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Opposition Nelson
Venue Gigg Lane, Bury
Competition Division 2 Trophy
Date 04-02-2006
Time 15:00
Attendance 3007
0 (0) - 1 (0)
  Smith 120
1 Barrie George Yellow card
2 Tony Cullen
3 Kevin Elvin
4 Steven Spencer
5 Billy McCartney
6 Dave Brown (capt)
7 Joshua Howard
8 William Ahern
9 Leon Mike
10 Steve Torpey
11 Adie Orr

12 Robert Nugent (for 3)
14 Chris Simms (for 10)
15 Jonathan Mitten (for 9)
1. Billy Carrington,
2. Mansar Ditta,
3. Darren Fullard,
4. Kevin Richardson (capt),
5. Duncan Bennett,
6. Lee Scholes,
7. Robbie Smith,
8. James Coonan,
9. Chris Ridehalgh,
10. Michael Holt,
11. Paul Barrett

12. Andy Howarth (for 8, 85 mins),
14. John Harrison (for 9, 100 mins),
15. Jason Jones (for 11, 112 mins)
Match Report
This Division Two Trophy quarter final was eagerly awaited by both sides. FC United had their league match called off at the eleventh hour last Sunday and were keen to resume battle. Nelson, for their part, had been brutally battered by 14 goals to nil last weekend by Cammell Laird from the top flight in a League Cup tie so were also keen to put that defeat further behind them.

Credit to both clubs, who share gate receipts equally in cup competitions, for deciding to allow free entry to under 18�€trade;s at Gigg Lane. This is a good initiative that will surely pay benefits in the future as youngsters will �€�learn�€trade; the habit of match-going with their friends and become regular supporters.

Manager Marginson had a near full squad available for selection. Mark Rawlinson is the only longer term absentee. Mark was hopeful that he was making progress from his groin problem but suffered a further setback on Thursday in training and is back to square one. He is likely to take further medical advice as he now fears the underlying problem may be a hernia.

The other absentees today might have been utilised if needed through other injuries. Club captain David Chadwick is all but completely recovered from his toe injury and will surely get further run outs in the upcoming friendlies against Glossop and Galway if not the Daisy Hill match next weekend. Likewise, Gareth Ormes is now really only lacking match sharpness. Simon Carden is still thought to need a little more time to strengthen his knee before a full return but he�€trade;ll probably see action in the friendlies as well.

Nelson looked to change their luck against United by eschewing their usual blue colours as worn in the 2 previous meetings between the clubs this season. The visitor�€trade;s emerged from the changing rooms in an all yellow strip. United, of course, wore their usual black socks, white shorts and red shirts. The only difference this week being that all of United�€trade;s shirts were adorned with black armbands in memory of those who perished, some 48 years ago, at Munich.

Nelson kicked off the contest and might have stolen a huge early advantage as a bad mix-up between Dave Brown and Barrie George saw the latter kick an attempted clearance against Paul Barrett. The United goalkeeper and Barrett then tangled as the ball rebounded back towards the United goal. Dave Brown was on hand and would have tidied up but I�€trade;m sure that Barrie was a little nervous as the referee, Mr. Birch, chastised him and then showed only a yellow card. Michael Holt blasted the resulting freekick into the United defensive wall.

Holt was looking a bit menacing in the early stages, he is Nelson�€trade;s leading scorer this season and was playing out on the Nelson right and so was matched up against Kev Elvin and the two of them had a good battle during the first period. Holt has clearly done well to score the number of goals, 19, that he has this campaign. This is particularly true as he was taking all corners and freekicks for Nelson.

On 12 minutes Josh Howard went on a great run beyond his marker but Dave Brown, who was on the ball, didn�€trade;t see him initially. Josh curved his run in an attempt to stay onside but as Brown delivered the linesman raised his flag. This was the first, but certainly not the last time, that this particular linesman would thwart a good looking United attack with a doubtful offside decision.

William Ahern, fully recovered from the head injury incurred in the match against Ashton, found himself in a good position after a neat turn outside of the Nelson area. Unfortunately the shot that followed the turn was not as effective as it rose over the bar. A few minutes later, in the 24th, and the best United moment of the match, so it would turn out arrived courtesy of a wonderful strike from Leon Mike. A crossfield ball was fired in from the right, Steve Torpey could only loop the ball up with a header but it fell well for Mike. The big man controlled instantly and then swiftly cut inside onto his right foot. His shot was powerful yet precise and from about 25 yards out; Carrington scrambled back and across but was not near reaching the effort as it clipped the top of the crossbar and went behind.

Two minutes later and an attacking United throw-in on the right near to the corner flag picked out Mike. It was very busy in the Nelson area with space at a premium but Leon Mike and Will Ahern exchanged passes quickly before Mike let loose with a left foot drive that was half blocked. The resulting effort sat up for Adie Orr who needed no second invitation to attempt the spectacular. His overhead kick from 10 yards went narrowly beyond the right hand post.

On the half hour a United corner from the right side was poorly dealt with by Carrington but his weak punch was only headed over the bar from a good position by Dave Brown.

Nelson were sporadically looking dangerous in attack but it was mostly a rearguard action that they were mounting. Barrie George only had one shot on target to deal with in the entire first half. On one of their rare forays forwards Robbie Smith carried the ball fully 40 yards from inside of his own half before shooting wide from the edge of the United area.

A neat exchange between Leon Mike, Adie Orr and Josh Howard saw the latter running in behind the Nelson backline but a last ditch tackle saved the day for the visitors just as Josh was looking to pull the trigger. Howard was again in behind the Nelson leftback area a minute or two later and he was well found by Dave Brown. Unfortunately for United the final shot was marginally wide of target and rolled to the wrong side of the left hand post.

Paul Barrett threatened to open up the United defence after a mistake from Billy McCartney but Dave Brown cut out the low cross from the Nelson right at the near post and was happy to concede the corner kick. In the final minute of the half United again threatened as Kev Elvin slipped the ball into Adie Orr. Adie shot from the edge of the area, left of centre, but failed to make a good contact. The intended shot turned into a pass, however, as Howard stole in just beyond the far post and turned the ball goalwards from a tight angle. Carrington did well to spread himself and stopped the ball with a trailing hand. Howard was then beaten to the loose ball by a covering defender who cleared the Nelson lines once again.

Margy decided to shake things up at halftime by switching United from their usual 4-4-2 formation to a 3-5-2. Kev Elvin was deemed to be the odd man out and he made way for Rob Nugent before the second half kicked off. Nugent slotted in as the leftmost of three centrebacks with Tony Cullen and Steve Torpey operating as right and left wingbacks, respectively. Spencer and Ahern anchored the centre midfield area with Howard given a free role. Orr and Mike continued to spearhead things up front.

The new formation seemed to coincide with an improvement in United�€trade;s performance as the second half started. A nice flowing movement involving Torpey, Howard, Mike and Spencer was finished off by Adie Orr but unfortunately United�€trade;s number 11 struck his shot �€�straight down the keeper�€trade;s throat�€trade; from the edge of the penalty area.

Nelson upped their game in the second period too. They still seemed to be lacking any real attacking ambition but as the home side improved their attacking play so Nelson upped their defensive game to match the league leaders.

Nelson�€trade;s influential captain, Kevin Richardson, ought to have done better as a Nelson freekick was crossed in from the left side. The flight seemed to deceive the United cover and Richardson was left with a free header near the far post but could not direct it goalwards, the officials charitably awarded a corner kick to Nelson despite Richardson�€trade;s being the final touch.

In the 54th minute Barrie George was again called into action as a powerful strike from Robbie Smith warmed his hands. George pushed the drive upwards and then clutched the ball as it dropped back to him. It was probably just as well that the shot was straight to United�€trade;s keeper as George might have struggled to keep it out had it been directed to either side of him.

A minute later and United again came close. A Steve Torpey outswinging corner kick from the United left picked out captain Dave Brown who headed goalwards from only 6 or 7 yards out. The header, directed towards the bottom left of goal, was repelled by either goalkeeper Carrington or a defender on the goalline or even possibly a combination of both. Just before the hour mark and Mike again showed his class as he received a pass into feet by Torpey. He used his strength to fend off two defenders before shooting narrowly wide of the right hand post from 15 yards.

Five minutes later and a lobbed pass from Tony Cullen was superbly controlled by Orr. Adie carried the ball into the area but the chance was lost as defenders closed in and Carrington dashed out to smother the ball at Adie�€trade;s feet. At the other end Coonan shot weakly and George gathered with ease.
In the 68th minute Nelson came as close as they had at any time as Michael Holt got in behind the United defence. Barrie George did well to force the prolific Nelson striker wide of goal but Holt also did little wrong as his shot from an acute angle, to the left of goal, struck the face of the United crossbar and bounced away to safety.

Things calmed down a little, as far as chances were concerned, for a ten minute spell but there was still plenty going on. Nelson captain Richardson talked his way into the referee�€trade;s notebook after remonstrating about a forceful tackle from Josh Howard on James Coonan that left the Nelson number 8 needing lengthy treatment. Soon after and Holt joined his captain in the book after he had an exchange of views with the linesman about the official�€trade;s failure to intervene when Holt thought that he�€trade;d been fouled by McCartney near the touchline. Coonan returned to action for a short while but was eventually substituted.

United mounted a final assault on the Nelson goal but still could not break the deadlock. Howard managed only a weak shot with his left foot after neatly skipping around an attempted tackle; Carrington gathered easily. Steve Torpey saw a shot deflected up and over the Nelson bar by a covering defender. When the resulting corner kick was palmed away by Carrington to Nugent the United substitute saw his powerful shot deflected beyond the right post.

After 4 minutes of stoppage time referee Birch brought the 90 minutes to a close and we readied ourselves for 30 minutes of extra time. Penalties were not an option, if things remained level after the extra time then a replay would be required. One could be excused for wondering if Nelson�€trade;s game plan from the earliest stages had been to hope for a potentially lucrative replay and the balance of play in the first period of extra time did little to dissuade me from the opinion that they were aiming to defend at all costs.

United might have scored twice in the first 15 minutes of extra time. Firstly Chris Simms, on for Torpey, was played in by Ahern. The veteran Simms took his chance with a first time strike that Carrington instinctively blocked. On the stroke of halftime in extra time United had the ball in the Nelson net but saw the goal cruelly ruled out courtesy of the linesman�€trade;s flag. Joz Mitten sent in a teasing cross that was just too high for Simms but the ball was headed on by a Nelson defender. This header fell well for Adie Orr who calmly controlled before firing into the bottom left of goal past Carrington. The nearside official raised his flag as the ball arrived to Adie, who had clearly been onside as Joz�€trade;s original cross was played in. I�€trade;m not sure how the linesman missed the fact that the ball came to Adie via a defender�€trade;s touch but he clearly did so the �€�goal�€trade; did not stand.

The final chapter played out as United took a corner on their right with 120 minutes having been played. Some stoppage time was expected as Carrington had received treatment after a 50:50 with Adie Orr had left him grounded. The corner was cleared out by Nelson and came to substitute Jason Jones on halfway. Jones managed to elude a challenge initially but he then seemed to get the ball stuck under his feet as he tried to sprint clear. This allowed cover back goalside and the danger looked to have passed but Jones persisted. The Nelson number 15 eventually dug out a cross to the farpost that Robbie Smith ran onto. Smith was very cool as he took a touch before stroking the ball beyond Barrie George and thus catapulting Nelson into the semi-finals. 0-1.

One can only imagine the mixed emotions felt amongst the Nelson officials who surely would have been looking forward to a money-spinning replay only to have that dream exploded as Smith drifted away from the script and scored a goal that might have cost his club up to �£10,000. The lost potential revenue was clearly the last thing on Smith�€trade;s mind and likewise the minds of the 50 or 60 Nelson supporters who celebrated the goal for all that they were worth.

This was a tough game and I�€trade;m sincerely pleased for Nelson that they progress. Their back four were exceptional and Billy Carrington in goal did all that was required of him. They fought for every tackle, chased every ball and never showed any doubt in their plan from minute 1 to minute 120. I hope that they continue to show that same level of belief and application during the rest of their season, if so they will surely rise further up the league and provide stiff opposition for whomever they match up with in the semi final and perhaps final.

As for United it was a bad day at the office. We looked defensively solid as usual but unusually lacking in the attacking areas. Lots of possession but few clear cut chances created. Adie Orr was the best performer, for me, on the day. He was clearly exhausted near the end but he kept chasing everything until the final whistle. He was unlucky that his goal didn�€trade;t stand.

Clich�© time now. The rest of the season starts next Saturday at Chorley as Daisy Hill will be our hosts, let�€trade;s now concentrate on the league!!

(with thanks to FC United of Manchester supporter Wayne Clark for supplying this match report)
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