Stockport County’s first appearance in the last four of the FA Trophy saw them produce an impressive performance at Mill Farm against National League AFC Fylde that leaves the sides all-square going into the second leg at Edgeley Park next Saturday.
On a wet and windswept afternoon on the Lancashire coast, County enjoyed the greater share of scoring chances while defending in depth, when required, to restrict opportunities for the hosts.
The Hatters took to the field showing four changes from the line-up that had started at Brackley in the National League North a week previously. Scott Duxbury, Adam Thomas, Nyal Bell and Darren Stephenson were recalled within a 4-2-3-1 formation, replacing Lewis Baines and Dan Cowan – both named among the substitutes – the suspended Frank Mulhern, and Jake Kirby, who is now ruled out by injury for the remainder of the season.
Roared on by a travelling contingent of Hatters who, having bought up all available tickets, outnumbered the home support, County began the tie in lively manner – and went close with just five minutes played after Stephenson ran on to Elliot Osborne’s through-ball, rounded Fylde goalkeeper Jay Lynch and hit the outside of the right post.
Lynch, rather than the woodwork, denied the same player seven minutes later, using his legs to keep out a snap-shot by Stephenson following Thomas’ low cross from the right.
The ‘Coasters’, by contrast, offered little attacking threat in the early stages – with only a deflected shot by Nick Haughton and Serhat Tasdemir’s header into the arms of Ben Hinchliffe to show for their efforts during the first half-hour.
Hinchliffe subsequently needed to be alert in diving to parry James Hardy’s well-struck effort from distance.
Ten minutes ahead of the break, the Hatters almost capitalised on a mistake by Lynch – although Fylde’s Number One recovered from spilling the ball to block Stephenson’s follow-up strike.
The prevailing wind began to help County upon the resumption, as half-a-dozen corners – delivered by Osborne and Sam Walker from the left and right, respectively – within the first 20 minutes after half-time were whipped in with added venom to keep the Coasters under pressure.
But the Hatters also continued to create chances in open play. Thomas squared from the left for Jordan Keane to blast over, before Osborne played in Bell – who advanced towards goal at pace, only to see his shot saved by Lynch.
A Duxbury cross on the left ricocheted off target from Thomas and Osborne, for the second time within 10 minutes, released Bell with a through-ball that the striker drilled just shy of the right post.
For all their endeavour, the Hatters could well have found themselves undeservedly trailing at the tie’s halfway-stage but former Hatter Danny L Rowe fired beyond the left upright, Tom Crawford ballooned an effort over, and, in added time, Hinchliffe brilliantly blocked a point-blank shot by substitute Alex Reid, following Haughton’s cross from the right.
The second leg at EP is this Saturday, kick-off 3pm.