Jim’s ‘great pride’
COUNTY boss Jim Gannon expressed his “great pride” in his in-form side, as the relentless Hatters moved to within four points of top spot after crushing highflying Bradford PA 3-0 at Edgeley Park.
An early strike by leading marksman Matty Warburton set the tone for a fourth consecutive win, and a fourth consecutive clean sheet, before Darren Stephenson and the quick-thinking Frank Mulhern sealed the memorable win on Saturday.
The comfortable victory moved Gannon’s unstoppable men to just a solitary point behind their visitors last weekend, with National League North leaders Chorley four points above County after conceding a last-gasp equaliser at Hereford.
Saturday’s three points also means that The Hatters have defeated the top two in the division by the same 3-0 scoreline so far this campaign – and Gannon was quick to herald the achievement.
“The one buzz word at the moment is ‘pride’.
“I’m getting shouts from the touchline of how I should be proud of the lads, and it’s clear that the fans are.”
“I’m very proud of what we’re achieving - and we’re restricting top sides to no chances and no goals, which is the difference as opposed to last season.”
After a flawless festive period, which brought about a maximum twelve point haul after wins at Altrincham on Boxing Day and New Year’s Day - with a 1-0 win over Kidderminster coming in between the visit of Mark Bower’s title-chasing Bradford Park Avenue looked a challenging prospect.
But Gannon’s charges looked in control from the first minute, ending the tie with a mammoth 25 attempts on goal compared to the away side’s three.
“We paid Bradford PA a lot of respect, and we saw glimpses of the side they are.”
“But - I feel like I’m saying this a lot - we were just very professional, and it was that professionalism which saw us through.”
After the hard-working Stephenson had drilled County into a two goal lead in the second half, the beaten visitors resorted to a number of heavy challenges on the home side, with skipper Paul Turnbull and striker Mulhern both withdrawn after taking knocks.
But Gannon refused to condemn Avenue, admitting that “frustration probably took over” for Bower’s men - who suffered a first away defeat in four months, as well as failing to score in a league game for the first time in ten months.
“It’s just frustration. We know they had injuries & suspensions coming into the game, but we’re fit enough and well-disciplined enough to the point where we don’t have many players missing, and we benefitted from that.”
“Paul Turnbull was just a bit tight, Frank Mulhern and Jordan (Keane) got a couple of knocks, but we’ve come out it OK in terms of fitness.
“Fortunately, we’ve got a strong bench which enabled us to withdraw some of the lads and give them a rest.”
Much-maligned winger Stephenson came out of the emphatic win with a goal and an assist to his name, as well as a crucial defensive intervention with the game poised at 1-0.
As Bradford broke from a County corner with the pacy ex Hatter Ben McKenna, it was Stephenson
‘I’m getting shouts from the touchline about how I should be proud’
who came racing back towards his own goal to force striker Jake Beesley wide of the target and deny what looked a certain goal - to rapturous applause from the home support.
After a relatively quiet showing up until that point, the former Tranmere man soon had his goal in the moments after his crucial block and ended the afternoon with a standing ovation from the almost 4,000 County supporters in attendance.
“I’m delighted for Darren. Sometimes he overthinks things, but what you saw with the goal was instinct - and that’s what he does in training all the time.”
“He just needs a confidence boost - and what better way than a goal and a win. He’s buzzing, as are all the lads.”
County have now extended their impressive unbeaten run to eight games in all competitions, going without defeat since exiting the FA Cup in a brave 1-0 defeat at National League side Barnet - who have gone on to the fourth round of the competition as the only non-league side still left in the tournament.
The Hatters have incredibly come out the other side of the hectic winter schedule with twenty points from a possible twenty-four, as well as profession in the FA Trophy - all whilst conceding just four goals.
“We headed into a tough spell of nine games in 27 days after the Barnet defeat - and we’ve come out of those nine games with seven wins and six clean sheets, which is massive,” enthused Gannon.
With County looking primed for a title challenge, focus now switches back to the Trophy, with the visit of National League South strugglers Truro City to Edgeley Park on Saturday.
After almost 2,000 County fans travelled to Altrincham on New Year’s Day, another bumper gate of over 4,000 followed in Saturday’s big win - but Gannon had a message for the long-suffering County faithful.
“We want those new fans coming and people coming back who maybe haven’t been in a while, but we’re determined to give those three thousand or so people who’ve been here through thick and thin something to cheer.”
“They’re the people who drive us, and drive me, to make them proud and that’s all we’re looking to do.”
●Frank Mulhern and team-mates celebrate his goal against Bradford PA