The Hatters safely negotiated their way into Monday’s 1pm draw for the FA Cup third qualifying round after edging out near-neighbours Curzon Ashton thanks to an Adam Thomas goal at Edgeley Park.
But, in a contest of relatively few chances, they could quite well have needed to make plans for a replay at the Tameside Stadium with only the County goal’s woodwork standing between the ‘Nash’ and a draw in the dying seconds of the tie.
There was little to be found by way of FA Cup magic in the first half – which, had it ended after 40 minutes, would have recorded a complete absence of shots on target.
As it happened, the visitors did then offer Ben Hinchliffe some stopping practice, courtesy of low strikes from the edge of the box by Joe Guest and James Baillie.
And just ahead of added time, Thomas went close for County when his glanced header from Sam Walker’s corner took a deflection behind.
County made a change upon the resumption – bringing on Gary Stopforth for Matty Warburton, who had come off worst in an early 50-50 challenge with Daniel Shaw.
Within six minutes, the Hatters put together an excellent move that led to their first on-target attempt.
Visiting goalkeeper Cameron Mason did well to parry Walker’s thunderbolt of a shot from 18 yards, after Dan Cowan’s right-sided cross had been squared to Walker by Jason Oswell.
And a minute later they took the lead as acting captain Stephen O’Halloran’s cross on the left found Oswell, who, in turn, teed the ball up for Thomas to swivel and blast home a right-footed shot from inside the Curzon ‘D’.
County’s performance had become much livelier, and even the onset of a heavy second-half shower could not dampen the attacking initiative.
A low drive by Minihan fizzed just wide of the left post. Oswell headed over the third of three corners won by the Hatters in as many minutes – before meeting, and firing over, a Duxbury cross from the left.
And Duxbury transformed himself from provider to marksman – drilling a shot narrowly shy of the right upright.
In the final minute of added time, nerves were pinging after Smalley fouled Niall Cummins just outside the area.
The delivery by Crothers was punched out by Hinchliffe but, before County could fully clear, Matthew Regan struck the crossbar with the return.
FULL-TIME: County 1 (Thomas, 52), Curzon Ashton 0
Team: Hinchliffe, Minihan, Duxbury, Cowan, Smalley, O’Halloran (Capt.), Thomas (McKenna, 66), S Walker, Oswell, Warburton (Stopforth, 46), Dixon (Hampson, 78). Unused Subs: Smith, Stephenson, T Walker, West.
Man of the Match: Thomas.
Attendance: 1,922 (73 away).