Have I got promotion for you?

JIM Gannon made history on Friday night, as the first Stockport County manager ever to get a mention on Have I Got News For You?

Gannon’s new-found fame stems from his refusal to conduct interviews with Sky Sports – because of a nine-month customer relations dispute after his Sky box at home broke down.

This story became public after Gannon launched an attack on Sky in his frequently entertaining (and sometimes staggeringly angry) programme notes ahead of the League Two play-off semi-final second leg against Wycombe.

Those notes confirmed two things about Gannon: That he is an incredibly passionate man, and that he is not afraid to pick an argument with anyone – however powerful – if he feels he has been wronged.

He has even turned on his own fans before. His notes for the game against Hereford in November asked whether some of County’s supporters were “ignorant” because they were criticising the team.

(And this is a man who, when his career as a Stockport player ended eight years ago, took the club to an industrial tribunal claiming unfair dismissal. He lost.)

It doesn’t seem to have done him any harm, though; this ability to walk into controversy. The County fans still love him.

And Gannon himself seems to thrive on all this confrontation. In two-and-a-half years, Gannon has turned County from a team heading for the Conference to League Two promotion contenders.

Mind you, today’s League Two play-off final opponents Rochdale are managed by Keith Hill, who has effected a similar transformation at his club while being one of the most amiable characters in the game.

From this, you can draw the following conclusion: a manager’s public personality has no bearing on his team’s success. So the next time some halfwit (probably me) tries to convince you that Sir Alex Ferguson’s hairdryer treatment is the reason for Manchester United’s success, rest assured that they are talking cobblers. It’s more likely to be down to things like good players and smart tactics.

There really is nothing to choose between Rochdale and Stockport. Then again, any of the teams in League Two’s top 16 could probably have won promotion if they had put a run together at the right time. (If that sounds fanciful, let me remind you of the case of Bristol Rovers, who were 17th with two months of last season’s League Two campaign to go, and ended up getting promoted via the play-offs.)

It showed at a rainswept Wembley this afternoon. Both sides scored from corners in the first half; Rory McArdle heading Dale in front, Nathan Stanton handling Tommy Rowe’s right-wing cross past his own keeper for Stockport’s equaliser.

With not very much in way of a budget, Gannon has built his Stockport team in three ways: 1) By playing the loan market for all it is worth to sign good young players from Premier League and Championship clubs. 2) By giving the club’s best home-produced players – of which Rowe is one – a chance to shine. 3) Signing players from non-league clubs who had previously been bypassed by the professional game.

It was Anthony Pilkington, one of the ex-non-leaguers, who headed Stockport in front just after half-time, steering Michael Rose’s cross in off the underside of the bar with his head. Pilkington, who won’t be 20 until next month, was playing for Atherton Collieries when Gannon signed him late in 2006.

Another former non-leaguer then added the third – albeit a player signed by Gannon’s predecessor Chris Turner. Liam Dickinson thought his chance in the professional game had gone when he was rejected by Bolton and Blackburn. Like Pilkington, Dickinson was playing in the North West Counties League, for Woodley Sports, before County signed him.

When Dickinson took on Pilkington’s pass to sweep a clsssy shot between Tommy Lee and his near post midway through the second half, Stockport looked League One bound. But it wasn’t quite that simple. Adam Rundle’s superb volley pulled Rochdale back to 3-2, and made for a nailbiting final 15 minutes.

But Stockport are good at defending leads; it’s one of the reasons they have won 13 out of 23 away games in League Two this season. Having defended a 1-0 lead against Wycombe for 83 minutes to get to Wembley, hanging on for a quarter-of-an-hour was no great problem. Finally, after four Wembley defeats, County had won a game at the national stadium.

A good reward for Gannon, who played in those Wembley defeats under Danny Bergara between 1992 and 1994. I’d like to think that Ian Hislop and Paul Merton will send their congratulations too.


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