Darlington 0-1 Stockport County: Bell strike decisive in the north east

Nyal Bell. Darlington FC 0-1 Stockport County FC. Vanarama National League North. 29.9.18
Stockport County players celebrate their goal

The Hatters returned to National League North action and moved back up into the top 10 with a first win against Darlington in more than six years.

And for the second successive Saturday, following triumph at South Shields in the FA Cup seven days earlier, the decisive strike that ensured they returned home from the north east victorious was converted by Nyal Bell.

On their second visit inside a year to Darlington’s latest home, Blackwell Meadows, the Hatters made the early running – earning four corners in the opening 10 minutes.

The first two came following shots from Bell and Sam Walker that, respectively, were deflected past the left upright  by Terry Galbraith and tipped over by goalkeeper Jonny Maddison.

Nyal Bell. Darlington FC 0-1 Stockport County FC. Vanarama National League North. 29.9.18
Nyal Bell celebrates his goal at Darlington (www.mphotographic.co.uk

But in the 11th, the Quakers should have taken the lead, following a break that saw captain Reece Styche one-on-one with Ben Hinchliffe.

Thankfully, for Hinchliffe and the Hatters, Styche executed a weak chip, which was comfortably, and gratefully, caught by County’s Number One.

Styche fired two subsequent opportunities high, and was dangerously close to applying a final touch to a header across the goalmouth from the left by Harvey Saunders. The home skipper’s misses were to prove all the more costly, when, with 29 minutes played, the Hatters went ahead.

Bell’s turn and low shot from 12 yards into the bottom-right corner ultimately did the trick, although Darren Stephenson also deserved great credit for his excellent work on, and cross from, the left that set up the former Gateshead striker for his third goal of the season in all competitions.

The Hatters went close to extending their advantage on two occasions before the interval – with Warburton half-volleying narrowly over and on to the top of the net, before Stephenson, having collected a knock-down from Bell, blasted wide of the right post.

County switched to a back three upon the resumption, as Stott replaced Jordan Keane, who, just ahead of half-time whilst on a yellow card, had been rather fortunate to escape further punishment for handball.

The hosts, in their quest to get back on level terms, brought on defender-turned-striker Simon Ainge, who, like attacking partner Styche, had scored a brace against County during the previous campaign for his most recent former club (Harrogate Town, in Ainge’s case).

With four minutes remaining, the Quakers went closer – courtesy of Joe Wheatley’s free-kick from the left of County’s box that was parried away by Hinchliffe.

But the Hatters deservedly held out for a first-ever success at Blackwell Meadows, as well as their second clean sheet and fourth league victory of the campaign.