County produced a dominant and clinical performance against Southport to win emphatically at Edgeley Park last night and move into the play-offs.
Stephen O’Halloran returned for County after a month-long injury lay off, whilst Stephenson and Duxbury also returned to the starting line-up for the game against third-placed Southport.
The night started wonderfully for the hosts, who went ahead after just two minutes. Stephenson, Oswell and Warburton combined before the latter slotted the ball home under the advancing Halstead.
A struggling Southport side could not press the free-flowing Hatters, who were passing the ball about with ease, thanks to the midfield trio of Winter, Ball and Walker.
The superiority paid off, and a lovely dinked ball from Duxbury put Jason Oswell through on goal. Southport defender Adam Dugdale got caught the wrong side of the number 9 and bundled him down, just inside the area.
A straight red card, perhaps harshly given considering the recent rule change, but County were not complaining and Warburton doubled his tally and put County two up.
The already-struggling Sandgrounders now had an almost impossible task, and it was soon three when Winter struck clinically from 15 yards out on 39 minutes, after good work from Stephenson and Duxbury.
There was still time for a fourth before half-time, a nicely worked short corner from Winter gave Oswell an easy header, and the striker scored his eighth of the season and County’s fourth of the night.
HT: County 4-0 Southport
To their credit, Southport came out fighting and had their best chance of the game. A spilt Hinchliffe cross gave Curtis Jones a chance to pull one back, but his header was cleared off the line by O’Halloran.
But any chance of a fight-back was quickly quashed by Jimmy Ball, who slotted home a Walker cross with a right footed shot inside the area.
Five minutes later, it was six and again Walker was involved. This time his pinpoint cross was headed home by Oswell, who is now the top goalscorer in the league on nine goals.
Ball and Stephenson had further chances but County comfortably saw out the game without real drama. The win seeing County climb into seventh place with a healthy goal difference of +7.
FT: County 6-0 Southport
Squad: Hinchliffe, Minihan (Cowan, 54), Duxbury, Ball, Clarke, O’Halloran, Stephenson, Winter (Capt.), Oswell (Hampson, 69), Warburton (T Walker, 63), S Walker.
Unused Subs: Smith, McKenna.
Scorers: Warburton (2, 24), Winter (39), Oswell (45, 59), Ball (52).