Covid, Cups and Life on the Road, part two: Reviewing December 2020

Welcome to part two of the December review, we left part one after the lethargic loss to Notts County and we moved onto the FA Trophy the following weekend. A competition which most feel is, considering the fixture pile-up, one we could do with being knocked out of early. The team was also back at Edgeley Park after what seemed like about six months and as expected Jim Gannon made several changes with squad players Josh Barnes, Macauley Southam-Hales, Ryan Croasdale, Louis Britton, and Harvey Gilmour all starting. 

We could be forgiven for thinking the players were of the same negative opinion as the fans where the Trophy was concerned. While Guiseley weren’t the better side at any point, County were the same weak and moribund version of themselves which lost the previous game, although some slack can be cut here as the bulk of the side had never played together competitively before. Still, Guiseley were a division below and one would expect County to win comfortably and when, against the run of play, County conceded a very soft goal as Barnes was punished for his hesitancy in the County goal, it seemed as though the majority of peoples wishes would come true. 

The rain fell in the second half and reached monsoon proportions as the minutes ticked away, but still the makeshift County side couldn’t force their way through. Maybe the penalty and red card were the slice of luck we needed, the latter certainly changed the game. Alex Reid could have done with a slice of luck as he blazed the penalty into upper tier 4. From that point on though it was all County; Kitching and substitutes Rooney, Minihan, and Williams all combined to give County the boost they needed. In fact, if the final score had been 5-1 I don’t think we could have complained as County went close to scoring on several occasions. Guiseley were unable to get out of their own half the longer the game went on and County displayed a crafty ruthlessness to get the job done, with Rooney’s superb finish the icing on a decent afternoon’s work. It may be a competition we could do without but it provided a much needed injection of delight after the Notts defeat. 

Photo: Stockport County

The delight, however, was short-lived. In fact, it lasted about 15 minutes into the Hartlepool United game. Not only had County conceded an early goal, but perennial fan’s favourite, referee Paul Marsden fell from atop of many County fan’s Christmas card list by sending off Ash Palmer for a very debatable high challenge. In real time it looked questionable, seeing it a couple of times on the highlights makes it all the more infuriating. The game, as a contest, was over from that point as County defended their goal to see the half out just one behind. It was absolutely over within ten minutes of the second half as Hartlepool stunned a shell-shocked County with two more goals. In hindsight, that point was as good as the evening got for the team, manager and fans. What followed was as repugnant a stain as we have come across this season, both from players and fans. John Rooney found himself the recipient of the referee’s second red card of the evening after abusing the linesman, unfortunately for Rooney, his outburst was quite audible to the viewing public and frustration doesn’t excuse the sheer idiocy of his actions. Not only did he let himself down, but also the remaining nine teammates left to keep the score down for the last third of the game. The score ended up 4-0, not bad given the circumstances; as bizarre as that sounds. 

Jim Gannon’s post-match interview, delivered with a stony face and arms folded, could have stripped paint from 100 yards. He lamented ‘resistance’ from certain players who seem to be not so keen on adapting to a new club philosophy, according to the gaffer, this had been apparent from a ‘couple of incidents in the summer’. Furthermore, he had also been concerned by the attitude of a couple of players during half time at Hartlepool. All in all a thoroughly forgettable night in the north east, but more was to follow. 

I’ll try to not give the morons who purport their brand of divisive shite any more recognition than they’ve already received. Their energy would be better spent supporting and encouraging the team and it’s a shame that some fans, in the knowledge they’re hiding behind a screen, want to spread lies and potentially libelous accusations about players and the management, especially after a couple of demoralising defeats. It’s difficult to fathom what exactly they want to gain from it, how lacking in self-esteem and self-confidence does one have to be to stoop to genital parasite levels of crass annoyance like this? Fortunately, Liam Hogan set some of the record straight via Twitter when he laughed off the transfer request rumour, hopefully, the experience will serve to galvanise the rest of the squad for a tough Christmas slate of games.   

What would have been a near sell-out at Altrincham on Boxing Day was reduced to an eerie, miserable game on a weather-beaten pitch, illuminated by sub-standard floodlights. The game, for those of us who got to witness it due to problems with the stream, gave us another example of County’s current general lethargy and timidness in attack. Yes, they missed Rooney’s creativity and did fashion out some decent chances, particularly in the second half, but without Bennett (who’s absence, even as a substitute, was baffling) we lacked a focal point of the attack, and considering the state of the pitch, maybe the direct ball would have been more justified. 

The home side’s goal, on the counter after some poor recovery work following a County corner, was against the run of play. Macauley Southam-Hales produced a decent cameo and Connor Jennings netted the deserved equaliser with seven minutes remaining, but it was difficult to pick out a stand out performance and County will surely view this as two points dropped, considering the way Altrincham were prepared to play on the counter-attack and offering little threat in doing so and also considering County’s possessional superiority. 

If they had shown a little more desire, craft and bravery, the three points would surely have been secured with a minimum of fuss. For 80 odd minutes, County showed they can dominate a game, but had literally no end product and found an Altrincham defence not even having to get out of second gear to defend our flaccid attack. However, given the mini-points drought we have found ourselves in recently, a point was gratefully accepted, especially against a team in good form and with a three-game home run on the horizon. Altrincham would be due to visit EP just a week later, and an undefeated run by the time we face West Ham United in the FA Cup is a must to maintain consistency and raise the spirits of fans and players.  

Photo: Stockport County

A home game against Wrexham was the next of the festive fixtures and we were treated to an aggressive and confident first half display not seen since the Covid break. After the defeats, sendings off, arguments and general downtrodden mood, it was a delight to see exactly what County are capable of. Wrexham simply had no answer, and it’s a fair argument to state that the rest of the league would struggle to cope against a County side in such domineering form. The first goal, a product of some lovely one-touch passing, was this game in a nutshell, and it’s certainly a fine example to the players of what we can produce when a better utilisation of the wing backs is used, rather than aiming for the forehead of Richie Bennett. Southam-Hales followed up a fine substitute appearance on Boxing Day with a sublime shift here, likewise, Jennings, Croasdale, Hogan, Bennett and Jordan Keane all played their part in our best performance of the season. 

The second half saw the other side of County, one we had seen at Rochdale in the FA Cup; resolute, strong and organised. Although Wrexham could have scored on a couple of occasions, so could County, but the damage had been done in the first half. If anyone needed a performance to match the result, it was us, and Gannon was right to praise not only the physical display of teamwork and decisiveness but also the mental one too. Where we have seen dissent, abuse and heads drop in recent weeks, we saw smiles, confidence and spirit in abundance against Wrexham. Now the real test is to perform like this on a consistent basis.

Another week, another government tier review, and again not good news for football fans in Greater Manchester as it was announced on 30th December that we would be moving up into tier four, meaning a return to EP is even more unlikely before Easter. At this point, a return seems about as far away as it’s been since the league suspension in March. 

On the pitch though, County have given us glimpses of both sides of their nature, as we move into the New Year the performance against Wrexham has given us hope that the grim scenes of the few games previous can be put down to teething problems. County are handily placed in fourth with games in hand, Covid could have a large bearing on the conclusion of the season, the aim as I said above is to consistently produce this kind of performance for as long as the season lasts. 


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