dimaio cut in from the left and saw an effort deflected by defender Daniel Shaw into the path of Dan Cowan, who fired wide of the far post.
Minihan and skipper Paul Turnbull both sent low shots narrowly wide of the left upright, as County sought to gain a further first-half advantage in the closing stages.
HALF-TIME: Curzon Ashton 0, County 1 (Kirby, 23).
All 21 players in the the Hatters’ squad, including three trialists who had appeared during the previous week, would enjoy some game time in OL7 – although the 10 substitutes were to be brought on in four separate tranches rather than all at once.
And after making just three changes at half-time, it was a rather unshuffled pack that held all the cards two minutes later when Kirby headed in Walker’s corner from the right to double the lead.
Chances from free-kicks became the order of the day, as Turnbull’s was nodded behind by Jordan Keane and another, from Osborne, curled narrowly wide of the right post, before home skipper, and former Hatter, Andy Halls headed over one delivered at the other end by Liam Davies.
Another home player once (albeit briefly) of the Edgeley parish almost halved the arrears in spectacular fashion, as left-back Josh Askew – on loan in SK3 from Salford City for four matches last August – hit County’s right post with a 30-yard pile-driver.
The sometimes-bizarre practice of friendly substitutions was illustrated late on after Mason – who, minutes earlier, had done well to tip around the left upright a shot from Nyal Bell – was replaced between the sticks by Liam Lovell immediately before a County corner! A goal for the Hatters following that could have made the change even more newsworthy, but Festus Arthur headed Osborne’s delivery from the right wide of the far post.
FULL-TIME: Curzon Ashton 0, County 2 (Kirby, 23 and 47).
Team: Hinchliffe (Ormson, 46), Minihan, Cowan (Golden, 68), Turnbull (Capt.) (Mulgrew, 68), Palmer (Downing, 65), Keane (Arthur, 61), Thomas (Curran, 46), Walker (Elstone, 65), Mulhern (Bell, 61), Dimaio (Osborne, 46), Kirby (Stephenson, 61).
Reporter: Gareth Evans.