Stockport County brought 2016 to a happy end with victory at Harrogate, to chalk up a first Boxing Day win for three years and complete December of this one with a hundred per cent record in all competitions.
County’s fifth successive win, which also broke a league duck at Wetherby Road, came courtesy of a 40-yard chip by Courtney Meppen-Walters, shortly after his introduction as a substitute.
The Hatters took to the artificial 3G field with just one change from their starting line-up against Altrincham nine days earlier. Mark Ross returning to replace Kaine Felix within a 4-2-3-1 formation.
Kicking off with the wind behind them in blustery conditions, the Hatters almost took the lead after five minutes when Michael Clarke headed Jimmy Ball’s free kick against the bar.
A rather bizarre, but appropriately festive, interruption was ordered on the half-hour, when the County goalmouth required clearing of yellow and black balloons released by home supporters from the stand behind!
The remainder of the half saw both sides send shots narrowly wide – with Harrogate’s Joe Leesley and leading scorer Jon-Paul Pittman, as well as the recalled County Captain, Ross, just off target at the respective ends.
The hosts seized the momentum upon the resumption, forcing a succession of corners as they camped out for long spells in County’s half following the break.
But, in the course of a rare foray forward by the Hatters after 69 minutes, a mix-up in the Harrogate defence saw goalkeeper Peter Crook – donning the gloves for a league contest for the first time in over six weeks – emerge from his area and misjudge a header back from Joe Colbeck.
As the hosts struggled to clear their lines, the newly-introduced Meppen-Walters made his first contribution of note an especially telling one from distance – with the wind holding up the substitute’s shot before it soared into the net.
Meppen-Walters had been on the pitch for only three minutes, which, rather spookily, was the same amount of time that it took Felix as a second-half replacement to score the only goal against Gloucester when the Hatters were last on their travels.
Harrogate continued to press in the closing stages, but the County defence held firm to make sure of victory – a result that takes the Hatters into the new year within two points of the play-off positions.
FULL-TIME: Harrogate 0, County 1 (Meppen-Walters 69)
County: Hinchliffe, Ross (Capt.), Duxbury, Montrose, Clarke, Smalley, Minihan (Meppen-Walters, 66), Stopforth, Odejayi (Amis, 72), Ball, Lloyd (Felix, 89).
Unused subs: Ormson, Marsden.