County collapse frustrates boss
COUNTY boss Jim Gannon admitted he was “absolutely embarrassed” by his side’s performance, as The Hatters let a three-goal lead slip in the FA Cup on Saturday.
Gannon watched on as his side raced into a 3-0 lead at half-time against neighbours FC United of Manchester at Edgeley Park, before a remarkable second-half comeback by the Red Rebels left County’s chances of progressing in this year’s competition in the hands of a Third Qualifying Round replay at Broadhurst Park.
And, after claiming he’d seen “one of the best fortyfive minutes of the season” at the interval, The Hatters chief lambasted a County defence which crumbled after the break.
“I thought we showed lots of good energy and stuck to the gameplan in the first half – we expected a reaction in the second half, we knew they’d go two up top so we tried to counter that and have our midfield drop back and protect the defence; but the simple fact is the lads didn’t do that in the second half.
“As a centre-half myself, I’m just embarrassed at the performance of the defence and the failure of a back three to deal with a front two,” Gannon said.
The game seemed to turn when leading goalscorer Jason Oswell was forced off during the break with a hamstring injury, leaving the Hatters without a recognised striker on the pitch for the duration of the second half.
Oswell’s early exit seemed to provide the visitors with the confidence to spark their late fightback, with The Hatters sloppy in possession and without their top scoring target man to keep possession in attack – but Gannon refused to use the former Newtown striker’s departure as an excuse.
“We gave the ball away a lot further up the pitch and maybe lacked that physicality up top, especially when Jason had to go off – but the simple messages to our back five of getting goal-side and not letting the front two to turn their men just didn’t get through. When defenders don’t know what you mean by ‘getting goal-side’, what chance have you got as a coach?
“We did go back to basics in the last twenty minutes and just asked the lads to play man-forman, not to give the ball away, not to dive in and we’d have enough to see the game out.
“As the lads couldn’t really do that and put in a really poor performance, FC United were able to take advantage.”
Despite the demoralising 3-3 draw from such a comfortable position, the tie extended County’s unbeaten Edgeley Park record to eleven months in all competitions – but Gannon claimed that, while his side boasted a comfortable lead at the interval, the Hatters boss was never certain that the tie was won.
Marginson’s side have plundered nine goals in their last two games – both of which Gannon watched from the stands. And he explained that, despite his insistence at the break that the Red Rebels would “go for broke” with nothing to lose in cup football, his players proved incapable of ‘following the game plan’ in a dire second half.
“Obviously our home record is very good, but I never thought the game was won. I’ve watched FC United over the past two games, I know they’ve got goals in them and utilise their attackers well off the bench,” he said.
“We told the lads at half-time that they’d be going for it, and just for us to keep it tight in a back five, have good set plays, don’t give the ball away unfortunately all of that information seemed to dissipate.”
United’s comeback wasn’t without it’s controversy, however, as captain Scott Kay’s second-half challenge on County defender Scott Duxbury resulted in the Hatters youngster being forced off on a stretcher – and Kay only being awarded a yellow card for the incident.
Gannon was left seething by the late challenge, pointing the finger at official Leigh Doughty to “stamp out” a string of poor challenges by the visitors; with County now left without two “star players” in Duxbury and Oswell.
“It’s a pet peeve of mine that the National League call it ‘the fair play league’, but we’re bottom of it with the fewest yellow and red cards, and FC United are top of it.
“So we expected physical challenges, it’s a wet pitch in a local derby and we knew it’d be rough.
“But the referee has to understand he has a part to play in stamping out those nasty challenges.
“It was a poor challenge which can injure players, and Scott and Jason were losses for us. But we won’t be rushing them back.”
●●County celebrate Matty Warburton scoring against FC United