STOCKPORT COUNTY 2, FC HALIFAX TOWN 0
Eleven years of hurt were finally brought to an end as Stockport County secured the National League title, and with it automatic promotion back to League Two, by triumphing over FC Halifax Town in front of a five-figure crowd at Edgeley Park.
Captain Paddy Madden’s early goal – his 25th in all competitions – settled any nerves on and off the pitch – before Will Collar doubled the advantage shortly after the break to put County proudly on top of the NL with a six-point winning margin.
The television cameras were set up and running for the fourth of the last five County matches, as the Hatters took to the field on a sunny Sunday afternoon, and against a veritable crescendo of cheers, with an unchanged line-up from that which had started against Torquay four days previously. There were two changes on the bench, as Ryan Johnson and Ben Whitfield were both recalled.
The visiting Shaymen, already guaranteed a play-off position, but still hoping to avoid the eliminators by securing a third-place finish, featured former County favourite Matty Warburton among their starters, while another ex-Hatter, Harvey Gilmour, was named as a substitute.
The Hatters enjoyed much of the early possession without creating any clear-cut chances. Until, that is, the 10th minute was approaching, and Antoni Sarcevic fed Madden, whose low shot fizzed past the outstretched visiting goalkeeper Sam Johnson and into the bottom left corner of the net for a dream start to proceedings.
Madden and County went agonisingly close to adding a second 15 minutes later, after a Sarcevic corner from the right was punched away from goal by Sam Johnson only as far as the Hatters’ skipper, whose curled shot back towards it hit the crossbar.
The visitors were handed their first opportunity on the half-hour, when the ball fell to Billy Waters, but the diminutive striker, who had been tormentor-in-chief in the course of County’s comprehensive defeat at The Shay eight months earlier, drilled his shot beyond the right post.
As the interval loomed, Andy Cannon unleashed a shot from distance that Johnson tipped over. And the half almost ended with a bonus, as rumours filtered through of a goal at Dagenham & Redbridge against Wrexham – lurking three points behind County in second place – but Paul McAllum’s effort at Victoria Road was, alas, disallowed.
County’s first attempt on goal in the second half led, as that in the first half had done, to jubilation, as, nine minutes after the resumption, Sam Johnson could only parry Cannon’s thunderbolt from the edge of the box into the path of Collar who fired home the rebound.
With the celebrations still in full flow at Edgeley Park, the minute that followed brought forth news of Dagenham taking the lead – and the goal, for Junior Morias, standing on this occasion – to further strengthen County’s prospects of a Football League return.
Elliot Newby fired over with a quarter of an hour remaining, and Kian Spence did likewise at the other end while, down in East London, McCallum and Matt Robinson added two further goals for the ‘Daggers’. The happy ending for County was by then but a couple of minutes away.
Arrive it did, and the pitch was promptly flooded with celebrating Hatters, bidding farewell to the world of non-league and eagerly awaiting July 30 for their first League Two fixture since 2011.
Stockport County (3-4-2-1): Hinchliffe; Keane (R Johnson 60), Palmer, Francis-Angol (Whitfield 83); Newby, Croasdale, Cannon (Crankshaw 79), Hippolyte; Collar, Sarcevic; Madden. Subs (unused): Ashby-Hammond, Jennings.
Goals: Madden (10), Collar (54) for Stockport County.
Attendance: 10,307 (991 visitors).
Report: Gareth Evans.