Stockport County boss Dave Challinor was left feeling proud of his side’s efforts during their 5-3 triumph over League One Bolton Wanderers in their FA Cup First Round replay.
By Amos Murphy
Hats off to gutsy Hatters
It would be wrong to describe Stockport County vs Bolton Wanderers as a match that had everything, because quite frankly, it had much more than that.
On an evening where the home team’s head coach had to plead with his own supporters to return a stolen corner flag, it felt as if any doubts around the importance of the FA Cup were squashed during 120 breath-taking minutes of football.
Yet, amongst all the bedlam inside Edgeley Park, the feeling at full-time was that a different County had emerged from the rubble.
A Stockport side that had the grit to fight back from behind, not once, but twice against League One opposition, even if they did it without a corner flag in sight.
Bedlam at Edgeley Park in cup tie for the ages
Whilst cup-fever may have swept across Stockport the last few weeks, it was a different type of sickness the home supporters were experiencing early on, with the Hatters falling two goals behind inside six minutes.
Elias Kachunga opened the scoring, before an Ash Palmer own-goal had County 2-0 down after five minutes.
Paddy Madden slotted home Stockport’s lifeline from the spot, yet a third Bolton goal via Amadou Bakayoko seemingly crushed any lingering hopes of a County comeback.
However, in a following hour and a half of madness only ever reserved for the FA Cup, Stockport scored the next four goals without reply to leave a previously bullish Bolton side feeling battered and bruised.
Scott Quigley glanced home a header just before the original half-time break, with Palmer finding redemption five minutes from the end of normal time, at the end he’d converted into 80 minutes earlier.
It would be Quigley who lofted the eventual winning goal over Joel Dixon in the first half of extra time, with substitute Ollie Crankshaw securing progression through to the Second Round in emphatic fashion late on.
Challinor off the mark as Stockport deliver masterclass
Having arrived as Stockport manager with questions surrounding the motives behind his move, Dave Challinor was delighted to have seen his impact on the squad displaying itself throughout the Bolton victory:
“We produced a performance which in the short time I’ve been here has shown what we’re all about.
“Our players have to find that belief, that if we want to, we can achieve something special”.
When quizzed on the reaction of his players at full-time, the usually witty Challinor had a trademark response:
“The music is on, water and all sorts if being thrown about. I’m pretty boring when it comes to all that.
“Tonight we were able to show our identity and what that looks like on the pitch. We have to use tonight’s performance as a catalyst to show if we apply ourselves properly, we can go and achieve whatever we want”.
Challinor providing inspiration to previously lacklustre Hatters
It’s easy to forget amongst the fanfare of the previous fortnight, just how big of a mess Challinor was walking into at Stockport.
A despondent team seemingly unable of putting together any cohesive performances, toxicity seeping through from the terraces onto the pitch and a playing style that raised more questions than it ever provided answers.
As the two teams exited the Edgeley Park pitch, one sulking away, with the other one bouncing up and down, there was only one side looking deflated and it wasn’t the hosts:
“Players need challenging.” Challinor continued: “What we needed to have was an identity on the pitch. I believe in what it requires to make us successful and the players need to believe that too”.
Defensive frailties almost cost County once more
Rounding off an almost-perfect start to life as County boss, Challinor didn’t allow himself to get carried away with emotions, recognising there is still plenty of work to do:
“Previously there hasn’t been the ammunition provided to allow players to go and score goals, well tonight they didn’t score five, they scored all eight”.
Cheap would be an understatement when describing all three Bolton goals, making Stockport’s fightback even more heroic, with Challinor eager to see County cut out silly mistakes at the back:
“Cheap goals unfortunately are always going to happen. Tonight’s were pretty bad and of the last four goals we’ve conceded, we’ve pretty much scored them all”.
Character comes through as County against the ropes
However, on a night when neither defence looked capable of preventing any goals, Stockport were able to prevail as the side having scored the most, with Challinor admitting to a few choice words at half-time:
“It wasn’t a great message (after going 2-0 down) to be honest. But, when we’ve been shocked like that we had to find our way into the game and thankfully we got that with the next goal.
“At times we did get embroiled by the atmosphere and made some poor decisions, with people getting a little bit carried away.
“But what we’ve shown, even in real adversity we’ve been able to bounce back”.
Rotherham United await Stockport in the FA Cup Second Round, with Challinor’s men no doubt having set their sights on yet another League One scalp.