One Daz-zling Moment, Three Precious Points!
The Hatters edged out the ‘Bucks’ of Telford at Edgeley Park in a game that may not linger long in the memory, but did much to cement County’s play-off prospects with three fixtures remaining.
Substitute Darren Stephenson’s strike 16 minutes from time eventually proved enough to secure three points for the Hatters, who nonetheless endured some jittery moments in the closing stages.
County took to the field on an afternoon blessed with spring sunshine, and once again in a 4-2-3-1 formation, but showing four changes from the side that had started, and ultimately fallen to a first defeat in seven matches, at Kidderminster Harriers four days earlier.
Ian Ormson replaced Ben Hinchliffe in goal – while Stephen O’Halloran was brought in for Scott Duxbury, who had picked up a knock against Kidderminster; Paul Turnbull both made the first start of his current spell in SK3, and assumed the captaincy, in place of Harry Winter; and Chris Smalley returned to central defence for his first game in over five weeks since suffering a back problem, as Michael Clarke, along with Winter, dropped to the bench.
The first attempt on goal came after only three minutes from former Hatter John Marsden, whose shot was fired straight at Ormson. But this was not to serve as a portent for the kind of frenetic activity in the final third that had dominated the opening stages at Aggborough in midweek.
Rather, play proceeded to be on the scrappy side. And while the Hatters generally enjoyed more possession, they showed little sign of a cutting edge until just before the half-hour mark, when Turnbull and Dan Cowan combined in a good move to pick out Matty Warburton, whose right-footed, deflected shot was held by visiting goalkeeper Ben Wilson.
Following that, Jimmy Ball fired one effort wide and another high, before Jamie Stott connected with a corner to head beyond the left upright, and, on the stroke of half-time, Jason Oswell nodded over a Cowan cross from the right.
HALF-TIME: County 0, Telford 0.
Proceedings hardly ‘bucked’ up further in terms of quality, as relegation-threatened Telford appeared content to settle for a point, although, with 69 minutes played, the visitors almost benefited from an Ormson clearance that struck Marsden – before Smalley cleared the danger.
But cometh the hour, cometh the Daz-man! Stephenson, some six minutes following his introduction, was perfectly placed on the edge of Telford’s six-yard box to receive a cross by Warburton from the right. Two touches by the substitute, together with a slip by Wilson, later, and the ball was in the back of the Railway End net to break the deadlock and give County the lead.
Stephenson looked to return the favour to Warburton three minutes later, after crossing from the left by-line – only for County’s Number 10 to blast over from 12 yards out. And further, subsequent good work on the same flank by the substitute found Ball, whose shot was caught by Wilson.
The Bucks made attacking substitutions of their own, with a view to getting back on terms. And the changes looked in danger of working against County, as Telford forced two late corners, before O’Halloran threw himself in the way of a shot from swashbuckling visiting captain Shane Sutton, Ormson superbly blocked an effort when Connor Johnson was through on goal, and Jonathan Royce fired narrowly wide of the left post.
But the Hatters held on – cementing further their hold on fifth place, as they prepare next to venture up into Lancashire and to visit play-off rivals Chorley, who now sit one position below.
Steal three points from the ‘Magpies’ on Tuesday, and we shall be almost there…
FULL-TIME: County 1 (Stephenson, 74), Telford 0.
Team: Ormson, Cowan (Stephenson, 68), O’Halloran, Turnbull (Capt.), Smalley, Stott, Thomas, Ball, Oswell (Winter, 62), Warburton, Turner (Clarke, 84).
Unused Subs: Hinchliffe, Minihan.
Man of the Match: Turnbull.
Attendance: 3,546 (91 away).
Reporter: Gareth Evans.
Photographer: Mike Petch.