STOCKPORT COUNTY 2, TRANMERE ROVERS 0
Stockport County rounded off October with a club record-breaking 10th straight league victory, as well as an 11th in all competitions, against struggling Tranmere at Edgeley Park, to move five points clear at the top of the table.
The 121st meeting in all competitions between the clubs – whose first contest had taken place in the Third Division North 102 years previously – saw goals in each half from leading scorer Tanto Olaofe and man-of-the-match Antoni Sarcevic defeat a Rovers side that played most of the second half with 10 men after Harvey Saunders had been sent off.
The Hatters took to the field under skies containing a mix of blue and grey, with glimpses of sunshine, for the last day of British Summer Time and, inevitably, following the long-term injury suffered by Louie Barry at Crewe four days earlier, were forced, for the first time in seven League Two matches, to revise their starting line-up.
Kyle Wootton, who had replaced Barrie as a first-half substitute during midweek, was the player brought in for his first league start since mid-April.
The visitors, above the relegation places on goal difference only, and without a point gained on the road to date included among their starters two popular ex-Hatters in Kristian Dennis and Connor Jennings, who, between them during the last decade or so (albeit never at the same time), had totaled over 130 appearances and netted more than 40 times for County.
Jennings, as it happened, was the first player to set his sights on goal, with just over three minutes on the clock, but his low shot from distance fizzed well wide of County’s left post.
Just a minute later, the Hatters launched their inaugural attack and, better still, took the lead with it, as Olaofe latched on to Odin Bailey’s through-ball behind the Tranmere defence and slotted past goalkeeper Luke McGee into the bottom-left corner for his 12th goal in all competitions.
County proceeded to force four corners in as many minutes, before Wootton headed over a cross by Macauley Southam-Hales on the right, and Ethan Pye’s chip from the opposite side downwards for McGee to smother on the bounce.
In between Wootton’s pair of headers, and just before the half-hour mark at the other end, Dennis lofted an effort over Ben Hinchliffe but into the Cheadle End’s Lower Tier.
The second half began badly for the visitors, as Saunders, who had been booked on the stroke of half-time, received a second yellow card, and his marching orders, two minutes after the resumption for clattering into Southam-Hales.
Fraser Horsfall connected with the resulting free kick, delivered by Bailey from the right, and glanced a header beyond the near post, before Sarcevic, following a Bailey corner on the same flank, fired narrowly wide of the opposite upright.
Sarcevic did not have to wait long until making a further, and significant, contribution, playing a one-two with Wootton as part of a counterattack from the home area, before racing through on goal to fire home County’s second of the afternoon and his fourth of the season.
In a frenetic passage of play shortly afterwards, Ryan Croasdale’s chip to Sarcevic was glanced against the right post and Wootton struck the crossbar on the rebound, before seeing a header, seconds later, cleared off the line by visiting skipper Tom Davies.
County’s former players made every effort to haunt their old club, as Jennings drilled just wide of the left post and Dennis had the ball in the net for the visitors after Hinchliffe could only parry Rob Apter’s shot, but the ex-Hatter was flagged offside.
There was the unusual spectacle of a quadruple County substitution just over 20 minutes from time, as the Hatters, comfortably for the most part in the closing stages, continued to press. Croasdale saw a close-range snapshot kept out by McGee; substitute Paddy Madden headed a Bailey delivery from the left narrowly beyond the near upright; and either side of those efforts, Hinchliffe, at the home end, remained alert to tip away a couple of well-struck thunderbolts from the impressive Apter,
Goals: Olaofe (5), Sarcevic (53) for Stockport County.
Stockport County (4-1-2-1-2): Hinchliffe; Southam-Hales, Wright, Horsfall, Pye (Knoyle 69); Croasdale (Pond 87); Collar (Hippolyte 69), Bailey; Sarcevic (Camps 69); Wootton, Olaofe (Madden 69). Subs (unused): Smith, Richardson.
Attendance: 9,735 (782 away).
Report: Gareth Evans.