CHESTERFIELD 0, STOCKPORT COUNTY 1
Stockport County put their faltering National League title bid back on track with victory in front of a near-capacity crowd at Chesterfield.
After three defeats in four league games had cut the Hatters’ lead at the top to one point, it was a huge match against the play-off chasing Spireites.
County, beaten at home by Boreham Wood two days earlier, bounced back as top scorer Paddy Madden – acting as captain in Liam Hogan’s absence – converted a penalty shortly after the half-hour for his 23rd goal in all competitions that proved enough to clinch the critical Bank Holiday Monday win.
County took to the field on a cloudy afternoon for the second of three successive televised matches, showing four changes from the line-up that had started against Boreham Wood.
Courtney Duffus was handed his National League debut as a Hatter, Antoni Sarcevic returned after completing a three-match suspension while Andy Cannon and Jordan Keane were recalled as they replaced Hogan and Ryan Rydel (both of whom were named among the substitutes), as well as Connor Jennings and the injured Sam Minihan.
The hosts, who also made a quartet of changes from their starters at Bromley 48 hours earlier, included among their substitutes Danny (L) Rowe, who had plied his trade at Edgeley Park during two loan-spells during County’s initial two-year stint in the National League.
A slip by Jamie Grimes let Madden through to fashion the afternoon’s first attempt with three minutes played, but the skipper’s chip from the right was caught at full stretch by home goalkeeper Scott Loach.
Just after the quarter hour, a Sarcevic cross from the right found Ash Palmer, who headed wide of the far post. And 10 minutes later, a brief sideshow on the touchline ensued when Chesterfield boss Paul Cook, another former Hatter, was shown a yellow card for remarks he made to referee Elliott Swallow.
Swallow’s next decision of note, a dozen minutes ahead of the break and on the advice of his officials, was more pivotal, awarding a spot-kick to County after Calvin Miller was adjudged to have handled inside the area Elliot Newby’s cross from the right.
Madden, having missed his most recent penalty against Solihull on Easter Monday, stepped up and sent Loach the wrong way to put the Hatters ahead.
With half-time imminent, Duffus looked for all the world to have doubled County’s advantage, after being played through on goal by Newby, but his dinked shot over Loach grazed the underside of the crossbar, bounced down on to the line and was cleared behind by Grimes.
Long-time and lanky County nemesis Tom Denton made his presence felt 10 minutes after the re-start by heading the ball down for Grimes and the first scoring opportunity of the new half, but the central defender blazed over from close range.
The hosts then proceeded to introduce Akwasi Asante, Saidou Khan and Rowe to boost their attacking effort. And two of the substitutes soon combined to create their side’s next chance, with Khan dispossessing Ryan Johnson to feed Asante who drilled past the right post.
County were largely restricted to attacks on the break but held firm defensively and Ben Hinchliffe twice saved the day late on by smothering a Grimes header from Jeff King’s corner on the left, and subsequently tipping a King shot around the right post.
With the points secured at the Technique Stadium, an unexpected bonus for County came in Hertfordshire courtesy of a late penalty for Boreham Wood that restricted second-placed Wrexham to a draw and extended the Hatters’ lead at the top of the table to three points with a game in hand.
Stockport County (3-4-1-2): Hinchliffe; Keane, Palmer, Johnson; Newby, Croasdale, Cannon (Rydel 60), Hippolyte (Hogan 84); Sarcevic; Duffus (Quigley 71), Madden. Subs (unused): Ashby-Hammond, Crankshaw.
Goal: Madden (34pen) for Stockport County.
Attendance: 9,198 (2,632 visitors).
Report: Gareth Evans.