Stockport County full deserved this win and their passage into the last 32 of the FA Trophy.
However, it there is any element of fairness in their assessment of the game, they might reflect that what could have been a winter of discontent has been made into a potentially glorious spring at Wembley by a son of York – in this case, the hapless referee from Holmfirth.
Whatever trepidations the visitors might have had of facing a difficult afternoon at the Riverside were eased, if not removed, after only three minutes. The referee somehow saw an imperceptible movement of hand to ball to a drive from outside the penalty area and awarded a penalty which Scott Spencer put away with a minimum of fuss. There was an unusual sense of resigned acceptance, if not expectation, at going behind from the Rams.
Nonetheless, they responded well and for the next 20 minutes or so, they pressed forward and had their chances to equalise. Phil Dean might have done better from around the penalty spot but his somewhat diffident shot was diverted over the bar for a corner and twice Danny Hurst in the Stockport goal had to plunge low to his right to palm away shots bound for the bottom corner. On each occasion, the Rams were unable to get to the rebound first.
Stockport, though, were dangerous on the break and looked threatening from numerous free kicks lavished on them by the referee. From one such, on 25 minutes, the ball fell obligingly to the feet of Danny Gregson, who lashed the ball past a helpless Grant Shenton. For the remainder of the half, the Rams became increasingly frustrated by decisions that had the bewildering quality of Fermat’s last solution, not least the denial of an obvious penalty for handball and then the penalisation of Grant Spencer for falling on the ball with his hand when tripped from behind.
It was no wonder that the referee’s reappearance after the break was received with loud catcalls from the home support.
With a strong, well drilled, back four, Stockport clearly considered that they had the game in the bag and for the remainder of the match were content to sit back and soak up the pressure. For long periods the Rams were camped in their own half without ever really looking like opening up the visitors except for a diagonal ball into Jordan Hulme, which presented him with a yard of space and a good shooting opportunity. However, his shot just lacked the power to evade a scrambling goalkeeper.
At the other end, only a series of brave blocks from Steve Howson denied Stockport as the Rams pressed forward. There was a persistent feeling that if the Rams could grab a goal, the final stages might prove interesting but any hopes of a comeback were extinguished with 10 minutes left with Grant Shenton neither stuck nor twisted in dealing with a cross and left Jordan Lazenbury with the easiest of headers.
It is to be hoped that, with a challenging set of fixtures ahead and two cup losses in a week, that this is not the start of the Rams’ own winter of discontent.
RAMSBOTTOM UNITED team: Grant Shenton, Dominic Smalley, George Grayson, Gary Stopforth, Steven Howson, Cedric Krou, Tom Williams, Scott Burton, Jordan Hulme, Grant Spencer, Phil Dean. Subs: Jon Robinson (for George Grayson 62mins), Osebi Abadaki (for Tom Williams 78mins), Bernard Morley, David Kuba-Kuba, Malachi Slaven.
Referee: Tom Nield (Holmfirth)