Stockport County 1 Preston North End 2 ( Friendly- 15 July 2017)
I came away from this one in a really positive mood...not only had County done battle with mighty Preston North End of the Country's second tier, The Championship, but they had more than held their own in a tightly contested game , shaded 1-2 by the Lancashire side.
It was a really decent performance from County, particularly so because Preston fielded their first team, minus the injured keeper Declan Rudd ,Tom Clarke and Josh Harrop, for much of the game, and only snatched the lead with 5 minutes left of the first half.
The County players and their Manager, will be well satisfied with this showing, none more so than Michael Clarke who I thought was excellent throughout- always in control and cool as the proverbial....
|Clarke in imperious form !|
Michael had Chris Smalley back alongside him and that was good to see.
|Smalley- back and looking good.|
The threat from Preston came down our left flank where Hampson, with Melle Barkhuizen on his case in the first half, had a torrid time of it.
|Hampson works at it......|
On the other flank at the back, Dan Cowan shaped up well , perhaps understandably concentrating on matters defensive rather than launching himself. The second half , with Sam Minihan on, gave Dan a chance to push on, and it showed he could do that well enough.
|Sam Minihan -good to see him back !|
Elsewhere...Oswell looked lively and combative, and not put off at all by the exalted company on the park , and his goal was just reward for his efforts, while midfielders Walker, Winter and Warburton worked a real shift .
|Warburton on the ball watched by Oswell.|
To sum up....impressive from County...and from Preston too. They came to play football and certainly did that, and were supported in that by over 400 Lancastrians who were housed in the Pop Side .
|Good turn out from Lancashire!|
Preston settled into some nice passing movements early on, forcing County onto the back foot, and we might have seen the Lancashire side take the lead just a couple of minutes in but for Dan Cowan who, defending like a demon, cleared the ball off the line after Barkhuizen had beaten Hampson and pinged in his cross cum shot.
County broke up the park next and I swear I am correct in saying County should have had a penalty as Warburton was brought crashing down in the box. It most definitely was IN the box ,but conforming to a fine refereeing tradition, Mr Hull awarded County a free kick several millimetres outside the box! The kick went straight into keeper Maxwell's hands to compound the angst.
|A couple of millimetres at best......|
The Championship side re-doubled their efforts after that last action, and Walker did ever so well to block Robinson's run in a crowded County last third. Hinchliffe did even better holding onto a follow up effort from the same forward.
|Smalley covers Barkhuizen run.|
Barkhuizen was having a worryingly good game down the right for North End, and only his finishing was letting him down , as he lifted his shot high into the Cheadle End after battling his way into the box.
|Clarke and Winter cover a North End attack.|
Next minute Cowan was on hand again ,doing great work to stop Pringle reaching Barkhuizen with his deep cross to the back post.
This was a real test for County, but they were showing that they were up to the task!
Preston were working hard at getting an opening goal, but with all barring Oswell and Warburton behind the ball when needed, the visitors progress was limited to shots from the edge or outside the box where efforts from Barkhuizen and Johnson only served to get us ducking in Row R.
On it went in the same vein....Barkhuizen shooting wide..... Robinson blocked by the immaculate Clarke.....Barkhuizen thwarted again this time via an excellent Hinchliffe save after the lanky wide man had run through Winter and Cowan as if they weren't there.
Preston probably should have been leading at this point, with 28 minutes gone, but they weren't , and a foul on Warburton teed County up to make them rue their lack of finishing power.
The kick was good and Stephenson was narrowly prevented from getting a surprise goal on the end of it. The ball however was not wholly cleared and County wanted it....got it...and did something with it as Oswell rifled a beauty home in front of the away support.
This stung Preston , and another link up twixt the dangerous duo- Robinson and Barkhuizen, was only thwarted by more excellence from Clarke as Robinson strove to reach a tasty ball in the box.
County were by no means done, indeed they might well have doubled their advantage had not Lady Luck's fashion accessory not hit them amidships. First off Ball had an effort saved by Maxwell at his near post...
|Ball a go go !|
.....then an almighty melee ensued in the North End box with Oswell and Warburton striving to add the vital touch to some dangerous County attacking play.
|Oh so close for Warburton....|
But......and bugger.....from all out attack....we switched to a head long rush back in the direction of Hinchliffe as Barkhuizen broke clear before teeing Robinson up to beat the County keeper with a cool finish!
1-1then, and I was half anticipating that Preston might rest on their laurels a touch ( see any flaw at all folks in my reasoning so far?)
In fact ...what happened was that Preston attacked again, and Hinchliffe had to make a fine save to stop Robinson doubling his personal account!
It was good play from Preston , and good football as well, and with 5 minutes left of the half they got their reward, as Barkhuizen darted clear to plant a neat strike into the County net .
With the half almost over, County almost equalised. A fine break from Warburton added nicely to the work done by himself and Walker in turning deep defence into rapid attack. Warburton could not get past North End's defensive wall, and although Oswell tried with a follow up effort, this too was close but not quite close enough!
One down at half time to a decent Championship side was not a bad return at all...in fact a very good one!
The only changes for County after the break were Ormson for Hinchliffe....Minihan for Winter and Duxbury was in for Hampson.
Good work from Stephenson and Warburton was rendered null when the referee awarded a goal kick after Andy Boyle had put the ball out for a corner with Stephenson on fire in the box.
That was more than disappointing....and this feeling was compounded when Stephenson's efforts received further scant reward, as his shot flew inches wide with Maxwell straining impotently to reach it!
Preston were still putting decent attacks together, mainly via Daryl Horgan on the left, who I made their M.O.M along with Barkhuisen. The crosses just kept on coming from Horgan , but without anyone applying the necessary finish. Add to this the fact that the good passing disciplines Preston had relaxed into before the break, were now going somewhat for a bucket of chalk at times gifting County some good possession.
For County the main attacking responses came from Duxbury , and Oswell went close to heading home from a corner created by one such Duxbury run- he was showing great tenacity!
|Duxbury- tenacious 1|
We were still however in danger of getting caught out occasionally and ,65 minutes in, Ormson was in action tipping the ball over the bar at the very last gasp as it swung in from the right.
With Thomas on for Stephenson and Brazel for Oswell, County kept trying to get that equaliser, and they very nearly did it via a gritty run by Duxbury , as he linked up with Walker and Warburton.
|North End feel the pressure !|
A foul gave County a free kick, and almost that goal, but the ball instead flashed inches in front of Clarke and Thomas in front of goal!
|Free kick on the way !|
County kept it up...another Duxbury run.....one from Minihan that saw Maxwell snaffle the pill under pressure at the back post.
It was good stuff ,and for North End there was still Horgan, and he was still pinging the crosses over 13 to the dozen( but with the same end result). He even had a chance to show his colleagues just how it is done , but latching onto Vermijl's through ball, he could only emulate his team mates by lifting his shot over the bar.
West and Etches were now on for County replacing Warburton and Ball , and the young pair ran about to good effect without reward.
|Thomas, West & Etches working hard.|
A save by Ormson from Ben Davies ended the game's meaningful action.
Soon enough the referee blew for time and both teams left to applause after what had been as good a test as James might have wished for, for his team.
It was not bad entertainment either.
See you at Ashton on Tuesday I hope!
Stockport County line up:
Hinchliffe( Ormson 45),Cowan, Clarke, Smalley, Hampson ( Duxbury 45),Winter ( Minihan 45), Ball ( Etches 80), Walker, Oswell ( Brazel 75), Warburton ( West 81), Stephenson ( Thomas 68).
Preston North End teams;-
Maxwell, Grimshaw, Huntington, Spurr, Earl, Pearson, Johnson, Barkhuizen, Pringle, Robinson, May.
Maxwell, Vermijl, Boyle, Davies, Cunningham, Mellensteen, Gallagher, Browne, Horgan, Doyle, Huggil.