FA Trophy semi-final: Stockport County 2-3 AFC Fylde

Adam Thomas on the ball for Stockport County
Adam Thomas on the ball for Stockport County

Stockport County missed out on an FA Trophy final when Alex Reid’s late winner sent AFC Fylde to Wembley.

More than 6,000 people watched the dramatic second leg as the National League side finally squeezed through when three goals were scored in the final five minutes.

The Hatters’ starting 11 was unchanged from the first leg that had ended goalless, although Frank Mulhern returned to the squad and was named among the substitutes following his one-match FA Trophy-suspension.

A corner for County – awarded after 27 seconds, but taken a couple of minutes later following a facial injury to Jordan Tunnicliffe – led to an early penalty shout, after Darren Stephenson’s shot hit the arm of visiting captain Neill Byrne, but play was waved on by the referee.

A packed Cheadle End look on after Nyal Bell's opener against Fylde
A packed Cheadle End look on after Nyal Bell’s opener against Fylde (www.mphotographic.co.uk)

The Hatters ontinued in attacking vein, as Scott Duxbury connected with an Elliot Osborne cross from the right to head straight at goalkeeper Jay Lynch, and Jordan Keane screwed a shot wide of the right post, before they took the lead with 25 minutes played.

Duxbury began the move from County’s half – breaking up a Fylde attack to feed Stephenson, who, in turn on the left flank, released Nyal Bell.

The striker then twisted and turned towards the box, created some space for himself and unleashed a low shot past Lynch into the bottom-right corner.

Within two minutes, the ‘Coasters’ were almost level courtesy of ex-Hatter Danny L Rowe’s free-kick from 30 yards that struck the crossbar.

And in the immediate follow-up, they had a penalty claim turned down, after Danny Philliskirk went to ground under a challenge by Duxbury.

County had the ball in the net for a second time within seven minutes, as Palmer headed home Sam Walker’s corner from the right, but the acting skipper’s effort was ruled out for a push – again on Philliskirk – in the build-up.

As half-time approached, the Hatters sat deep as Fylde pressed – and, with four minutes of the half remaining, Ben Hinchliffe had to be at his best in tipping past the left upright Nick Haughton’s snap-shot from the edge of the box.

The visitors started the second half much as they had ended the first, albeit without translating their possession into clear-cut chances.

Matty Warburton was introduced a minute ahead of the hour – and his first contribution, by way of an angled shot from the left, was parried by Lynch.

But shortly afterwards, and following their first corner of the half, the Coasters were awarded a penalty when James Hardy was fouled by Duxbury and Rowe duly stepped up, drilling his spot-kick to Hinchliffe’s left to equalise.

Free-kicks and corners provided the basis for best chances on the part of each side over the following 20-minute period, before a subsequent, and far shorter, spell that led to three goals.

With 85 minutes on the clock, Zaine Francis-Angol’s low cross from the left was fired past Hinchliffe from 12 yards by Ryan Croasdale – only for Palmer, three minutes later, to bundle home Osborne’s in-swinging corner.

And straight from the kick-off, Hardy weaved his way into County’s area – ahead of a challenge that saw the ball fall to Reid, who curled the game’s ultimate decider in off the post.

Jordan Keane on the ball for Stockport County
Jordan Keane on the ball for Stockport County (www.mphotographic.co.uk)