Following last weekend's win over league leaders, Tranmere Rovers, attention turned to the lower half of the table as the Hatters hosted strugglers, Accrington. County have been dominant home or away this season and so went into the game as hot favourites.
Kath Jones returned to the squad, but found herself on the bench, while development players Holly Stokes, Jess Hill and Rach Mason were called into the squad as substitutes.
The Hatters started the game at pace, with Melissa Von Bargen making a nuisance of herself in midfield with a number of strong tackles. Following a poor goal-kick from the visitors' 'keeper, Von Bargen intercepted a pass just outside the box and slotted through to Chloe Mapp who tucked home to continue her run of goalscoring this season.
The striker then went down clutching her chest, prompting an immediate substitution for Holly Stokes. The club's top scorer left the pitch in tears, it was later determined that the high winds and freezing temperatures had caused a flare up of Mapp's asthma.
The visitors had the fair share of the possession in the first half, but struggled to really threaten the County defense. A ball to Von Bargen in midfield was controlled well, but upon turning the Liverpudlian found herself under pressure, losing the ball before the striker lifted a lofted shot into the air which, when carried by the wind, went over the head of Blackett and into the back of the net.
From there, the visitors continued to pile on the pressure, Sophie John and Chaneece Reeves worked tirelessly in the middle of the pitch to keep the ball from reaching the County back line. The deadlock was eventually broken again though as Reeves made a marauding run down the right before playing in low drive for Abi Hayes to latch onto, making it 2-1.
Reeves got in on the goals herself for the second week in a row as she attempted to play a ball into Hayes once more. This time the ball, carried by the strong winds, looped up and over the goalkeeper and into the back of the net from some distance.
HT | County 3-1 Accrington
After a somewhat poor half from all accounts (despite the scoreline), the Hatters came out for the second half with a point to prove. A number of early chances fell the way of the home side as Hanna Wilson continued to make piercing runs down the right. Some early pressure allowed for a few early set-pieces and it was from one of those set-pieces that Holly Stokes got in on the action. An O'Reilly corner from the right was missed by the defenders at the front post, allowing for the 16 year old to put it home from close range, making it 4-1 to the girls in blue.
This goal prompted a substitution, Kath Jones coming on the place of Melissa Von Bargen on the right of a three-woman midfield. Jones provided a different attacking threat for the visitors to deal with as she linked up well with Wilson out wide a number of times.
A quality ball in from the right was then met by Holly Stokes on the edge of the six yard box with a sweet volley, only for the goal to be disallowed for offside.
It was another set-piece that gifted the home side their fifth as yet another ball into the box from O'Reilly was met by Sophie John who directed the ball goalwards. Jodie Hancock leaped in front of the ball, which looked destined for the top corner, and knocked it in on the line. A dubious goal, but following a check with the goals panel, has been given to the centre-back.
The Hatters moved within a win of top spot with their win over league leaders, Tranmere Rovers, this weekend. The victory at Ellesmere Port Sports Village was County's ninth win out of nine in the league this season, moving them three points off the lead with five games in hand. A return to the squad for Jeneyah Webb from injury gave manager Ronnie Green a dilemma with his attacking options.
Chloe Mapp, who started the game on 24 goals in all competitions this season, Abi Hayes, the centre-back who has transitioned well as a striker with four goals in two games, and Holly Stokes, the development squad's most recent first team addition, all provide real competition for Webb's place. The returning striker had to settle for the bench in her first game back, as Hayes and Mapp started the game at the forefront of an attacking 4-3-1-2 formation. Kath Jones was also unavailable, meaning Melissa Von Bargen was able to make her first start in the blue and white.
It was a cagey start to the game for both sides, with the majority of the opening exchanges struggling to find their way through either side's defense. Some early corners from the Hatters showcased the visitors' aerial threat from set pieces. It was eventually the hosts that took their chances, catching the Hatters on the break to take the lead.
The Rovers then used this momentum to come close again with a sweeping ball across the face of Lauren Blackett's goal but wasn't met by the on-rushing attacker.
After a tough 40 minutes for County, the moment that the side needed came to fruition when Abi Hayes broke through on goal, curling a looping effort up and over the goalkeeper to level the scores for the Hatters, getting her fifth goal in three games in the process.
Things then got even better for the visitors when a good run from Hanna Wilson down the right allowed her to cross the ball into Chloe Mapp who took the ball down well on her chest before unleashing a quality strike into the top corner and giving County the lead on the stroke of half-time, this goal being her 25th of the campaign.
The start of the second half was much stronger from County, as Claire O'Reilly made a nuisance of herself on the left hand side. It was a set-piece tht proved decisive again as a free-kick from the right was arched over the defensive line and onto the head of Nicola Connor who thundered the ball into the back of the net to make it 3-1.
The game began to get heated amongst the Tranmere players following an altercation with one of the referee's assistants, this lead to the one and only caution of the game.
County's fourth goal came through Chaneece Reeves follwowing some good buildup play between Von Bargen and Wilson, before the latter played an excellent ball into the six yard area for Reeves to knock past the goalkeeper. The home side did get a second, a well worked free-kick which wrongfooted Blackett and found it's way into the far corner from distance.
Masa Butler replaced Von Bargen and came close herself from close range after a darting run down the left. One the whole, it was a game of two halves for County, after a cagey first period the side came out with more flair and positivity and truly put the game beyond Tranmere in the second half.
FT | Tranmere Rovers 2-4 Stockport County (Hayes 42, Mapp 45+1, Connor 60, Reeves 73)
TEAM | Blackett, Wilson, O'Reilly, Hancock, Connor, John, Von Bargen (Butler), Reeves, Mapp (Stokes), Douglas, Hayes (Webb).
UNUSED SUBS | Attfield, Porteous-Williams.
POTM | Chaneece Reeves
ATT | 42
After the side's 9-0 thrashing of Accrington last weekend, it was cup action at Stockport Sports Village against Wigan Athletic for County. As finalists last year, the Hatters aim to go one step further and win the entire competition. Since the loss to Middlesbrough in December, the side have added a new midfielder, Melissa Von Bargen, as well as seeing the return of Masa Butler from injury.
A slight delay to the kickoff of the game halted things pre-match, with the referee being delayed in transit to the game. A familiar approach to the game from manager Ronnie Green saw the regular 4-3-1-2 formation in action again, the opposition fielding an equally attacking lineup to start the game.
Upon starting the game, a number of good runs from Douglas down the left opened up space for Mapp and Hayes in the middle of the park. Both sides of the pitch showed real attacking intent with Reeves and Wilson making runs from the right. One good bit of play on the right from Reeves saw her play a driven cross into the six-yard box, which was knocked home by Mapp to give County the lead.
The Latics were level shortly after. A long ball over the top lead to a miscommunication between Hancock and Blackett, the former passing back to her goalkeeper, only for the ball to race past Blackett and be tapped in from near range by the onrushing striker.
The game wasn't level for long, as a good cross from the left following a darting run from O'Reilly saw Chloe Mapp direct an inch-perfect header towards goal to make it 2-1 with her 24th goal in 14 games this season.
Wigan then drew level again as O'Reilly fell just outside the home box, the visitors were quickest to react with a good looping effort from the right which dipped over Blackett, hit the woodwork then bounced into the goal to draw the sides level at 2-2.
Some good individual work from Douglas through the middle put the Wigan backline under pressue, one mistake by the centre-back put Douglas through on goal, who chipped a lovely shot over the 'keeper and into the goal to regain the lead for the Hatters.
HT | County 3-2 Wigan
Some early chances for Hayes and Mapp in the early minutes of the second half forced some strong saves from the Wigan goalkeeper, who was without doubt the standout performer for the visitors on the day. It was a lacklustre second half for both sides, with County getting inside the opposition more often but coming up short more times than not thanks to some heroics from the goalkeeper.
As the half drew to a close, a couple of substitutions were made, with Stokes replacing Mapp and Von Bargen replacing John. A corner, whipped in from the left, fell to Abi Hayes, who opened up some space and placed the ball into the back of the net to extend County's lead to 4-2. It was the centreback-turned-striker's fourth goal in two games.
A final change saw Rachel Mason make her home league debut for the first team this season in place of Abi Hayes as the Hatters switched to a 5-3-2 formation for the final five minutes.
FT | County (Mapp 2, Douglas, Hayes) 4-2 Wigan
Team: Blackett, Wilson, O'Reilly, Hancock, Connor, John (Von Bergan 75'), Jones, Reeves, Mapp (Stokes 67'), Douglas, Hayes (Mason 86').
Unused Subs: Massey, Butler.
POTM: Hanifa Douglas
Att: 54 (18 away)