Blyth Spartans 0-1 Stockport County: Ball goal strengthens Hatters’ play-off place

County celebrate Jimmy Ball's goal
Stockport County players celebrate Jimmy Ball's goal (

Jimmy Ball’s volley on the stroke of half-time gave Stockport County victory at Blyth Spartans in their final away game of the regular season.

They are in fifth spot in National League North and almost guaranteed a home draw in the play-offs.

As had been the case at Chorley four days previously, the Hatters had to demonstrate considerable character during the later stages in withstanding pressure from their hosts managed by former County star Alun Armstrong.

Armstrong’s one-time team-mate, and fellow Edgeley Park legend, Jim Gannon made just one change to his squad from the Chorley match, which had secured a play-off slot.

Rhys Turner was ruled out with a groin strain, but leading scorer Jason Oswell had recovered from injury and, consequently, took his place within a 4-2-3-1 starting formation.

Jim Gannon talks to former Hatter Alun Armstrong before kick-off (

County began the contest with a brightness to match the glorious spring sunshine at Croft Park bathed, although the first chances fell to the hosts, as Dan Maguire’s snap-shot from the edge of the box narrowly cleared the crossbar and Sean Reid fired well over from further out.

Around the midway-point of the first half, Matty Warburton was played through on goal by Paul Turnbull’s lofted long ball – but, having chipped goalkeeper Peter Jameson, saw his effort loop over the bar.

Warburton was then to blast a subsequent attempt high, a few minutes after Harry Winter had sent a low drive shy of the left post.

What the game had lacked was a shot on target at either end – until the 33rd minute, that is, when Ball cut in from the right, and drilled a shot that Jameson turned around the near upright.

Then, from the resulting corner, County also went close – as Chris Smalley connected with a downward header that took a bounce on the hard pitch before striking the bar.

Five minutes before half-time, County had the ball in the net after Turnbull chipped to Warburton, who fed Oswell for a shot past Jameson – only for the returning striker to be flagged offside.

But towards the end of added time, the Hatters took the lead for real.

Their seventh corner of the afternoon – delivered by Adam Thomas from the right – eventually went out of play on the far side for a throw-in.

Duxbury took the throw, Oswell flicked it on, and Ball, from 15 yards out, unleashed his first-time shot past Jameson with what turned out to be a notable last kick of the half.

The Spartans showed that they had reserves of energy to spare upon the resumption as Reid shot over before going closer with a header wide of the left post.

The hosts were interrupted in their cause by three enforced substitutions during the course of the second half – although one of the replacements, Adam Wrightson, was especially lively.

After 71 minutes, the diminutive striker looked for all the world to have brought his side level with Blyth’s first attempt on target, but Ben Hinchliffe brilliantly parried the shot past the right post.

Paul Turnbull chases the ball down
Paul Turnbull chases the ball down (

Over the final 15 minutes of normal time, County’s defence stood firm to repel three free-kicks by home captain Robbie Dale, together with the same number of corners.

And in five minutes’ added time that became more than eight, following a late injury to Nathan Buddle, Michael Liddle – who had scored one of his side’s late, late goals to win at EP more than six months earlier – let rip with a shot from distance that Hinchliffe was on his toes to catch, thereby denying the hosts what would have been only their second draw of the entire campaign.

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