County’s league title defence got off to a winning start as they edged past a resolute Furness side in a seven-goal thriller. County’s win leaves them with a good platform for the rest of the season, while Furness will be disappointed they didn’t take at least a point from the game.
County flew out of the traps and were duly rewarded five minutes in courtesy of some sharp forward play from Jacques Ezzeldin. Centre-back Will Mason rose highest in the box from a whipped corner and saw his bullet header saved in the Furness goal, but Ezzeldin was quickest to react when the ball squirted from the goalkeeper’s hands, slamming the ball home with aplomb.
Despite the early setback, Furness responded well and soon levelled the game following a clinical counter-attack and some sublime running from Tom Chong. After a miss-hit long ball from the Furness keeper was poorly dealt with by County, the ball found Chong on the left, who preceded to turn the County defence inside-out and unleash a shot that Liam Hartas could only parry into the path of Richard Orford.
County were keen to re-assert their lead after the setback and reacted strongly to being pegged back. Winger Tom Sassi cut inside and unleashed a 25-yard shot that narrowly arrowed wide of the far post following an extended period of County possession.
Eventually County’s pressure resulted in them re-taking the lead, fresher Joe Ashworth finishing with style after a melee in the Furness area. The Furness defence failed to deal with a cross from the right, attempting to clear the ball away, but only succeeding in teeing up Ashworth, who managed to squeeze his improvised volley under the Furness keeper.
County continued to look impressive throughout the rest of the first half as they imposed their first real period of control in the game, adding to their lead shortly before half time. A long ball from Hartas was flicked on expertly by Ezzeldin to find the diagonal run of Sassi, who raced clear of the Furness defence and slid the ball home confidently.
Half time seemed to rejuvenate Furness, who started the second half with a much more positive tempo, both Orford and Chong causing the County defence plenty of problems. It wasn’t long before they were back within a goal of levelling the game, a fine glancing header from Antoine Hawath nestled into the far corner following an excellent set-piece delivery from the left.
With the score still on a knife-edge at 3-2, both teams were eager to retain possession and so a midfield battle ensued, with plenty of hearty tackles being left in from both sides. The scoring, however, was yet to stop and with another set piece, County reclaimed their two-goal lead.
After Sassi’s initial corner was nodded away, the ball found its way out to James Garside on the left touchline. Garside’s low cross was inch-perfect towards his centre-back partner, and Mason made no mistake as he flicked home from close range.
There were plenty of remonstrations from Furness players about the legality of Mason’s goal to the referee after they made it clear that their linesman had been flagging furiously for offside. The referee waved away the protests, and County led 4-2.
Furness reacted superbly to their latest setback and began to put huge amounts of pressure on the County back-line. Chong’s lovely change of pace took him away from Al Rutter but his crisp drive was equally met by a smart stop from Hartas.
Shortly after hitting the bar with an audacious overhead attempt during a corner, Furness once again managed to pull a goal back in the game. Some slack marking in the County ranks allowed Pete Barnes a free run at the back post where he calmly steered a close range volley into the roof of the County goal.
With Furness on top, the game descended into a very heated and scrappy affair. County substitute Joe Bishop was booked within seconds of his introduction following a cynical foul on Orford. Teammate Jack Hulligan was also shown yellow moments later for a rash lunge, as the referee attempted to calm both sets of players down.
Despite all of Furness’s pressure late on, the best chance actually fell to County. Ryan Kendal weaved a perfectly weighted through ball into the path of substitute Ignacio Diego, who burst clear and rounded the onrushing goalkeeper, but with the goal at his mercy somehow blasted wide.
County hung on in the remaining few minutes to ensure they started the new season with a win, but new captain Rutter will know that improvements must be made to match last season’s heroics. Furness will be buoyed by their resolve and can take positives from the match going into their next fixture.