Gallant Cup exit
COUNTY’S FA Cup campaign came to a valiant end in a 1-0 defeat at National League side Barnet on Sunday, thanks to an early goal from winger Dan Sparkes.
The Hatters, hampered by the temporary absence of captain Ash Palmer who was receiving treatment for a cut to the head, went behind early on thanks to Sparkes’ free header – and despite a late onslaught in front of a mammoth travelling support of over 1,600 County fans, Barnet held firm to set up a third round tie with Championship side Sheff Utd.
After their impressive 3-0 FA Trophy win over league leaders Chorley the weekend prior, Gannon made three changes with the influential Sam Walker returning from his rest to partner Jordan Keane in midfield.
With Scott Duxbury missing out thanks to an accumulation of yellow cards in the earlier rounds of the competition, Sam Minihan filled in as a makeshift left-back, with Darren Stephenson starting in place of Matty Warburton, who had hobbled off in the comfortable Chorley win.
Ash Palmer took the captain’s armband in Turnbull’s omission from the starting line-up – but, within minutes of kick-off, was in need of treatment on the sidelines.
Palmer’s absence was arguably crucial, as rightback Cheye Alexander’s cross from the right found Sparkes, unmarked, at the far post.
Winger Sparkes, who, a ●●Sam Walker drives forward for County against Barnet at the weekend few minutes earlier, had curled a free-kick narrowly wide of the opposite upright, made no mistake in heading home.
The early setback was familiar territory for Gannon’s side, though, after trailing to League Two side Yeovil at Huish Park in the first round before storming back for a memorable 3-1 win.
But, in truth, Barnet posed a more difficult test on the day than the vanquished Football League opposition – and County found chances on goal hard to come by.
For all their possession, The Hatters lacked a real cutting edge in Barnet’s final third. And with 26 minutes played, the Bees went closer to netting when, from a corner on the right, Dan Sweeney produced a goal-bound header that was nodded off the line by Minihan after a helping hand from goalkeeper Ben Hinchliffe.
The half ended with two jinking runs on the left by Stephenson which ended in little final product, and Barnet made it into the interval with a goal lead still intact.
County continued to work hard in pushing forward after the break, this time kicking towards the packed and vociferous away end.
Adam Thomas unleashed an effort from the right that flew shy of the far upright, before good work on the same flank by Frank Mulhern saw a cross frantically cleared away by Sweeney, and another shot fizzed beyond the left post courtesy of Elliot Osborne.
The better chances still fell to John Still’s home side – with Hinchliffe having to be at his best to tip over an attempt by Josh Walker just before the hour-mark, albeit with the offside flag being raised a tad late after the fact – until an Osborne shot was spilled at the other end by Cousins, and Mulhern turned the ball agonisingly past the left upright on the rebound in front of an expectant away stand.
With the relentless away following calling for star man Warburton, the attacking midfield was introduced with a little more than 20 minutes left on the clock, and a double-substitution just under a quarter of an hour later brought Nyal Bell and Connor Dimaio into the fray as County sought to throw caution to the wind.
But the Hatters’ remaining attempts to get their name into the hat for the Third Round draw for the first time in just over a decade bared little reward, with Dan Cowan and Sam Walker’s longrange efforts blocked as time finally ran out for the brave Hatters – both in the tie, and in County’s FA Cup campaign for another year.
In a sign of how The Hatters have captured the imaginations of their everloyal fanbase in this impressive cup run, nearly the entire away end remained behind to applaud Gannon’s men off into their warm-down, and into National League North action this weekend with high-flying Chester. COUNTY fans will be taken on a trip down memory lane this coming Saturday, with Imagine FM’s ‘County Live’ podcast presenting a ‘Legend’s Night’ at the Spinning Top.
Following the National League North clash with high-flying Chester at Edgeley Park, fans are invited to attend a Q&Astyle session with boss Jim Gannon, Director of Football and former County chief Alan Lord, as well as former players Mike Flynn, Michael Raynes and Peter Ward - amongst others.
The event kicks off from 8pm onwards.
●●Ash Palmer in action for County against Barnet in the FA Cup second round clash