18.9.2004

F.A. Cup 1st Qualifying Round

Rugby United

Beard (69), (76)

Hednesford Town

Bell (82), McSweeney (84) (penalty)

(0) 2

(0) 2

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Leon McSweeney

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Rugby United (H) 21.9.04

The two sides will do it all again at Keys Park on Tuesday night after the Pitmen left it late to come from two goals down to earn themselves a replay against Rugby United at Butlin Road this afternoon in this F.A. Cup first qualifying round tie

Last weekend's fine win over Bath City had quickly got the Pitmen back to winning ways in the Southern Premier League, leaving them in seventh place in the table ahead of today's break from league duty. Chris Brindley was forced into one change in defence due to Richard Teesdale suffering a knock in midweek, meaning Brindley himself came back into the side at centre-back. Assistant manager Steve Anthrobus made his first appearance of the season amongst the substitutes

League rivals Rugby - sitting in fourth place in the Southern Premier League - had made a fine start to the season and had beaten Hitchin Town 2-0 last weekend at Butlin Road to make it four wins in a row for the Valley. Manager Tony Dobson stuck with the same XI for the fourth game running as he looked to move past their Southern League neighbours and into the second qualifying round, including one of the Pitmen's F.A. Trophy heroes from last season in the form of Steve Evans

The visitors started well on a beautiful early autumn afternoon and in-form Andy Bell should have given them an early lead in the fourth minute as he ran onto a fine pass from strike partner Leon McSweeney but saw his powerfully-struck shot clip to top of the crossbar and end up in amongst the Hednesford supporters behind the goal

The tricky figure of Justin Marsden had Rugby's best chance of the opening exchanges in the eighth minute as he drifted past Brindley and tried a curling shot from the edge of the Hednesford penalty area that Ryan Young watched wide of his far post

The brilliantly-named Andy Commander headed just over for the Valley three minutes later, rising highest to meet an Evans free-kick but flicking the ball over from six yards out

Rugby goalkeeper Jason Pearcey made his first meaningful contribution to the game in the fifteenth minute of the game, racing out of his goal to smother the ball at the feet of McSweeney after he had been played in behind the Rugby defence by a superb pass from Lee Williams

Another fine pass from Williams, this time a cross-field pass to Chris Gray, opened up the Rugby defence three minutes later, giving the former Sutton Coldfield man space to run into. He beat Jamie Williams with a drop of the shoulder and crossed for McSweeney, whose downward header lacked pace was easily claimed by Pearcey

Midway through the half, a quick counter from the visitors saw Anthony Maguire get away from two challenges and play the ball into Bell's feet. He quickly returned the ball to Maguire, whose first-time shot from the edge of the area failed to test Pearcey

Marsden's pace got him away from skipper Lee Barrow on twenty-three minutes and into the Hednesford box, only to have no one in sky blue making a run into the penalty area with him, forcing him to go it alone and fire over the crossbar with a shot from a tight angle

Two minutes later, McSweeney showed great skill to control Maguire's lofted pass, turning Commander and firing in a low shot that was turned away for a corner kick by Pearcey

McSweeney went even close to opening the scoring three minutes later as nice interplay involving Lee Williams and Maguire once more set the Irishman on his way, watching his rising shot come back off the crossbar before being ruled offside by a very late flag on the far side of the pitch

The dangerous Robbie Bread - scorer of four goals already this term - went close for the hosts on thirty-three minutes, diving in to head a low cross from Marsden towards goal but failed to test Young as he diverted his header wide of the post

Three minutes later, Brindley almost produced one of his age-old towering headers from a corner kick as he rose to meet a Lee Williams corner kick but headed onto the back of Craig Herbert's head and the ball was diverted over the crossbar

The Pitmen hit Rugby on the counter-attack again on forty minutes and were awarded a penalty kick as Bell was sent McSweeney away with a fine reverse ball, only for Rory Squire to bring the striker down as he entered the penalty area. Bell took the resultant kick but lifted his penalty off the ground and saw his effort come back off the crossbar via a touch off Pearcey's hand before being cleared

It had been a first-half low on quality on front of goal from both sides, with the Pitmen smarting at Bell missing his late penalty kick which would have changed both manager's half-time talks. Both sides were forced into injury-related substitutions before the second half kicked off, as Squire was replaced by former Coventry City youngster Jon Douglas for the hoists and Damien Charie came on for Ross Adams for the Pitmen

Douglas joined Marsden and Beard in a front three for the hosts that seemed to add more attacking intent to their game. Douglas held off Barrow's attention with his back to goal on fifty minutes and laid the ball off to Craig Dutton, whose subsequent shot was straight at Young

A loose pass from Maguire - now playing in a more defensive role - allowed Evans to pick the ball up and play himself into space down the right on fifty-five minutes. He pulled the ball back from the byeline and into the path of Marsden, whose right-footed shot was blocked by Brindley

Charie drew a foul out of Gary Moran on the hour mark and took the free-kick himself out on the left, floating in a cross that was flicked on by Gray and into the path of McSweeney, whose left-footed drive was diverted away by Commander for a corner kick

Commander was involved at the other end on sixty-four minutes as he made a late run into the penalty area to meet Evans's free-kick but headed high over the crossbar

The hosts had sensed a goal was coming and they finally converted one of their many second-half chances on sixty-nine minutes. A deep cross from Evans was flicked on by Douglas and into the path of Beard, who struck a sweet left-footed volley beyond the reach of Young and into the roof of the net to hand United the lead

The Pitmen seemed to have no answer to Rugby's front three and nearly conceded a second goal to the hosts two minutes later as Marsden made another one of his slaloming runs across the face of the Hednesford penalty area but pulled his shot

Anthrobus made his first appearance of the season on seventy-three minutes as he came on to add more power and presence to the forward line in place of the disappointing Matt Turner

Rugby did get their second goal of the afternoon on seventy-six minutes as skipper Craig Herbert's perfectly weighted ball into the penalty area found Douglas running into the inside right position - his pull-back from the byeline found Beard, who had the simple task of sidefooting past Young from close-range

It appeared at this point that the Pitmen were down and heading out of the F.A. Cup at the first hurdle, but for the second successive game, they showed tremendous character to come from two goals down late on in the game. The momentum swung on one flashpoint on eighty minutes as a Hednesford fan jumped over the hoardings to square up to Pearcey after taking exception to the goalkeeper's time-wasting. A five-minute stoppage ensued as the idiot was finally removed from the pitch by a combination of the Hednesford players and the stewards and the game restarted

Ironically, this stoppage appeared to benefit the away side as Pearcey's composure seemed to be severely affected by the altercation. A minute later, Bell got his side back into contention as Gray's cross was headed down by Anthrobus to the young striker, who fired underneath the body of Pearcey from ten yards out

Rugby responded through Marsden, who latched onto a fine pass from Douglas on eighty-four minutes and beat Brindley for pace, but pulled his shot across the face of Young's goal and wide of the far post

With four minutes remaining, the Pitmen were awarded their second penalty kick of the afternoon as a cross from Craig Dean saw Pearcey flap at the ball under pressure from Charie. The goalkeeper took exception to the substitute's challenge on him and swung an angry arm at the youngster in retribution. The assistant flagged for the offence and referee Mr Merchant awarded the Pitmen a penalty and booked Pearcey for raising his hands to Charie

With Bell having missed his earlier penalty, McSweeney took responsibility for the second spot-kick and fired into the left-hand corner of the net, despite Pearcey's best attempts to keep it out once more. As McSweeney went to celebrate with the Hednesford fans, Pearcey angrily kicked the ball into the midriff of the goalscorer in another act of petulance which earned him another quickfire yellow card and a subsequent sending-off

Herbert went between the sticks for the remainder of the game as the Pitmen pressed for an unlikely winner in added time, only for United to remain firm to hold out for the draw, earning them a replay at Keys Park this midweek coming. Dobson's men will have been left scratching their heads at how they went from being two goals up with eight minutes remaining to hanging on for a draw a matter of minutes later, such was the swing in momentum in the latter stages of the game. Monday's draw for the second qualifying round will act as an inspiration for the two sides to finish the job at the second attempt on Tuesday night

Rugby United: Pearcey   (84), Moran, J. Williams, Hart, Herbert ©, Commander, Squire (Douglas 45), Dutton (Redgate 70), Beard, Marsden, Evans       Subs Unused: Charley, Pearson, Thomas

Hednesford Town: Young, Adams (Charie 45), Dean, Barrow ©, Brindley, L. Williams, Maguire, Gray, Bell, McSweeney, Turner (Anthrobus 73)    Subs Unused: Beckett, Branch, Evans

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