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Nationwide Division One, 24/2/01
Stockport County
The mind's eye
By Matt Rowson

Taking in the movie adaptation of "Hannibal" this weekend was yet another reminder never to watch a film once you've read the book. Wrong order all round. The mind's eye is more powerful and vivid than any cinematic representation can ever hope to be. This was the genius of "The Blair Witch Project"... it showed you nothing, merely suggested, and allowed you to paint the terror using your own colour-scheme. And having already painted the grotesque proceedings of "Hannibal" for myself, the pictures on the cinema screen were always going to be a poor replica.

We rely on this ability to form pictures in our heads for all sorts of entertainment. Computer games, for example. When you're playing as Watford against Manchester United at FIFA 2000 and beating the red bastards for the four zillionth time, you're not excited by the computer-generated colouring of pixels on the TV screen. You're excited by the image that it generates, the corresponding reality.

Of course, there are times when fantasy and reality collide, in which case there's potential for all sorts of problems. The closest the world has ever come to imploding on itself to my knowledge came in Amsterdam during last season's summer tour. Loz, enjoying the holiday to the full, confronted Tommy Mooney in the Amsterdam Arena. He castigated our number nine for being sent off in the Semi-Final of the Champions League in his most recent Playstation simulation of FIFA 2000, depriving himself of a place in the (virtual) final and of adding to his record tally of 150 goals that season.

Potential for chaos. Picture break-up, the earth begins to tremble. What happens to Loz's world if Mooney's reaction is the slightest bit quizzical? Thankfully, ever the hero, Tommy plays his part. "Aye, well that was a bit impetuous of me, like".

Tommy's impetuousness has manifested itself already in real time this season, of course. Not least up at Edgeley Park, where his run-in with Peter Clark resulted in a forearm smash and a three-match ban.

His aggression has been by and large more focused since, although the same cannot be said for Saturday's visitors. Their aggressive tendencies are betrayed by fifty-two yellow cards and six reds this season, comfortably the worst record in the division, but they continue to play musical chairs with QPR, Huddersfield and the rest at the wrong end of the table.

Their position at the head of the disciplinary table represents something quite remarkable for County. It speaks volumes that any reference to Stockport amongst a certain group of friends still prompts references to a school acquaintance whom none of us have seen for several years but who happened to support Stockport.

They're rarely particularly good, nor particularly bad. They never have FA cup runs (Saturday's fifth-round tie was their first in fifty years). They're not particularly offensive (Birmingham, Wolves), nor endearing (Crewe, Grimsby). They never do anything. They're just there. Like bollards.

The general "not doing much" thing also extends to the Official website, not updated since mid-January, but in the circumstances a general lack of interest is understandable. Despite a recent fillip in form, including a bizarre win over Fulham, Andy Kilner's side are struggling badly. As the inexperienced manager fumbles uncertainly with formations, the locals are getting restless.

Kilner's position is not helped by the suggestion that he is a yes-man for unpopular chairman Brendan Elwood, originator of the ludicrous plan to relocate to Maine Road under the moniker "Man-Stock County". This week has seen further upset as, prior to the comprehensive defeat at White Hart Lane, there was an animosity-ridden parting of ways with Assistant Manager and ex-Luton striker Dave Moss. Shame.

In goal for County will be thirty-year-old former Bristol Rovers stopper Lee Jones. Another ex-Luton man, veteran Andy Dibble, provides his cover.

The defensive options are rotated freely by Kilner, but club captain Mike Flynn appears to be a fairly safe bet. Given his own-goal, Flynn probably regrets comments made in the press about erecting Hadrian's Wall to keep out Spurs on Saturday.

With on-loan Simon Grayson suspended, other options at the back include youngster Glynn Hancock. The promising and consistent Rob Clare is one of a number of players suffering from flu, and missed Tuesday night's hammering at Norwich. Mooney's acquaintance Peter Clark will play either as a left-back or a left wing-back, dependent on formation, whilst the aggressive Shane Nicholson could also feature. On the right, Sean Connelly could return after a spell on the sidelines, whilst promising youngster Keith Briggs could also be used.

In midfield, the main man is industrious Finnish international Jarkko Wiss, County's leading scorer to date with seven goals. Inconsistent but popular winger Kevin Cooper is struggling with an ankle problem... he has also been linked with a move to Coventry. Given the cut-price departures of favourites Tony Dinning, Ian Moore and Carlo Nash this season, on top of the losses of Jim Gannon and Brett Angell, this move would not go down well.

The quick-footed but unpopular Ali Gibb seems to be a particular favourite of Kilner. Other midfield options include the nondescript Dave Smith and attacking Frenchman Karim Fradin, but Layton Maxwell is injured and Rob Matthews has joined Halifax on loan.

County had let in four goals in eight games before Saturday's cup-tie, but up front is where the problems remain. The current partnership is of two target men, Aaron Wilbraham and Shefki Kuqi, labouring under a slow start to his Stockport career and a lack of close season respectively. Kuqi in particular looked out of sorts at the weekend, but Wilbraham has also picked up an ankle problem.

This week sees the arrival of former Barnsley reserve Glyn Hurst from Ayr United, where he has made no small impression. In the manner of Stuart Rimmer, he is expected to single-handedly score the goals that save County from the drop. Another recruit from the Scottish First Division, former Clyde man Brian Carrigan, has not made the instant impact some had hoped but remains one for the future, whilst Ian Lawson is also an option.

We know from experience this season how badly a wake-up call against a Premiership side can knock the confidence. Realistically, and particularly given their injury and virus problems, County are less able to withstand such a knock than we were in October/November. Nor is resilience implied by their propensity for conceding late goals. There for the taking.

In the build up to Saturday, it will be natural to build up certain scenarios, to conjure images of possible outcomes in your mind's eye. Don't be disappointed if the reality isn't quite as invigorating. In this instance, a suitably unmemorable 2-0 win would do very nicely.