Curzon Ashton 1, Stockport County 2: Clarke strikes late for the Hatters

Stockport County celebrate their late winner

Stockport County fought back from a goal behind to claim all three points against Curzon Ashton thanks to late goals from two defenders.

Substitute Sam Minihan equalised with a diving header to cancel out Niall Cummins’ opening headed goal of the match – before Michael Clarke, with his second successful strike in as many games, rifled home County’s winner in added time.

The Hatters – resplendent in their white, black and orange kit – lined up with an attacking 4-3-3 formation showing four changes from the side that had taken to the field in the FA Cup against Hyde a week previously.

Chris Smalley, Gary Stopforth, Josh Amis and John Marsden were the players recalled – replacing Minihan, as well as Courtney Meppen-Walters, Kay Odejayi and Scott Spencer.

Both of last season’s matches between County and the ‘Nash’ ended without a single goal between the two sides.

And their first encounter of the current campaign began in similar vein, with precious few clear-cut chances during an opening 45 minutes in which the Hatters enjoyed more possession, and monopolised the corner-count, but only mustered one attempt – in the form of a snap-shot by Marsden – that seriously tested home goalkeeper and captain Hakan Burton.

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The second half began in feisty fashion, with County having a penalty appeal, for handball by Connor Hampson, turned down – and four of the game’s five yellow cards being brandished within a 10-minute spell leading up to the hour.

The Hatters proceeded to dominate affairs – but after 71 minutes fell behind against the run of play when veteran Alex Brown, who had been brought on as the hosts’ first replacement, picked out Hampson on the left and the latter’s cross was nodded in by Cummins.

Six minutes later, Curzon almost doubled the lead when Ben Hinchliffe parried a shot from another substitute, James Baillie, around the left post. And County’s Number One was to save County again on the 90-minute mark when he dived to block a shot from Cummins on the turn.

But by that time the Hatters were level – with Minihan, seven minutes earlier, having headed Marsden’s cross from the left into the bottom near-corner, for his first goal in a County shirt.

And Clarke popped up two minutes into added time to shoot through a packed defence, after the hosts had failed to clear Danny Lloyd’s corner and a follow-up header by Smalley – sending a sizeable proportion of the crowd happily on their homeward journeys from Ashton-under-Lyne in the general direction of SK3.

Stockport County: Hinchliffe, Ross (Capt.), Duxbury, Montrose (Minihan, 75), Clarke, Smalley, Ball (Rule, 46), Stopforth, Amis (Odejayi, 65), Marsden, Lloyd; Unused Subs: Ormson, Meppen-Walters; Booked: Amis; Attendance: 964.