The Sport Review
By Paul Hurst
7:23pm UK, Saturday November 6, 2010
By Paul Hurst, 7:23pm UK, Saturday November 6, 2010
Non-league FC United of Manchester, making their debut in the first round, provided the first shock of this year’s FA Cup as they dumped Rochdale out of the competition with a 3-2 victory at Spotland on Friday night.
FC United, formed in the wake of Malcolm Glazer’s takeover of Manchester United in 2005 and wholly owned by their fans, currently sit 15th in the Evo-Stik Premier Division, 95 league places below League 1 Rochdale.
The Reds could easily have been a goal down inside a minute, as some flat-footed defending presented the home side with a great chance to take the lead. A few minutes later, the visitors were arguably lucky to not concede a penalty for handball, with referee Geoff Eltringham waving away Rochdale’s protests.
However as the half wore on, United began to assert themselves, even beginning to run sections of the play. A 0-0 scoreline looked likely at half-time, which would have certainly suited the visitors more than the hosts.
However, in the 42nd minute, wide-man Jerome Wright played through Nicky Platt who found himself one-on-one with Rochdale goalkeeper Josh Lillis. Platt kept his nerve and deftly chipped it over him and into the back of the net to put the hosts into an unlikely lead.
United had sold their allocation of 3,200 tickets by Monday afternoon, and the goal sparked wild scenes in the packed Wilbutts Lane stand, with some fans spilling on to the pitch during the celebrations.
Four minutes into the second half, the noise level from the away fans went up another notch. Ben Deegan—a window manufacturer by day—held up the ball against a pair of Rochdale defenders before receiving a return ball down the left from Mike Norton.
Deegan’s ball into the box was cleared to Jake Cottrell 20 yards out, who drove the ball hard and high into the Rochdale goal beyond the outstretched hand of the diving Lillis.
The 22-year-old Cottrell was plucked from Sunday League football by FC United manager Karl Marginson last season, and went to the same school as another, slightly more famous, midfield goalscorer – Paul Scholes.
It took Rochdale just three minutes to get back into the game. United conceded a soft free-kick about 25 yards out. The ball in found its way to an unmarked Anthony Elding who easily nodded past goalkeeper Sam Ashton.
A nervy period of the game then ensued, with Rochdale spurning a couple of good chances to snatch an equaliser. United left-back Richard Battersby was forced to clear a shot off the line with 20 minutes to go.
It was another set-piece which again proved to be the undoing of the non-league side. A corner from the right was met by the head of Craig Dawson, who drilled a header into the goal, to tie the game with 12 minutes to go.
The Dale clearly smelt blood, with manager Keith Hill signalling to fans behind the dugout that he expected a 5-2 victory for his men. For their part, the visitors hung on doggedly following the equaliser, with a replay certainly on the minds of both teams.
Then the tie was turned completely on its head.
Deep into the fourth minute of injury time, United gained possession of the visitors inside their own half. Jerome Wright took the ball down the outside, before playing an innocuous-looking ball ahead of striker Mike Norton.
With a Dale defender covering, and keeper Lillis coming, it looked to pose no danger. Norton refused to give up on it, and as Lillis went down on the ball, it came free. The non-league veteran nicked it away from the keeper, before slotting it into the empty net, wheeling away with his arms aloft.
There was an element of controversy about the goal, as replays showed Norton may have knocked the ball out of the goalkeeper’s arms. However, Dale’s protests were waved away by the officials, with Lillis receiving a yellow card for his troubles.
There was barely time for the restart, with the final whistle sparking joyous scenes, with the FC United players being carried off the pitch on the shoulders of their own supporters, with few actually being able to believe what had happened just seconds earlier.
FC United now, remarkably, find themselves as the first team in the hat for the Second Round draw on Sunday. The result will have big implications for the club off the pitch as well as on it.
The club are currently raising funds to build a 5,000-capacity community use stadium in Newton Heath – where Manchester United began life more than 130 years ago.