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01/02: Reports:

Nationwide Division One, 10/11/01
Stockport County
The Dancing Yak
By Matt Rowson

Perhaps the least anticipated feature of our recent season in the Premiership was the implausibly tight-knit support in defiance of the weekly disappointments. At the start of the season, there had been no small resentment of Watford's new army of supporters whom many perceived as jumping a bandwagon and hijacking prized away tickets. By the end of the campaign, anyone who was prepared to brave the inevitable agony of away defeats was greeted as a sibling. Such trips were not undertaken lightly. The misery of Boxing Day at White Hart Lane remains a particularly grim memory.

And in the absence of much solace on the field, entertainment and pride was salvaged by the noise from the stands which, for the only time in my memory, saw the Hornets amongst the noisiest travellers in the division.

Some, inconceivably, disapproved of what they perceived as inappropriate jollity during the relegation party at Middlesbrough. Those who didn't take themselves quite so seriously painted their faces, hummed into their kazoos and had a jolly good time all round.

Two seasons on, Stockport County are bottom of Division One. No wins in nine games, no goals in six, a six-nil defeat on Saturday, no manager, a striker about to depart and a chairman who not so long ago voiced plans to move Stockport to Maine Road and rename them ManStock County. The travelling Hatters are, perhaps not surprisingly, banding together and came away with no few plaudits from their club's humiliation at Deepdale at the weekend.

Whether Andy Kilner's replacement will be installed by Saturday remains an open question at the time of writing. Chairman Brendan Elwood initially warned that caretaker Craig Madden would remain in charge for the coming weekend. Given that the stand-in has pleaded for a quick appointment for the sake of the players and himself ("I'm finding it difficult to be positive"), it's difficult to see how another nervous display would be avoided.

On Monday, however, Elwood excitedly proclaimed that two-thirds of a thrilling new team was in place, implying that the appointments could be official as early as this Tuesday. You may know by the time you read this what the outcome of this was. In any event, that Elwood's boasts were accompanied by a plea to continue visiting the club's official site as the hits provide the club with much needed sponsorship money suggests that a high profile appointment is not imminent.

Having said which, a friend of a friend reports that there's a pub in Nepal called "The Dancing Yak", in which case anything is possible. Perhaps the report of Big Ron and Bryan Robson at Edgeley Park has some foundation after all...

In as far as it is possible to guess Saturday's line-up, Tim Flowers seems likely to continue in goal, despite having shipped twelve goals in three games since his arrival from the equally cheery Leicester City. His presence is necessitated by a broken finger suffered by regular custodian Lee Jones. Youngster Sam Warner is the only full-time cover.

At the back, Mike Flynn has been a County mainstay for years, but is reported to be losing what pace he ever had. Peter Clark, who made Tommy Mooney's acquaintance at Edgeley Park last season, and Rob Clare are two more options. Lee Sandford, highly thought of at Bramall Lane, is on a month's loan with a view to a permanent move and doesn't appear to be as well regarded here. Leo Roget, who once scored a goal that virtually condemned the Hornets to Division Two, arrived from Southend in the summer.

Former Northampton winger Ali Gibb is an unpopular right wing-back in the absence of Finn Petri Helin, out with a cheek injury, a summer signing from the other Hatters. On the left, Jason Van Blerk is on a short-term deal and appears to be about as unpopular here as he was at the Hawthorns. The dependable Colin Woodthorpe would appear to be a more favoured alternative.

In midfield, the pedestrian Dave Smith is a regular, but Richard Sneekes, another signed on a short-term deal from West Brom, appears to have lost the form - not to mention commitment - that made him such a favourite at previous clubs. Another Finn, Jarkko Wiss, also appears to be off-colour following a more impressive start to his Stockport career last season; he may make a quick return from a back problem suffered whilst on international duty. Frenchman Karim Fradin has a broken toe, but young winger Andy Welsh is breaking into the first team picture.

Up front, the industrious Glynn Hurst is the only individual to be awarded any credit for Saturday's embarrassment; he was also reputed to have stood up to and fallen out with his ex-manager, resulting in him being listed. Another striker looking for the exit is the third Finn Shefki Kuqi, strangely wanted by Graeme Sounness at Blackburn, whilst Aaron Wilbraham, scorer of a rare brace in this tie last season, is being hunted by Dunfermline. Which doesn't leave the new man with a lot to play with.

Other names linked with the County job have included Colin Murphy, Bruce Rioch, Carlton Palmer and Andy Mutch. An appointment is vital for the Hatters, if only to stir some desire and motivation into recent insipid performances. In the midst of the recent depressing run it was, however, refreshing to read one reaction to the possibility of Tricky Trev Francis making an appearance.

"I'd rather stab myself", was the verdict.

Good to know that County fans haven't entirely lost their sense of perspective....

Update, 06/11/01
On Tuesday, Carlton Palmer was named as the new manager of Stockport County, assisted by another ex-Hornet Kevin Richardson with Colin Murphy overseeing the party. Whether Palmer proves to be a good manager or otherwise, we saw enough of him last season to appreciate that he doesn't like losing. It's not unreasonable to expect a little bit more than mere capitulation on Saturday.