Birthday Boy Ben’s Blast Is Icing On The Cake, As Hatters Go Through
The Hatters progressed to Round Three of the FA Trophy for the first time, after scoring three without reply on a wintry night at Edgeley Park against Kidderminster – and chalking up in the process of this Second Round replay a first triumph over the Harriers in six attempts and more than five years.
The scoreline somewhat belied the balance of a contest, which, following Rhys Turner’s opening goal midway through the first half, saw County having to withstand spells of sustained pressure from the full-time visitors. But a strike 17 minutes from time by Ben McKenna, who was celebrating his 25th birthday, and Bohan Dixon’s late penalty made sure of a trip to National League Maidenhead United in the last 16 early next month.
County took to the field showing two changes from the starters who had lined up for the original tie three days earlier. With Dan Cowan suffering from a dead leg sustained at Aggborough, and Gary Stopforth rested, Harry Winter – who reassumed the captaincy – and Dixon were recalled as part of a a 4-2-3-1 formation that included Adam Thomas as a stand-in right-back.
A quiet opening to the contest was followed, 14 minutes in, by the first chance of note for County. Turner’s run into the visitors’ box was was halted by Fraser Horsfall, before goalkeeper Brandon Hall parried behind Dixon’s follow-up from close range.
The Harriers, unbeaten in 15 games but with four changes to their starting line-up from the weekend, were initially restricted to efforts from distance – with Dan Bradley and Liam Truslove firing, respectively, wide and high.
And after 25 minutes, County went ahead. Jimmy Ball’s header down to Jason Oswell saw the Hatters’ leading scorer tee up Turner, who sent an angled drive from the right past Hall and into the far corner for the first goal of his second spell at EP.
County looked to have a penalty claim on the half-hour mark, when Darren Stephenson went to ground under a challenge by Jimmy O’Connor – but play was waved on. And five minutes later, Hall made an excellent point-blank save after Oswell had volleyed Turner’s cross from the right.
HALF-TIME: County 1 (Turner, 25), Kidderminster 0.
As if by way of declaring further intent, the Harriers had ended the first half with a pair of off-target long-distance strikes by Manny Sonupé and Truslove. And upon the resumption, they set about bullishly concentrating play, as well as creating opportunities, in the County half: Bradley had a shot deflected past the left upright; Sonupé volleyed over from the resulting corner; Dec Weeks fired up towards the Railway End scoreboard; Sam Austin forced Ian Ormson to dive and smother his low drive from the edge of the box, before drilling another attempt narrowly wide; and James Pearson and Sonupé also sent efforts just shy of goal as the visiting onslaught continued.
But cometh the hour (give or take a minute), cometh the Birthday Boy! Substitute McKenna, who had replaced Turner after 59 minutes, was perfectly placed, just under a quarter of an hour later, to seize upon the ball 12 yards out, following a neat one-two between Winter and Oswell. One shimmy and a deflected shot later, the Hatters had doubled their advantage on the night.
Two goals up against the Harriers, with under 20 minutes to play. So far, so promising, for the prospect of that jaunt to Maidenhead. But of course, County had been pegged back from the self-same position at the weekend! Might a third goal be needed to settle any nerves?
Whether it was or not, the Hatters duly obliged a minute from time in any event, after a penalty was awarded for Pearson’s trip on Stephenson. Dixon put himself forward to take it, and calmly sent Hall the wrong way, as an instant prompt for collective County relief – not to mention a scattered consulting of route planners for the Royal County of Berkshire three Saturdays hence.
FULL-TIME: County 3 (Turner, 25; McKenna, 73; Dixon (penalty), 89), Kidderminster 0.
Team: Ormson, Thomas, Duxbury, Ball, Clarke, O’Halloran, Turner (McKenna, 59), Winter (Capt.), Oswell (Downing, 90), Dixon, Stephenson (Etches, 90).
Unused Subs: Hinchliffe, Whitty.
Attendance: 883 (56 away).
Reporter: Gareth Evans.
Photographer: Mike Petch.
All the goals