County ham­mer ti­tle ri­vals

Stockport Express - - Sports - SAM BYRNE

VANARAMA NA­TIONAL LEAGUE NORTH COUNTY ............................ 3 BRADFORD PARK AV .... 0

SU­PERB County pro­duced one of their best dis­plays of the sea­son to sweep aside pro­mo­tion ri­vals Bradford Park Av­enue 3-0 at Edge­ley Park on Satur­day.

A first-half strike by tal­is­man Matty Warburton set County on their way af­ter just five min­utes, be­fore Dar­ren Stephen­son and Frank Mul­h­ern sealed the win in the sec­ond half to move to just four points off the Na­tional League North sum­mit.

The three points moves Jim Gan­non’s men to just one point be­hind sec­ond­placed Av­enue, who suf­fered back-to-back de­feats for the first time in four months.

The im­pres­sive statis­tics kept on rolling for the resur­gent Hat­ters, who be­came the first side in ten months to pre­vent Mark Bower’s side from scor­ing, whilst si­mul­ta­ne­ously in­flict­ing a first away de­feat in four months on the West York­shire side.

Gan­non again opted for his favoured 4-2-3-1 for­ma­tion, with his a soli­tary change from the side which bat­tled to a 1-0 New Year’s Day win at Altrincham.

Left winger Jake Kirby was ruled out with a foot in­jury, picked up in the first ten min­utes at Moss Lane, with Stephen­son deputis­ing along­side Warburton and Adam Thomas in an at­tack­ing mid­field three.

Af­ter three wins and three clean sheets in succession prior to Satur­day, the visit of the high-fly­ing Av­enue promised to be a piv­otal mo­ment in both sides’ cam­paigns, with Bradford com­ing into the Edge­ley Park clash on the back of a sur­pris­ing 2-1 home de­feat to Guiseley.

And Gan­non’s men set the tone for the dom­i­nant per­for­mance which was to come, with star man Warburton cut­ting in­side his man and drilling low past young goal­keeper Jack Atkin­son on the for­mer Halifax stop­per’s se­nior de­but.

The 18 year-old was se­lected as a last minute re­place­ment for the in­jured num­ber one Steve Drench - and, de­spite a num­ber of good saves through­out from the young­ster, Atkin­son’s af­ter­noon would only get worse.

Five min­utes later, Warburton again tested Atkin­son, who proved equal with a re­flex save down to his left. And within a fur­ther minute, Stephen­son, on the same flank, fired an ef­fort on to the top of the bar and over.

County were al­ready look­ing in to­tal con­trol af­ter just a quar­ter of an hour, with Bradford’s only at­tempts com­ing via the spec­u­la­tive long-range ef­forts of mid­field duo Nicky Clee and Conno Bran­son.

Bower’s side, sim­i­larly to Altrincham and Kid­der­min­ster be­fore them, ap­peared at a loss as to how to breach County’s rock-solid de­fence, with young Old­ham loaner Jamie Stott build­ing an im­pen­e­tra­ble part­ner­ship with Ash Palmer at the back, in front of the unflappable Ben Hinch­liffe in goal.

Stott’s loan is sched­uled to come to an end in two weeks, with fans and club of­fi­cials alike des­per­ate to ex­tend the 21 year-old’s stay at Edge­ley Park. With 10 min­utes of the first half re­main­ing, County’s lead was al­most dou­bled af­ter Jor­dan Keane’s cross from the right was nod­ded on by Palmer to Thomas, whose own loop­ing header was bril­liantly kept out by Atkin­son on the turn.

And just be­fore the in­ter­val, con­tro­versy reigned af­ter Adam Thomas had fired low past Atkin­son - with the ref­eree miss­ing his as­sid­tant’s off­side flag, which had been raised against Mul­h­ern for what seemed to be an eter­nity prior to Thomas’ fin­ish.

The goal was even­tu­ally chalked off, with the of­fi­cials rul­ing that Hinch­liffe’s

clear­ance had come from a free-kick as op­posed to a goal-kick (from which at­tack­ing play­ers can­not be ruled off­side).

How­ever, a de­ci­sion which in pre­vi­ous years would have all-but cer­tainly ended up cost­ing The Hat­ters, the hosts con­tin­ued the sec­ond half in the same vein and went on to “com­pletely stran­gle” the vis­i­tors of any mo­men­tum, in the words of a well-beaten Bower.

Atkin­son used his legs twice within mo­ments to block one shot from Warburton, and de­flect be­hind an­other by Stephen­son – be­fore Palmer headed the re­sult­ing cor­ner inches be­yond the left post.

Warburton then stepped in­side to curl an ef­fort past the out­stretched fin­ger­tips of Atkin­son, with vet­eran mid­fielder Nicky Wroe on hand to head away from dan­ger.

With the score at 1-0, al­beit not ex­actly on a knife-edge thanks to County’s com­plete dom­i­nance, Stephen­son pro­duced his first re­sult al­ter­ing mo­ment on the tie - su­perbly track­ing back 70 yards to his own goal to block a Bradford Park Av­enue counter-at­tack, with what seemed like a cer­tain goal as three Av­enue cow­ards con­verged on Hinch­liffe’s goal.

Af­ter the for­mer Chor­ley winger had taken in the ap­plause of the near four thou­sand home sup­port­ers, Stephen­son duly went on to dou­ble County’s lead.

Warburton re­turned the favour ear­lier paid to him by Stephen­son, rolling the ball into the area for the Ja­maican for­ward to spin and fire past Atkin­son, via the fin­ger­tips of the young ‘keeper.

But Gan­non’s un­playable County weren’t fin­ished - Stott headed sub­sti­tute El­liot Os­borne’s cor­ner onto the cross­bar min­utes later, and de­spite Atkin­son gath­er­ing the re­bound, The Hat­ters’ third goal im­me­di­ately fol­lowed in com­i­cal fash­ion.

With seem­ingly the en­tire pop­u­la­tion of Edge­ley Park aware of what was about to hap­pen - in­clud­ing a fran­tic Av­enue bench who were all on their feet des­per­ately at­tempt­ing to warn their young goal­keeper - Atkin­son rolled the ball out of his arms to launch it up­field.

Sick­en­ingly for the vis­i­tors, their for­mer striker Mul­h­ern was stood di­rectly be­hind Atkin­son and pounced to roll into the empty net.

And again County piled for­ward in droves, with Warburton thun­der­ing an ef­fort off the cross­bar from the kick-off, be­fore sub­sti­tute Con­nor Di­maio - re­turn­ing to the se­nior side for the first time since the FA Cup de­feat at Bar­net, twice went close late on.

But their fourth con­sec­u­tive win and clean sheet was soon con­firmed for the im­pres­sive Hat­ters, who main­tained their po­si­tion in third head­ing into their FA Tro­phy clash with Na­tional League South side Truro at Edge­ley Park on Satur­day.

It has proven to be yet an­other suc­cess­ful af­ter­noon of league foot­ball for Gan­non’s pro­mo­tion hope­fuls, who look set to fi­nally give a ti­tle chal­lenge a real go - sweep­ing aside sev­eral of their pro­mo­tion ri­vals in re­cent weeks, and not look­ing like slow­ing any time soon.

COUNTY LINE-UP (4-2-3-1): Hinch­liffe, Mini­han, Duxbury, Keane, Palmer, Stott, Thomas, Turn­bull (C) (Os­borne, 70), Mul­h­ern (Bell, 78), Warburton (Di­maio, 80), Stephen­son

AT­TEN­DANCE: 4,105 (136 away)

●LAST week’s re­port of County’s game against Kid­der­min­ster Har­ri­ers was writ­ten by Gareth Evans and wrongly cred­ited to Sam Byrne.

Www.mpho­to­graphic.co.uk

●Dar­ren Stephen­son cel­e­brates af­ter scor­ing

Www.mpho­to­graphic.co.uk

●Matty Warburton en­joys his goal

Www.mpho­to­graphic.co.uk

●Frank Mul­h­ern. cel­e­brates his goal in the 3-0 win against Bradford Park Av­enue

●Sam Mini­han

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