Hatters Held, After Rebels Hadn’t Red The Script
The Hatters must travel to Moston in midweek for their first FA Cup replay in seven years, after an archetypal ‘game of two halves’ at Edgeley Park that saw them surrender a three-goal lead after the break to FC United of Manchester.
In the event, their name will at least be in the hat for Monday’s 1pm Fourth Qualifying Round draw – although such was the strength of second-half comeback by the ‘Red Rebels’, County could quite feasibly have suffered only a second-ever September exit from the competition.
The Hatters took to the field on a drizzly afternoon, showing two changes from the EP starting line-up against North Ferriby a week previously. Jimmy Ball and Matty Warburton replaced Bohan Dixon and the injured Sam Minihan as part of a 4-2-3-1 formation – while the seven-player bench included Michael Clarke and captain Harry Winter, following their injuries at York City earlier in the month, and youth centre-forward Szymon Czubik.
County made much of the early running, as Warburton hooked over a Dan Cowan throw from the right, and Chris Smalley glanced a header wide of the left upright after the Hatters had earned their third corner with less than a quarter of an hour played.
But after 19 minutes, the pressure paid off and County went ahead. Gary Stopforth’s through-ball found Warburton after Zac Corbett and ex-Hatter Jordan Fagbola collided with each other, and Warburton fired past visiting goalkeeper Lloyd Allinson from 10 yards.
Warburton doubled his tally and County’s lead 12 minutes later, following the award of a free kick just outside the visitors’ box for Fagbola’s foul on Jason Oswell. The low, goal-bound delivery took a deflection off Stopforth on its way into the bottom right-hand corner, and the Hatters were two to the good.
And, with four minutes to go before half-time, two became three, as Warburton found Scott Duxbury, whose cross from the left was volleyed home at close range by Oswell for his 12th goal in all competitions.
HALF-TIME: County 3 (Warburton, 19 and 31; Oswell, 41), FC United 0.
FC United made a trio of substitutions upon the resumption, while County brought on Winter for Oswell after the Hatters’ top scorer had suffered a hamstring problem.
The visitors’ leading striker Jason Gilchrist, having operated anonymously as a lone forward in the first half, was quick to show his intent with more attacking support after the interval, as he forced Ben Hinchliffe to dive and smother a low drive from distance.
Gilchrist then went one better after 57 minutes, when Ball conceded possession and substitute Joel Logan crossed from the left for the attacker to drill past Hinchliffe. Within a further minute, Logan was crossing dangerously again – only for his delivery to be hit just shy of the far post by Danny Wisdom.
The Hatters lost the services of Duxbury, who was stretchered off following a poor tackle by visiting skipper Scott Kay, after 68 minutes. And three minutes later, their lead was reduced to one when Gilchrist teed up another substitute Tom Greaves, who fired home.
The Red Rebels, clearly no longer without a cause, completed their comeback six minutes from time, after Greaves – moving away from goal – went to ground in the County box under a challenge from Hinchliffe, and Steve Irwin converted the penalty to set up Tuesday night’s replay.
FULL-TIME: County 3 (Warburton, 19 and 31; Oswell, 41), FC United 3 (Gilchrist, 57; Greaves, 71; Irwin (penalty), 84).
Team: Hinchliffe, Cowan, Duxbury (Hampson, 68), Ball, Smalley, O’Halloran (first-half Capt.), Thomas, S Walker, Oswell (Winter (second-half Capt.), 46), Stopforth, Warburton (Dixon, 78).
Unused Subs: Ormson, Clarke, McKenna, Czubik.
Booked: O’Halloran, Cowan, Stopforth.
Man of the Match: Warburton.
Attendance: 3,034 (732 away).