the real fa cup

A(nother) Kick In The Gornals!

KvG 0 (title).JPG Kidsgrove Athletic 3 – 0 Gornal Athletic
FA Cup 1st Qualifying Round – 17 Sept 2011

I have to admit that the choice of Kidsgrove Athletic v Gornal Athletic for my FA Cup First Qualifying Round hop is not random.  As a Black Country man by birth, Gornal is on my ancestral home patch, and a random friend-of-a-friend connection through Twitter had led to a warm welcome at the club last season.  And a scarf.  Their support base includes West Brom and Wolves fans alongside each other in a fragile equilibrium as they ply their league trade at step 6 in the West Midlands Regional Premier League.  Their Garden Walk ground is a delightful amphitheatre of dreams with a retro feel.

KvG 1.JPG I had also witnessed a remarkable Extra Preliminary Round replay at Shifnal Town where Gornal survived the dismissal of their goalkeeper and a 96th minute penalty equaliser against them to win 4-3 in extra time.  Peter Wood, shoved between the sticks from his position in defence, even saved the penalty that had followed the red card.  Even the International Space Station passed over deferentially to see what all the fuss was about as Gornal earned the right to take on Rugby Town of step 4.  The proof is here.

Ian Rowe has built a resilient side with no little self-belief using his patent methods of jumping up and down on the touchline.  After a goalless draw at Rugby, another remarkable 4-3 replay win set up this tie.  Meanwhile, Kidsgrove had strolled to a 5-1 home win over Atherstone Town, a club on its way down the hierarchy at the moment.  Kidsgrove currently have mid-table step 4 respectability in the southern half of the northern league and have announced debt-free status for the first time for several years.

KvG 2 (G setpiece over).JPG This is my first visit to The Seddon Stadium.  I suspected the orange seating could be ex-Molineux, so as a Baggie Boy I decided to stand throughout just in case to avoid contamination.   Finally, I got out my blue Gornal scarf and abandoned any semblance of neutrality as the players lined up.  Game on.

The players in blue surged towards the goal in the first few seconds and we looked like we could have a dramatic start as the first shooting chance appeared.  Then I remembered Gornal were in a change strip of green with yellow flashes and regained my composure.  Some days I can be so amateur.  Gornal were playing down the slope in the first half, and they settled quickly enough.  I suspect Ian Rowe’s sides are never overawed.

KvG 3.JPG However, the record books will show that it only took fifteen minutes for Kidsgrove to take the lead.  Mark Fullwood, returning in goal for Gornal because of the suspension of this season’s first choice, was always going to have a busy afternoon.  Initially, he seemed to have done enough to repel attackers after a high ball had caused some defensive panic, but Dave Walker was there to poach a goal, his seventh of the season.

The rest of the half fell into a pattern.  Gornal stayed calm, confident and composed and had plenty of neat possession from defence to midfield.  They probably had the better stats for territory too, but although they looked neat and attractive in approach, they were not really testing Steve Hodgson in the Kidsgrove goal.  Matt Martin was involved from midfield in much of Gornal’s best work.  On the rarer occasions that Kidsgrove got forward, they looked strong and dangerous, especially Walker.  He had a good day, unlike his strike partner Andy Tinsey, who worked hard enough, but the goal gods had preordained a day of misses for him.  The tussles between Gornal’s nippy number 9 Calum Martin and Kidsgrove’s … er … substantial number 5 Wayne Johnson provided good entertainment for the style analysts.

KvG 4 (pen,2-0).JPG Gornal’s best chance of the half fell to Jake Morgan on the half-hour mark.  Bursting through, he lifted the ball over Hodgson but a defender managed to get back in time.  A training ground free kick routine ended up with the ball flying narrowly over a few minutes later.  Kidsgrove came back strongly, though, and the luckless Tinsey was denied by the firm hands of Fullwood.  Even this chance had come from a break following visitor pressure – fullback Robin Keates probably committed to a tackle too early to free up the space behind him.  Nevertheless, there was time for the teams to trade half-chances.  Gornal wasted another set-piece, and another Kidsgrove break gave Steve Brannon a shooting chance.  He sent it wide, and it would have been unjust had Gornal been two down at the break.  Game still on, but with the home side to play down the slope for the second half.

KvG 6 (G late fk).JPG The home fans were able to relax much more within six minutes of the restart.  Kidsgrove had already missed two chances – Tinsey involved in both cases – before their captain Danny Smith ran downhill from full-back to be bundled over in the area.  Two Gornal yellow cards followed a brief group altercation before Walker stepped up to despatch the spot kick for his second of the game.

To their credit, the Gornal heads stayed high.  The first-half pattern of neat green approaches interspersed by dangerous blue breaks was re-established.  Fullwood did well on one of these to narrow the angle enough to deny Tom Urwin.  Gornal had two half-chances on the hour, a flick from Calum Martin and a header from Kristian Green, but both were just wide.  Neither called for serious effort from Hodgson, who got involved in trading abuse with a home fan as the game went on, so much so that he was warned twice by the lino.

KvG 5 broken arm.JPG This is a streetwise Kidsgrove side, though.  They added a third goal after 78 minutes through Brannan’s persistence, and Gornal’s gallant day at the office was made more annoying by the audible snap of substitute Stuart Hensman’s arm.  Ouch.  Spectators had a rainbow to look at as the match finished with a sharp shower, long enough for Gornal to have a consolation goal disallowed.  A final score of 3-0 will duly enter the record books, and Kidsgrove supporters will not remember anything other than a routine win.

Those of us that were there know differently.  It was a very creditable showing from the step 6 upstarts and they can get back to their league programme with a spring in their step.  They must, however, reflect on how little work Hodgson had to do from so many set piece chances.  Let it be said too that Ian Rowe was a model of decorum in the dugout.  Whoever gets Kidsgrove in the next round must make the most of the downhill half and be prepared to work very hard for a win.  They will not be easy for anyone to beat in therealfacup.

Words, Music and Pictures courtesy of our favourite groundhopper, Graham Yapp at Modus Hopper Random

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