1 October ~ After being thrashed 4-0 by Shrewsbury Town at Edgeley Park last month, my prediction of a mid-table finish for Stockport County in the WSC pre-season preview looked delusional. Any sort of optimism created by exiting administration in June, a new club badge and a Nike kit deal was quickly disappearing. Despite trying to re-establish a degree of professionalism and pride off the pitch, on it we looked worse than last season: a dark achievement in itself. Manager Paul Simpson, like the unfortunate Gary Ablett before him, looked to have inherited an impossible job.
Yet Simpson, spurred on after the drubbing by his former club, has instilled a refreshing resilience into our group of youngsters, journeymen and generally unwanted players. We immediately bounced back by beating Macclesfield away at Moss Rose – the scene of our disastrous FA Cup tie against Torquay last December, moved there because of our unplayable pitch that typified everything wrong with the club – and we’re now unbeaten in five games as we head to Burton Albion on Saturday.
What has proven most satisfying during this run are not the Macclesfield and Oxford away wins, but the three draws snatched from going behind at home. While these results don’t hide our shaky defence and poor home form – we still haven’t won at Edgeley Park since February – they show progress. Last season a goal conceded likely led to three or four following. But under Simpson we look capable of grinding out unlikely results.
We even possess some creativity, with right-back and former Manchester United player Mark Lynch impressing with his pace and crossing. The boss’s son, Jake, has also looked good when coming off the bench. And in striker George Donnelly, on loan at the club for the second time from Plymouth, the club has someone with youthful pace, strength and clinical finishing. He showed this occasionally during his spell under Ablett but the service he’s now gaining and the growing stability of the club have allowed him to flourish, with six goals already this season.
Our first ever trip to the Pirelli Stadium comes with a growing – if cautious – sense of optimism on the pitch. It will also allow us to gain encouragement from an ambitious yet sustainable club establishing itself in the Football League. Tomorrow’s visit should be one that, we hope, aids our continued rebuilding on and off the pitch – and makes that mid-table prediction look somewhat more reasonable. David Meller