Danny Lloyd celebrates scoring against Tamworth

National League North: Stockport County and Curzon Ashton wins help to blow open the promotion race

THERE’S a reason certain sayings become clichés. It’s because they’re quite often true.

It’s at this time of the year that managers start telling us there’ll be lots of ‘twists and turns’ between now and the end of the season. Yes, it’s a cliché. But yes, it’s often the case.

Take Saturday’s results in the National League North, for example.

Long-time leaders AFC Fylde have looked destined to win the league for some time. Kidderminster and SALFORD CITY have been their nearest challengers but even if they managed to keep winning, it didn’t look as though Fylde would slip.

However, after winning 3-1 at Altrincham last Tuesday, mid-table Nuneaton Town upset Fylde 4-1 on Saturday. Having drawn at home to Kidderminster and Stockport in their previous two games, Fylde have only taken two points from a possible 9.

So too have Salford after they lost at 2-0 at Boston United. Harry Vince struck before Salford’s Brad Barnes was shown a 2nd yellow before the break and, despite an improved performance from the Ammies’ 10 men, former Macclesfield defender Nat Brown sealed victory with 17 minutes left.

Top of the National League North
Top of the National League North

STOCKPORT COUNTY boss Jim Gannon thought earlier this month that Fylde, Kidderminster, Salford and FC Halifax had the top 4 places sewn up, so County would be battling it out with Chorley for the final play-off spot.

The reality is now very different. Kidderminster claimed a late 1-0 win over Harrogate Town while Halifax won 3-0 at FC UNITED so they’re well placed. But all of a sudden Fylde and Salford are looking over their shoulders.

And it’s not just Stockport and Chorley fighting to get into the play-offs. CURZON ASHTON seemingly have little to play for as they’re safe in mid-table yet they did local rivals Stockport a huge favour by winning 3-0 at Chorley. Jamie Stott claimed an early opener before Niall Cummins followed it up with a brace before half-time.

Gannon hinted later that he let his players know that scoreline at half-time of their home game against Tamworth, and they went back out and made sure they took full advantage. Captain Mark Ross and top scorer Danny Lloyd (pictured above) struck in the last 18 minutes to see County come from behind for a 2-1 win and sneak into 5th place.

If there’s one accusation that could have been thrown at the Hatters this season, it’s that they haven’t managed to turn enough draws into wins. But given what else happened on Saturday, Gannon knew exactly how important that late fightback could be for their play-off hopes.

“Every point’s going to be important but in the context of what’s happened today in terms of all the other results, it’s a great 3 points,” said the County boss on Saturday. “When you see those results, you couldn’t have predicted some of them.

“In the context of how the 1st half went, it’s a massive win. We just couldn’t get going, we couldn’t find any adrenaline. Tamworth put 2 holding midfielders in and changed their front players. They took a gamble on freshening up their squad and it paid off for them.

“We made a tactical change at half-time, which allowed us to keep the front 3 closer together and it think it worked in terms of getting us up the pitch. Ultimately, when the subs came on the whole mentality and momentum of the game changed.”

Kayode Odejayi replaced fellow striker Sefton Gonzales but Gannon also made an attacking change with Kaine Felix coming on for Chris Smalley.

The County boss said: “The place was a bit down so I thought ‘let’s get a right winger on, let’s up the tempo’. And I think it made the difference. It’s probably the hardest I’ve had to work, and probably the hardest week the lads have had to work, and I can’t give them enough credit. The way they got going 2nd half and saw the game out was very professional.

”It was a magnificent result, especially when you look at half-time and we’ve got to try (to win in it). It was probably our biggest performance of the season. You can talk about mistakes and this, that and the other, but for us to dig a result out at this stage, against a team that was right on our tails, and to win in these circumstances when everybody else was losing is a fantastic testament to the professionalism of our players.”

Gannon added: “That experience will stand us in good stead. There’s a lot of football to be played and we can’t take anything for granted because of the teams below us.

”Our home record’s now better than our away record, which I predicted. I think that’s down to the influence and the energy we’re getting from the players here, and the fans. It was another great turn-out and hopefully there’ll be another next weekend (at home to Nuneaton) because the heat is definitely turned up on this season.”

However, there is no chance County can rest on their laurels as they could be back out of the play-off places by next Saturday. Darlington have recently been up there and they will regain 5th place on Wednesday night if they win their game in hand at home to lowly Bradford Park Avenue.

All the sides in the promotion race have either 6 or 7 games left but last weekend has shown that none of them can relax yet – not even former runaway leaders Fylde. After all, anything can happen at this stage of the season remember.