Their game plan seemed be to pack the midfield and stop our full backs getting forward, but we soon began to take control with old war horse The Younger showing great determination to maraud down the right flank. Hayter then got free on the left but his low cross was grabbed by Cutler in the visitors’ goal.
We were already clearly in the driving seat with Stockport only managing to muster a couple of long-range efforts which failed to trouble Mossie. Feeney was getting stick from the crowd and looked ineffectual out on the left wing.
A cross from the right looked to be landing on Hayter’s head just a few yards out but he inexplicably failed to make contact and the ball went across to Garreth O’Connor who forced Cutler to save with his legs. However, a goal always looked on the cards and it came in the 22nd minute when a surging run by Warren Cummings ended with Stock being fouled inside the “D”. Unsurprisingly the lad took the kick himself – this being “Stock Territory” – and sent the ball dipping just under the bar into the top left-hand corner. Perfection!
A few minutes later, we seemed to have won a dubious penalty when Dani Rodrigues went down in the box. However, the ref’s signals fooled everyone. As Elliott tried to get hold of the ball to take the spot kick, the ref appeared near the half-way line, waving for a goal kick to be taken, even though the ball seemed to have remained in play. Not the first bizarre decision by Mr. Tomlin.
Luke Beckett managed to get the ball in the net at the other end, but the ball was adjudged to have already gone out of play – it looked a close one to me! However, there was only one team in it as the half drew to a close.
The Cherries struck an early blow in the second half when Elliott crossed, O’Connor's low shot came back off the far post and Hungry Hayter dived in to nod the ball home. What a season James is having! Let’s hope we can hang on to him…
There looked to be no way back for County who showed some ability but lacked confidence and ambition, although Feeney was having a better game than in the first half. They could actually have reduced the deficit when leading marksman Beckett had an easy chance to score with a close-range header, but the ball bounced tamely through to the grateful Moss. Funnily enough, it was in about the same position as Hayter’s miss in the first half.
Mr. Tomlin showed further incompetence when he blew up for offside against Stockport in the mistaken impression that the lino had flagged! To save the official’s embarrassment, the lino then belatedly raised his flag, much to the visitors’ chagrin and the home fans’ amusement.
2-up with 5 minutes to go, we were coasting to a comfortable victory when that man Feeney popped up and sent a looping header over Moss and into the far corner. His celebrations in front of the North End were not well received, however. A few anxious moments followed, but the Hatters never really looked like getting anything out of the game. Sammy McIlroy is going to have his work cut out over the next few weeks.
All in all a very pleasing, professional performance, although 4-1 would have been a better reflection on the match. Nobody had a bad game. This was possibly Eddie Howe’s last appearance for us, unless we can get him back for another month. Let’s hope so.
A very close thing between Hayter and Stock, but James just shades it for me.
AFCB: Moss, Cummings, Broadhurst, Howe, Young, O'Connor, Stock, O'Connor, Elliott, Hayter, Rodrigues
Subs: Stewart, S Fletcher (for Rodrigues, 82), Connell, Maher, Holmes
Ellis Griffin, Chertsey