Written on March 1, 2017
MANAGER Jim Gannon feels STOCKPORT COUNTY are battling it out for the National League North’s final play-off spot after seeing the Hatters lose at promotion rivals Kidderminster on Saturday.
County had chances at Aggborough but slipped to a 2-0 defeat, which ended their 12-match unbeaten run in the league. There was no disgrace in that, though, as the Harriers chalked up their 11th straight home win since losing 2-0 to FC United back in October.
Kidderminster are now joint-2nd with SALFORD CITY but with a game in hand on the Ammies so Gannon believes the Harriers will finish in the top 2 with leaders AFC Fylde. FC Halifax are 5th but with games in hand so the County boss reckons his side must focus on replacing Chorley.
County trail the Magpies by 4 points and guess who they welcome to Edgeley Park this Saturday? Yep, you’ve got it, Matt Jansen’s Chorley. The Hatters then have another home game the following Saturday (March 11) against local rivals CURZON ASHTON, who are 12th.
“They’re games that, if we bring our ‘A game’ we should win,” said Gannon. “But there are two full-time teams – Fylde and Kidderminster – who are pushing for first and second. Over the season they’ve done enough to be in the top two and they’ll probably finish there. Halifax and Salford City have thrown a lot of money at it. They’re in good form and they’re going to continue to be strong.
“I think the real challenge now is that fifth spot and that’s the challenge I’ll put to the players this Saturday. It’s a game we need to win because it’s a team we want to overtake to get into the play-offs.”
On their first trip to face Kidderminster since suffering relegation at Aggborough in 2013, County gave the hosts a run for their money, despite being without influential midfielder Sam Minihan. Gannon decided not to risk him as he’d been suffering with a groin problem, so Lewis Montrose switched to the right while Courtney Meppen-Walter came into centre-midfield. Sefton Gonzales also came in and the striker impressed on his first start since rejoining the club.
Meppen-Walter actually had an early shot saved before top scorer Danny Lloyd hit a post, but Kidderminster took the lead in 1st-half stoppage time from their first shot on target. Arthur Gnahoua got in behind centre-half Michael Clarke to latch onto a punt forward and poke the ball past keeper Ben Hinchliffe.
Josh Amis replaced Meppen-Walter early in the 2nd half, allowing Montrose to move back into centre-midfield, and Amis should have levelled on 69 minutes but sidefooted just wide. Gonzales then fired wide after linking well with Lloyd and the hosts doubled their lead with 10 minutes left. Recalled County right-back Mark Ross let Gnahoua put a cross in and Chris Smalley wasn’t close enough to Elton Ngwatala, allowing the forward to direct a diving header into the far corner.
Jimmy Ball and sub Kaine Felix went close late on but County couldn’t mount a fightback so suffered their 1st away defeat in the league since way back on September 7 at Darlington.
“I said to the lads after the last game (against FC United) that we need to be a bit tidier, more efficient and more ruthless in front of goal if we were going to get anything out of this game. As we weren’t, perhaps we didn’t deserve anything,” Gannon added.
“We had enough chances but I don’t think the overall game we played was good enough to win it. I was pleased enough with several performances. I just thought there were a couple that were a bit off the pace. Maybe that’s the difference between being part-time and full-time – having that mental and physical sharpness – or maybe it’s a quality issue.
“If we’d played as well as we could have, we could have got something out of the game. If you don’t at a place like this, you go home with nothing.”
Gannon confirmed that Minihan should be fit enough to face Chorley this Saturday and hinted he may look to make further additions during the run-in. But if he doesn’t, and County fail to win promotion back to the National League, he thinks the development the Hatters have made this season – both on and off pitch – bodes well for the future.
“A lot of people think we’re massive because of the crowds,” he explained. “We still go to places and they say ‘you’re not that good for a full-time side’, and I have to remind them that we’re not.
“We’ve got lads who work during the day then they come and work really hard for us. We’re not pretentious, we are a part-time side working hard at National North level, and we’ve grown over the season. Several players have improved and it’s great credit to them. The team has improved, the squad’s looking strong. We need perhaps one or two more to come in for those who are not delivering but I think we’re moving in the right direction.
“Even beyond the next 11 games, the play-offs and into next season, we’ve now got some players on the books for the next year or two who I think are really going to deliver for us.”