AT the end of last season, STOCKPORT COUNTY manager Jim Gannon knew exactly who he wanted to build his team around as he prepared for his first close-season back at the Hatters’ helm.
Just 6 days after AFC Fylde were beaten by North Ferriby in the National League North play-off final, County announced the signing of forward Danny Lloyd from the Coasters. In the previous 3 seasons, Lloyd scored 61 goals for Fylde. And despite being in and out of the starting line-up last term, he still managed 15.
Lloyd looked to be setting himself up for a fall when he ‘guaranteed goals’ but he has certainly lived up to the hype. The Hatters’ top scorer had gone 4 games without a goal before ending that mini-drought with a 1st-half brace in last week’s 3-1 home win against local rivals Curzon Ashton.
County had an even bigger derby on Saturday away to promotion rivals SALFORD CITY and Lloyd gave them an early lead. It was another superbly-taken strike by the 25-year-old, an angled drive into pretty much the only spot in which he could have scored for his 24th goal of the season.
Salford’s 2nd-half pressure resulted in a late penalty for sub Richie Allen, which claimed a 1-1 draw and kept the Ammies in 2nd place. County remain 6th, one point outside the play-off places, and they face another test of their promotion credentials as they visit league leaders Fylde tomorrow night (Tuesday). Lloyd will be crucial to County’s cause when they face his former club but Gannon insists they are no one-man team.
“Danny took the goal well, as always,” said the County boss. “He’s a good player and a confident lad. We can get caught up on Danny and his goals but we are putting we’re in a position to win games because of his goals. But it’s also because we give Danny good service and the team is strong enough. Yes, he’s been important to us, but it’s not a one-man team. Even Danny will admit that.”
Lloyd helped Fylde win promotion from the Evo-Stik Premier in 2014, and then reach the National League North play-offs in 2015 and 2016. So too did keeper Ben Hinchliffe before both joined County last summer.
Lloyd said at the time: “Fylde do things properly, they’re very professional and very thorough. Their new stadium at Mill Farm will really put them on the map and I wish them all the best. I just knew it was time for me to move on. I had a feeling halfway through the season that I needed to leave so this is a good time for us to part ways. I’m looking forward to going back there and playing against them in that new stadium.
“He (Gannon) is very upbeat and keen to instil his football values,” Lloyd added. “There’s nothing better than to feel wanted as a player and I’m looking forward to getting started and repaying his faith in me with a strong season.”
He’s certainly done that, helping the Hatters to the cusp of the play-offs, while Fylde, who have ex-County and Bury defenders Dave Challinor and Colin Woodthorpe as their managerial duo, have topped the table for most of the campaign. Former County striker Danny Rowe has scored a whopping 40 league goals, with Dan Bradley adding 17 to put them 11 points clear of Salford and Kidderminster with 8 games left.
County are 4 points further back but will be buoyed by the fact Fylde needed 2 late goals by Bradley and Matt Blinkhorn to rescue a 2-2 draw at home to Kidderminster on Saturday. Salford also have a huge game tomorrow night as they host 4th-placed Chorley.
“We’re all playing each other so not everybody’s going to win,” said Gannon. “We’ve got a tough period now. Salford have probably got one too. Previous form is nothing to go by, it’s how you learn and grow over the season, and I think we’re in a good place at the moment. We’re disappointed we didn’t take 3 points from Saturday but I think we showed we’re capable of winning those games.
“We’re growing and hopefully we can get a little bit more out of the lads in the next 8 games. They’ve learned from their experiences, kept moving forward and kept picking up points. And if they play like that and put that resilience in for most of the games, I’ll think we’ll be in the play-offs.”
Joint Salford manager Bernard Morley also felt his side could have won Saturday’s game, which goes to show how determined both the Ammies and County are to secure a play-off spot and keep their promotion dreams alive.
“It was only a matter of time before we equalised and we were unfortunate not to go on and win the game,” he said. “I think we’d both have taken a point. Darlington (who went 5th) were the only side in the top 7 to win on Saturday so on paper it’s not a bad point.”
On-loan Fleetwood striker Nick Haughton, who like goalscorer Allen impressed off the bench for the Ammies, added: “The managers tell you to impact the game when you come on and that’s what the subs did. We could have nicked a winner in the end but we’ll take the point. We’ll take that onto Tuesday now and hopefully get the 3 points. Chorley will be looking for a win after losing on Saturday so it’s a massive game.”