Saints Rejoice At County’s Expense Again
There was to be no case of third time lucky for the Hatters, as their two FA Trophy-ties, and midweek-exit from the competition, against Brackley Town were followed by a single-goal National League North win for the ‘Saints’ at Edgeley Park.
Aaron Williams’ 88th-minute goal secured all three points, as well as dealing a huge blow to the prospects of the Hatters, who dominated possession for long spells of the game – but now lie 12th, five points from the play-offs, after suffering their first League ‘double’-defeat in over a year.
County took to a heavy pitch showing four changes from the starting line-up for the Trophy-replay at Brackley four days earlier. Jamie Stott returned, having been ineligible for the Trophy-ties, while Michael Clarke, Rhys Turner and captain Harry Winter were all recalled within a 4-3-1-2 formation.
Chris Smalley, who was ruled out with a back problem, together with substitutes Stephen O’Halloran, Darren Stephenson and Gary Stopforth, were the players to make way. And Paul Turnbull, who had made a welcome return to County during the week from Chester, also appeared on the bench to mark the beginning of his fourth spell as a Hatter.
Given that the two teams were meeting for the third time in a fortnight, and had faced no other opposition in between, they hardly needed time to become acquainted with each other! And yet, the match began at a tempo low enough to suggest mutual unfamiliarity, before showing signs of life after 13 minutes when the Hatters earned the first of their 10 corners prior to half-time.
Some scoring opportunities for County followed, albeit in the form of efforts that went off-target. Within two attack-fuelled minutes, Matty Warburton’s shot from just inside the box was deflected behind off visiting skipper Gaz Dean, Winter saw his long-distance attempt tipped around the left post by Danny Lewis, Turner fired just wide of the same upright, and Jimmy Ball blasted over after beating five opponents in the course of an astonishing left-to-right run.
But, for all their first-half dominance, the Hatters almost fell behind three minutes ahead of the break when Shep Murombedzi – making his first start for the Saints – beat Scott Duxbury on the right, before delivering a cross that James Armson headed against the right post.
HALF-TIME: County 0, Brackley 0.
The second half began in similar vein to the first, with the Hatters spending much of their time on the offensive – albeit without creating many clear-cut chances, as they struggled to find a way through the well-organised visiting defence. In fact, the hour-mark had been passed when Lewis comfortably held Jason Oswell’s shot from the left – constituting County’s first attempt on target.
Oswell then presented Lewis with a greater challenge, courtesy of a goal-wards delivery that the ‘keeper did well to palm away, ahead of the onrushing Adam Thomas. And Lewis saved again from Oswell, after County’s leading scorer had run on to a delightful chip from Winter.
Having soaked up the pressure, the visitors turned the tables by counter-attacking late on. And, four minutes from time, Williams looked certain to put Brackley ahead when he rounded Ben Hinchliffe – only to see his eventual shot cleared off the line by Clarke.
But two minutes later, just after Armson had unleashed a shot to hit the woodwork for a second time, Williams made no mistake from close range to leave the Saints rejoicing in triumph over the same opponents for the second time within four days.
So, now for something completely different. Next up in County’s schedule: a visit to EP on Tuesday evening by B… oston.
FULL-TIME: County 0, Brackley 1 (Williams, 88).
Team: Hinchliffe, Cowan, Duxbury, Winter (Capt.) (Stephenson, 79), Clarke, Stott, Thomas, Ball (Stopforth, 66), Oswell, Warburton, Turner (Turnbull, 59).
Unused Subs: O’Halloran, Ormson.
Man of the Match: Thomas.
Attendance: 3,060 (26 away).
Reporter: Gareth Evans.
Photographer: Mike Petch.