Stockport County’s defence of the Cheshire Senior Cup began with a nail-biting test in the first round by Winsford United, who scored late equalisers during both normal time and extra time before, with the score at 4-4, the Hatters finally prevailed on penalties.
Several first-team regulars were rested for the tie against the side from the North West Counties League Premier Division, while 17-year-old attacking midfielder Charlie Wardle, who had been signed late in December, made his County debut.
The Hatters had the ball in the net after 15 minutes, when Josh Amis headed home a looping through-ball from Courtney Meppen-Walters – but the striker was adjudged offside.
County continued to press, and John Marsden stung the hands of William Jones with a rasping shot that the visiting goalkeeper did well to parry over his crossbar.
A goal looked in the offing, and County duly scored it after 27 minutes, thanks to a fine individual run and shot by Kaine Felix who cut in from the left before slotting under Jones.
The Hatters continued to dominate immediately after the break. Jones turned a shot by Meppen-Walters around the right post, and Amis struck the upright after flicking on an effort from half-time substitute Jimmy Ball.
Their lead was then doubled just after the hour-mark, when Marsden’s cross from the left was converted at the far post by Felix for his, and the Hatters’, second goal of the evening.
Winsford reduced the arrears four minutes later with arguably the best strike of the night, courtesy of Scott Taylor’s right-footed curling shot from the left side of the County box. But upon the passing of the next four-minute interval, the Hatters restored their two-goal advantage, as Meppen-Walters turned in a corner from the left at the far post.
With two minutes of normal time remaining, County looked certain to have secured a place in the Second Round.
But a spirited fightback from the visitors saw Lee Duckworth head home their second, and, after Marsden had struck the Winsford crossbar, captain Kyle Riley’s added-time shot brought them on level terms to take the match into a further 30-minute session.
The first period of extra time saw the Hatters regroup to positive effect, and, three minutes from the end of the first period, they regained the lead.
Max Cartwright, fresh from his playing spell at Buxton, cut through two defenders on the left, before finding Marsden whose shot squirmed under the diving Jones.
Jones was to deny Marsden on two further occasions before the second period began, and, following that, saved the visitors again when rushing out of his area to block a break by young substitute striker Callum Scott.
Winsford, just as in normal time, left a decisive strike until two minutes from the end – and had two substitutes to thank for it. A long-range thunderbolt from Liam Collins hit the County bar, and Dean Clarke was quickest to react – firing home to complete a
n eight-goal thriller and require penalties.
The shootout at the Cheadle End saw Meppen-Walters, Ball, Marsden and Mark Ross of County’s first five named takers convert successfully.
And although Cartwright’s spot-kick was saved by Jones, Ian Ormson had already kept out Riley’s.
Ormson did likewise to deny Harry Brazel’s sudden-death attempt, before Michael Clarke stepped up to score and send the Hatters through.