HARROGATE TOWN 1, STOCKPORT COUNTY 3
Stockport County returned to League Two action in terrific style by winning in the autumn sunshine at Harrogate and thereby going to the top of the table with a two-point cushion.
Antoni Sarcevic struck early in the first half to put the Hatters ahead, and they built further on their lead following the resumption, with an own goal and a Will Collar header, for an eighth straight victory in all competitions, despite a consolation penalty for the hosts 18 minutes from time.
The Hatters took to the field on a sunny and fresh North Yorkshire afternoon with the same starting line-up as they had put out for their last three L2 fixtures but showing 10 changes from that at Salford in the EFL Trophy during midweek.
There was one revision among the substitutes named for Doncaster’s visit to Edgeley Park the previous weekend with Myles Hippolyte returning from a knee injury that had hitherto kept him sidelined for the current campaign to date, and replacing Joel Cotterill who was on international duty with Welsh Under-21s.
After a quiet opening, the game rather sprung into life with half a dozen minutes played as Kayne Ramsay’s long ball from the home half put Josh March through on goal, and the striker rattled the top of County’s crossbar from outside the area.
The next chance of the afternoon fell to the Hatters as Macauley Southam-Hales’ cross from the right found Louie Barry only for the League Two Player of the Month for September to head over.
But, with 13 minutes played, County took the lead and, for the first time in five league games, the opening goal came courtesy of a player other than Tanto Olaofe! A throw-in on the right by Southam-Hales evaded all in attendance, leaving Sarcevic free to drill an angled shot in off the far post for his third strike of the season.
Almost immediately following kick-off, County went close to doubling the advantage, as Barry dinked an effort narrowly over the bar. And a well-worked corner routine from the right saw Odin Bailey feed Barry, whose shot was cleared by Liam Gibson.
At the other end, Ben Hinchliffe dived to smother a low George Thomson effort from just inside the box. And although the hosts’ next attack saw Hinchliffe beaten, captain Ryan Croasdale was perfectly placed to clear Matty Daly’s shot off the line.
Hinchliffe’s opposite number Mark Oxley was called into action twice in quick succession ahead of the break, tipping over another attempt by Sarcevic before holding on to Ethan Pye’s glancing header following the consequential corner.
The Hatters began the second half with a second goal and an excellent build-up it involved, too, with Barry dancing down the right four minutes after the re-start, before advancing inside from the by-line and delivering a cutback that Warren Burrell deflected into his own net.
The hosts’ skipper Josh Falkingham then prevented a third by clearing a Barry shot from the line and Oxley did well to block a Sarcevic effort by the near post following a County corner on the right, before Hinchliffe, at the other end, brilliantly parried around the right post an attempt from Daly after the Stockport-born Sulphurite had been played through on goal.
But the Hatters continued to enjoy the greater share of possession and opportunities. Oxley saved again from Sarcevic, and a Barry delivery from the right flashed past the far post, before a third goal arrived as Collar headed home a pin-point perfect Sarcevic cross from the left.
Just a couple of minutes later, the hosts were awarded a penalty after March went to ground under a challenge by Pye and Thomson, from the spot, fired into the bottom-right corner to send Hinchliffe the wrong way and reduce Harrogate’s arrears.
Bailey twice went close to bagging his first goal as a Hatter, firing narrowly over from beyond the ‘D’, and then, from a similar distance, volleying against the right post.
And when seven minutes of added time were announced, at least a couple of them were due to an injury suffered by referee Tom Parsons who had to be replaced by the fourth official for the remainder of the contest.
Goals: Thomson (72pen) for Harrogate. Sarcevic (13), Burrell (49og), Collar (69) for Stockport.
Stockport County (4-1-2-1-2): Hinchliffe; Southam-Hales, Wright, Horsfall, Pye; Croasdale (Camps 83); Collar, Bailey; Sarcevic; Olaofe (Madden 73), Barry (Wootton 73). Subs (unused): Smith, Hippolyte, Pond, Richardson.
Attendance: 2,360 (450 visitors).
Report: Gareth Evans.