Aim­ing for the top

Stockport Express - - Sport - SAM BYRNE

MATCH-WIN­NER Sam Mini­han ad­mit­ted that The Hat­ters have got all eyes on top spot in the Na­tional League North, af­ter County sealed backto-back wins over the fes­tive pe­riod with a late 1-0 win over Kid­der­min­ster Har­ri­ers on Satur­day.

Just three days af­ter Jim Gan­non has mas­ter­minded a third suc­ces­sive win over neigh­bours Al­trin­cham, The Hat­ters struck play-off chas­ing Kid­der­min­ster down thanks to an 87th minute header from Mini­han - to move Gan­non’s high-fliers into third in the league stand­ings.

It proved a sec­ond suc­ces­sive win to nil for Gan­non’s men, who have be­come he form side of the Na­tional League North head­ing into New Year’s Day’s crunch tie at Moss Lane with Al­trin­cham - and Mini­han ad­mit­ted that his team­mates couldn’t help but have one eye on top spot.

“As play­ers, we see no rea­son why we can’t go for it. All the boys be­lieve that we’ll do it.”

“If we keep do­ing what we’re do­ing, then why not?”

The Hat­ters his­tor­i­cally come good in the sec­ond half of their cam­paign un­der Gan­non, with last sea­son’s run of six wins in a row cat­a­pult­ing County into a play-off berth.

And Mini­han claimed that County’s im­pres­sive run - with Gan­non’s pro­mo­tion chasers now los­ing just one in fif­teen league out­ings - has come as a re­sult of his County team­mates “un­der­stand­ing” Gan­non’s meth­ods a lot sooner than pre­vi­ous years.

“We just re­ally un­der­stand what the gaffer wants, and we un­der­stand each other as play­ers.”

“We’ve just bought into it and the fact that we’ve down that is shown with a re­ally good run.”

Satur­day’s late show proved to be County’s first league win over The Har­ri­ers in seven at­tempts, with Neil Mac­Far­lane’s men win­ning all six of the pre­vi­ous at­tempts.

And Gan­non claimed that Mini­han’s last gasp header made a “state­ment” for The Hat­ters, who have also his­tor­i­cally come un­done against other big sides in the divi­sion.

The for­mer North­wich boss has now mas­ter­minded wins over sec­ond­placed Chor­ley, play-off con­tenders Al­trin­cham, Spen­ny­moor as well as points at ta­ble-top­ping Brad­ford PA and fourth­placed Telford.

“It’s not just the at­mos­phere and the wins and the clean sheets that have been good over Christ- mas, but do­ing it against two of the top sides in the divi­sion.”

“Huge credit to the lads be­cause they’ve come in train­ing a lot over Christ­mas, and they’ve been the ut­most pro­fes­sion­als.”

County may have been for­given for be­ing pushed a step too far on Satur­day, with the visit of the Har­ri­ers com­ing amidst a train­ing ground bout of flu af­fect­ing Gan­non’s squad.

Mid­field­ers Con­nor Di­maio, Jake Kirby and Jor­dan Keane were all struck down by the virus af­ter the 2-0 win over Al­trin­cham on Box­ing Day, with Gan­non forced into two changes for Satur­day’s tie.

To make mat­ters worse, the re­turn­ing Sam Walker, deputis­ing in place of hold­ing mid­fielder Keane, was then re­placed af­ter just nine min­utes with a tight ham­string - but Gan­non was quick to reshuf­fle, and The Hat­ters bat­tled onto a land­mark win.

We’ve had Con­nor, Jake Kirby & Jor­dan all sick, so we were down to fif­teen play­ers with­out young Alex Jack­son on the bench.”

“Sam Walker just felt his ham­string which is re­ally un­for­tu­nate as he’s been chomp­ing at the bit, and Dar­ren Stephen­son came on and did well and worked hard.”

“The in­juries and ill­nesses could have dis­rupted us, but it’s just a pro­fes­sional group which car­ries on.”

“So many of the play­ers could have been man of the match, there were a lot of ex­cel­lent per­for­mances.”

The 50-year-old also ad­mit­ted that an eye was be­ing kept on that top spot, cur­rently held by Brad­ford, but urged cau­tion at Edge­ley Park.

The lead at the top is now seven points for Mark Bower’s high-fly­ing Av­enue side, who visit Edge­ley Park in a huge clash this com­ing Satur­day.

Goals from Jamie Stott and Frank Mul­h­ern sealed the Box­ing Day win over Al­trin­cham, who have now lost three in three this sea­son against Gan­non’s men with­out reg­is­ter­ing a goal - with the losses com­ing in the FA Cup, FA Tro­phy and the league re­spec­tively.

This has been de­spite the Robins’ sta­tus as the league’s top scor­ers - and Gan­non re­vealed a “con­fi­dence” in the County camp at his side’s so­lid­ity at the back.

“I think any side which is in good form at the mo­ment and play­ing with con­fi­dence will fancy their chances of top spot.”

“There’s a lot of work to be done, but if we stay pro­fes­sional and keep do­ing what we do, we may be able to put it into our own hands.”

County’s place in the ta­ble is a pre­car­i­ous one over the fes­tive pe­riod, with no fewer than four sides all within two points of each other in the play­off po­si­tions.

A win at Moss Lane could see The Hat­ters move to within four points of top spot, whilst a de­feat could see Gan­non’s in­form side slip out of the play-offs al­to­gether.

Un­til Mini­han’s late win­ner on Satur­day, four sides had all claimed third po­si­tion in the live league ta­ble through­out the day and Gan­non ad­mit­ted that his side would need to “stay grounded” amidst talk of claim­ing first place.

The suc­ces­sive home wins have earned The Hat­ters a touch of breath­ing space over the chas­ing pack out­side the play-off po­si­tions, with Kid­der­min­ster now drop­ping out al­to­gether and los­ing ground on resur­gent County.

“We’ve cre­ated a bit of a gap from our­selves to Kid­der­min­ster and Al­trin­cham out­side that top five, and then ob­vi­ously the next tar­get for us is to keep cut­ting that gap to Chor­ley and Brad­ford in the top two.”

“That’s the aim, and we’ll keep tak­ing it one game at a time to achieve that and go for that top spot.”

Www.mpho­to­graphic.co.uk

●●Sam Mini­han, right, leads the cel­e­bra­tions af­ter scor­ing the win­ner against Kid­der­min­ster Har­ri­ers

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