STOCKPORT COUNTY 4, WEALDSTONE 0
Stockport County’s dream of reclaiming the EFL status lost in 2011 remains very much alive.
The Hatters extended their unbeaten run in National League to 14 matches following an emphatic home victory against lowly Wealdstone.
Four answered second-half goals from Alex Reid (2), Adam Croasdale and John Rooney lifted County to third place as they hunt down Torquay United and Sutton United for the one automatic promotion place.
Not along ago, County’s most realistic target was a play-off place. Suddenly they have top spot in their sights.
And with this the first of four successive home games, they could yet be crowned champions to save having to ensure the nerve-jangling play-offs.
Yet County found struggling Stones, with five straight losses and only one won in nine after being forced to furlough half a dozen of their highest-earning players, resolute opponents in the opening period.
It was a case of almost or nearly as County dominated possession but only forced one meaningful save from teenage goalkeeper Jake Askew.
The 18-year-old, released by Chelsea in October, acrobatically turned over a header from Harry Cardwell.
Reid had a goal ruled out for offside while John Rooney couldn’t find his range, twice shooting narrowly wide from distance.
Stones, well organised defensive, had one chance when a spectacular overhead kick from Charlee Hughes flew straight to goalkeeper Ben Hinchliffe.
Hughes, 24, who scored 29 goals for Maldon and Tiptree last season, was lively and kept the County defenders on their toes.
Stones’ stubborn resistance was broken in the 53rd minute through midfielder Croasdale’s first goal for the club in his 33rd appearance following a move from AFC Fylde.
Askew pulled off a fabulous double save to deny Cardwell and Paddy Madden, but the ball ran free from the latter’s effort to slot home a low shot.
And it was like having a lengthy wait for the bus and the two coming along together as County doubled their lead within two minutes.
Alex Newby provided the assist with a cross from the right and Reid fired home his 20th goal of the season from eight yards.
It looked as though the floodgates would open as Liam Hogan was denied by Askew while Reid fired narrowly wide and Madden’s glanced header flashed past the upright.
Full-time professionals County’s superior fitness showed in the latter stages against the part-timers as they scored two further late goals.
Reid grabbed his second in the 86th minute as he rifled home a low shot, his 21st goal of the season.
Rooney then struck in stoppage time with a trademark free kick bent over the defensive wall.
Stones had defender Ashley Charles booked and from the resulting free kick Rooney struck his 20th goal of the season.