By Ricky George
It may have been a Manchester Derby with a difference, but for sheer excitement and some spectacular finishing, yesterday's FA Cup Preliminary Round tie between Trafford and FC United of Manchester would have graced Old Trafford itself. The two non-league sides - Trafford play in the Vodkat NW Counties League whilst United have climbed to the Unibond Division One North on level four of the pyramid - produced a thrilling and combative encounter at Altrincham's Moss Lane stadium.
In beating their local rivals 5-2, the breakaway fans' club, playing in their first ever FA Cup match, earned the right to play Fleetwood Town in the First Qualifying Round of the competition.
Over a century ago, the fledgling Newton Heath FC (who became Manchester United in 1902) entered the FA Cup for the first time against the very same opponents. Football does occasionally throw up strange coincidences, this one almost defies belief.
It is only two years since a group of disenchanted Manchester United supporters abandoned their beloved side in protest against the sale of the club to the Glazer family.
On the premise that membership of the new club would attract a minimum of 1000 fans, the organisers, in receipt of four times that figure, moved in to share League Two Bury's Gigg Lane stadium. FC United quickly won successive championships, playing to average crowds of nearly 3000.
They could have been 3-0 up inside the first 10 minutes, but took the lead a minute later following Josh Howard's corner; central defender Rob Nugent thumping home a header from just inside the penalty area.
Howard, a former Manchester United youth player, made it 2-0 from close range shortly after. In front of a huge home attendance of 2,238, Chris Mackay reduced the arrears with a delicate chip as Trafford battled their way back into contention. They deservedly levelled the scores when Andy Lundy forced his way through.
It was fast and furious as FC United went back in front a minute before half-time when Nicky Platt converted a penalty following a Trafford handball in the box. The pace dropped in the second half as FC United resumed control, Simon Carden restoring their two-goal advantage with 21 minutes left.
Fittingly, in the final minute, a player named Hargreaves (Anthony) topped off the performance with the fifth and final goal, leaving FCUM with just six more rounds to play before entering the draw alongside their Almer Mater.
"It's a FCUM Love thang" read one of many banners around Moss Lane. "Making friends not millionaires", said another.