Fan steps into dug-out as Salford City face Stockport County test in the FA Cup

Anthony Johnson and Bernard Morley
Salford City’s joint-managers Anthony Johnson and Bernard Morley (BBC)

SALFORD CITY’s Anthony Johnson is used to going to Edgeley Park as a fan – but he’ll be in the dug-out for Saturday’s FA Cup clash with STOCKPORT COUNTY.

Johnson watched the Hatters on Tuesday night as they suffered an agonising last-gasp defeat against National League North leaders AFC Fylde. And that was his first visit to ‘EP’ since the early 90’s, when he was “a kid watching Bury”.

“I suppose it shows how far they’ve dropped in that time and how quickly Salford have risen because we play at their place in the league next week too,” Johnson told Beyond the Big Two. “For me, Stockport have always been a massive club because I’m a Bury fan and we came up against them so many times over the years. So to be playing them twice in a week at Edgeley Park is a great opportunity for everyone at Salford.

“They’ve fallen on hard times and are struggling to get out of this division but, historically, they’re probably a bigger club than Bury and Rochdale. I love coming to these sides, clubs who’ve been in the league and regularly get crowds over 2,000. It always feels like a big game when you play clubs like that. It’s a different type of test and it’s great walking in through the reception in the main stand.

“Me and Bernard (Morley) have come the other way. We’ve come from the bottom of non-league and worked our way up. We’re used to parking in a school next door and having to climb over gates and fences to get into the ground!”

Johnson played under County’s director of football Alan Lord and alongside their assistant manager Dave Conlon at Atherton Collieries before he and Morley became player-managers at Ramsbottom United. After leaving for Salford in January 2015, they’ve steered the club to back-to-back promotions and last season the Ammies made their best-ever run in the FA Cup, reaching the second round.

Despite playing at step two for the first time, Salford were unbeaten until September 10, although a run of two points from four games has seen them slip to 6th in the table. Stockport are 11th after losing on Tuesday night, when Dan Bradley gave Fylde a half-time lead before County’s Scott Duxbury suffered a head injury. Ten minutes were added and although sub Scott Spencer drew the Hatters level in stoppage time, there was still time for ex-County loanee Danny Rowe to win it 2-1 with a free-kick.

“It was disappointing for Stockport because they were the better side, I was really impressed with them,” Johnson added. “But Fylde did what sides at the top of the table do. We were beating them 3-2 in the 89th minute and they got a draw against us. It’s not just about how well you’re playing and if your top scorer’s scoring, it’s about having resilience and not giving in, and even if you concede in the 93rd minute, you can still get a winner. Losing 2-1 to Fylde is no disgrace and we know we’ll have to be bang at it to get a result on Saturday.

“People will probably make Stockport underdogs because of where we both are in the table but Salford have still got the same ground they had in the North West Counties – and we’re going to Edgeley Park. We’re playing against a massive club and a vociferous crowd. That’s probably something a lot of the lads haven’t been up against before, the noise level. But after we had the taste of last season, with the FA Cup run and being on the TV, it gives it that extra ingredient to want to do it again.”

With Duxbury and Adam Etches joining Adam Thomas and Ryan Ellison on County’s injury list, boss Jim Gannon signed Max Cartwright on Friday. The 20-year-old left-back, who has had a brief spell with FC United since being released by Fleetwood in the summer, has gone straight into the squad to face Salford. Josh Hine and Brad Barnes are nearing full fitness for the Ammies while Harry Worley and Steve O’Halloran could face their former club.

“We’ve not won in four in the league but all of them have come against teams chasing top spot,” Johnson said. “The ones we’ve lost have been by the odd goal so it’s nothing to be too worried about, but it’s not as good as we want it to be.

“Because of the start we had, the expectation levels change with everybody. We lose at Kidderminster and people go ‘whoa, we’re not used to losing’. But the reality is that’s probably going to happen a few more times this season. If someone had said to us that by October 1 we’d have lost only two games all season, I’d have snapped their hands off!”