Stockport County – meeting the opposition.
Following Tranmere’s away defeat against Leyton Orient, a game in which Micky Mellon’s and Kane Hemmings’ post-match interview summed the struggle up for The Whites this campaign, Rovers are back in action this Friday night as they face Stockport County underneath the lights of Prenton Park.
Tranmere and Stockport are two clubs who are expected to be towards the top of the table come May, when the league season ends. However, it has been a slow start for both Mellon’s men and Dave Challinor’s adding a further significance on Friday’s game.
Ahead of the upcoming ninety minutes, I spoke to @Countyscarf about all things Hatters and it’s safe to say that despite the relatively slow start there are many things for people of a Stockport persuasion to be happy about currently.
Last season, County won the National League to reclaim their EFL status. How do you reflect on the 2021-22 campaign as a whole and how great is it to be back in the 92?
After what we’ve all been through, it’s an absolutely wonderful feeling to be back in the Football League. Tranmere fans will also share an understanding of how heartbreaking it is to see your team drop out of the 92, but with finishes of 6th, 2nd and 2nd over your three years in the National League, your experience of non-league football didn’t seem to be too bad. For us, however, we had eleven years away, and six of those were spent in the sixth tier, which would have been unthinkable at one time. I don’t want to be disrespectful to non-league on the whole, as the footballing pyramid we have in this country is a fantastic setup, but it’s fair to say Stockport County are a Football League club in size and stature, so to be witnessing a Tuesday night defeat in a regional division at Vauxhall Motors only a decade or so after beating Manchester City in the second tier was extremely hard to stomach.
I’m extremely proud of the way we’ve bounced back though. Yes, we’ve had some investment from our new owner Mark Stott to help us overcome the final hurdle in winning promotion from the National League, but even that’s been done in a nice way. It’s not money from hands with blood on them, such as one or two of the current lot in the Premier League, but money from a local businessman who was born in Stockport, who started off selling cars and advertising space in our local paper, before building a highly successful property company. He’s also donated substantial amounts of money to local charities and the NHS over these last couple of difficult years we’ve all had, as well as the fund to raise money for a statue of our most-loved manager Danny Bergara. The ground has had more than a lick of paint, and there’s lots of good work being done across the town. We’re in a good place.
After the eleven years we’ve had in non-league, winning the National League title was unforgettable. We could have won the league at Wrexham the week before in front of just over 1,000 away fans (which was all we had) but looking back now, as horrible as that day was, I’m actually glad we lost, so that 10,000 of us could pack into Edgeley Park seven days later and see history made.
This summer, ten players have been brought in with two being loanees as centre back Joe Lewis and forward Daniel Okwute came in for undisclosed fees. How happy are you with the club’s business and do you believe that there are any particular weak spots in the squad that need to be addressed soon?
I actually collect player ratings after every game for my website, from a different County fan each week to give a good balance, and James Brown (one of our summer signings from Blackburn on loan) has just picked up the Player of the Month award for July and August. Akil Wright, Vit Jaros and Callum Camps were all in the top six players last month, with Kyle Wootton and Fraser Horsfall (who scored the winner at home to Wimbledon last week) just behind, so you’d have to say the new signings look alright. On paper, the business we did over the summer looks OK, although it has taken us a few weeks to find our feet in League Two. A few of our fans were starting to get a bit restless, but all of our defeats so far have been by a single goal, and we’ve thrown away a few points ourselves with silly mistakes and red cards. The two main issues we had were on the left side of defence and up front, but both of these areas were addressed recently with Chris Hussey coming in (keeping a clean sheet on his debut) along with Daniel Okwute, who’s only 19 but has a great scoring record in Ireland.
On November 2nd last year, Dave Challinor was appointed gaffer as he left Hartlepool to take up his new role. How influential do you believe he was in last season’s promotion and how would you describe his playing style?
Well we were 11th after his first league game in charge, 11 points behind leaders Chesterfield, so to end up winning the league by six points, you’d have to say he’s not done too bad. We’d lost 2-1 at home to Barnet just before Challinor came in, on a miserable Tuesday night which turned out to be Simon Rusk’s last game in charge, and looked completely bereft of ideas and imagination. After that game, in terms of points, we were much closer to 24th than we were to 1st. When Challinor came in, there was a bit of hope we might make the play-offs, but nobody was thinking we'[d win the league. I try to avoid cliches if I can, but his arrival was the stereotypical breath of fresh air. The players were completely transformed instantly, showing a confidence and attacking style that we hadn’t seen under Rusk. Challinor’s first game was a superb 2-2 draw at Bolton in the FA Cup, in front of over 5,000 away fans, before we beat them 5-3 in the replay on an incredible night at Edgeley Park, which I firmly believe was the catalyst for what was to come. Boxing Day saw the start of a run of 17 wins and 1 draw from 18 league games, which still amazes me even now as I write this. We had a bit of a wobble in April, but got over the line to create history, and cement Challinor and that group of players as heroes.
Mark Stott has been the owner of County since January 2020 and information on his time at the club can be found on the website in ‘Mark Stott’s subsequent investment of £7.7m in Stockport County Football Club and its subsidiaries has been converted to equity’. What are your thoughts on Stott and the way the club is run?
These days, football club owners tend to be in it for the money (which there’s a fair bit of if you can make it to the top couple of divisions) or to massage their ego. I think it’s fair to say writing off £7.7m shows Stott isn’t in it for the money. And if you do a search on Google or YouTube or anything like that, you’ll find very few interviews or statements from him, unlike a lot of egotistical tossers you’ll find in a lot of boardrooms across the country. He’s a mild-mannered local lad who’s obviously made a few quid for himself, and having ticked off the Jaguar and the Cheshire mansion etc., he genuinely seems to want to make a difference to the club and the town, which he’s certainly done so far.
Antoni Sarcevic is The Hatters’ top goalscorer with three goals in eight games. Who would you say are your side’s key players and where will the key battles be played out under the floodlights of Prenton Park this Friday? Touching on the strengths that your team has, where do you believe the club will finish in the table come next May?
We played with real purpose last season, with a high energy, pressing game which teams couldn’t handle at all. We’ve struggled to get going this season, but the first half against Wimbledon last week was our best football of the campaign, and there’s a hope this could be the start of a bit of a run, as we start doing the things which brought so much success last season. Paddy Madden’s suspended for Tranmere, but Ollie Crankshaw and Kyle Wootton looked good up top together, and we’ve got some midfielders who can really play if they’re in the mood.
How do you see the upcoming game panning out? What is your score prediction? The last time the two clubs came head to head in league action was May 2010 when Rovers stayed in League One with a 3-0 win before fans stormed the Edgeley Park pitch in celebration. How disastrous was that game as County were relegated that day?
I’ve seen a few Tranmere fans not overly happy after your defeat last week, and I’m hoping we can make things awkward for you on Friday night. When the fixtures came out this was the first big away day that came up, and we’re all immensely looking forward to a Friday night game under the Prenton park lights. I’m sticking with my feeling of this being our first big Football League moment, with a late winner in front of the Cowshed. It’s got the feel of a classic County 2-1 away win. We’ll go berserk if that happens, but we won’t take it out on your crossbar.
If you have been keeping up with The Whites this summer/so far this campaign, what are your thoughts on them and whereabouts in the table do you believe they’ll finish?
It’s hard to keep up with teams these days as everyone seems to change their entire squad each summer. You’re normally decent enough at this level and Micky Mellon seems alright. Play-offs maybe?
Stockport County play at Edgeley Park. The game here between County and Tranmere is scheduled for February 4th.