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Last gasp United through to FA Cup second round, full report

An injury time winner from Mike Norton saw FC United through to the second round of the FA Cup sponsored by E.ON with an almighty 3-2 upset over League One side Rochdale in front of 7,048 supporters.

A well taken goal by Nicky Platt and a Jake Cottrell screamer moments before and after half-time set the Reds on the way to victory over a side four divisions and 97 league places above them but the hosts fought back to make it 2-2 with 12 minutes to go.

With a replay at Gigg Lane looking likely, Norton robbed the Dale keeper in the dying seconds and slotted the ball over the line, sealing FC United’s place in the second round and sending the Red army into raptures.

In undoubtedly the biggest game in FC United’s history, with the Reds reaching this stage of the competition for the first time and drawing one of the highest placed teams possible, the occasion alone was enough to summon up the magnificent support of the United faithful packed into the away stand at Spotland.

Rochdale had a good opportunity to go ahead inside the first minute as Jason Kennedy made light work of running through the United defence and tested Sam Ashton from inside the area.  The United keeper did well, coming off his line and forcing Kennedy to shoot wide.

In spite of the huge gulf between the two sides, United clearly had no intention of sitting back as they knocked the ball about well and created chances going forward, looking to set about following manager Karl Marginson’s advice of enjoying the tie.

Carlos Roca was given room in the middle of the park and produced FC’s first effort on goal, firing low and on target, but keeper Josh Lillis was able to get down to deny the Reds.

Anthony Elding was provided with arguably Rochdale’s best chance of the half as he found himself in an ideal one on one situation but was unable to even test Ashton as the striker fired high over the bar from close range.

It was just minutes before the break that FC United opened the scoring as Jerome Wright fed the ball through to Platt who’d made the run forward. The United midfielder did extremely well in the circumstances to calmly chip the keeper, sending the United support into absolute raptures as the Reds produced an unforgettable moment, and went in leading Rochdale at the break.

The unstoppable United atmosphere continued and the visiting army of Reds had even more to celebrate as Cottrell doubled the United lead just four minutes after the restart.

A good cross from the industrious Ben Deegan found Platt who pulled the ball back to Cottrell to strike a stunning drive from 25 yards into Lillis’ top left hand corner, firmly defying his club captain’s, ‘couldn’t hit a barn door,’ quip in this week’s press.

The Reds were able to protect their two goal advantage for less than five minutes as Dale found a way back in through a free kick on the edge of the area.  Brian Barry-Murphy sent the ball in and Ashton was left watching as Elding rose to head the ball into the net.

Clearly spurred on by the goal, Rochdale began to look increasingly confident and the League One outfit now had a firm hold on the game as a stream of attacks forced United back to defend.

The home side almost equalised through Chris O’Grady who looked certain to add a second for Dale, however Richard Battersby saved the Reds with a strong goal-line clearance.

Rochdale were shown too much of the ball and substitute Jean-Louis Akpa Akpro looked particularly threatening down the right as signs of United fatigue began to show.

Marginson opted for fresh legs and Chris Ovington replaced the impressive Roca in a direct swap.

It was set pieces that looked to trouble United the most and it was through a corner that Dale levelled with 12 minutes of normal time remaining.

Craig Dawson was on-hand inside the box to connect with the corner ball, powering a header beyond Ashton, and with Rochdale in control, it seemed that a replay would now be the best possible outcome for United.

Two changes in the last ten minutes saw Marginson pack out the midfield to keep Rochdale at bay and hold out for a draw, as Simon Carden replaced Deegan and Jimmy Holden came on for makeshift left-back Battersby.

The referee indicated that a minimum of four minutes added time would be played and hearts were in mouths as the Reds, clearly now on their last legs, were forced into last ditch defending to hold off Rochdale advances.

As the final moments were played out, the undying atmosphere summed up the immense pride in the United team and the incredible support unquestionably played a significant role in the performance of the side.

One last surge from FC produced without a doubt the best scenario for everyone concerned at the club as Wright powered down the left in the last attack of the game.  

The left-winger poked the ball through to Norton who pounced on a mix-up between Marcus Holness and Lillis to nick the ball and tap it into the empty net to give FC United an unbelievable FA Cup first round victory.

The scenes at the final whistle and for several minutes after encapsulated what this achievement means as fans, players, officials and coaching staff alike invaded the Spotland pitch to celebrate an amazing entry into the second round proper of the competition. We’re on the march with Margy’s army.
Report by Victoria Fullen.

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First Posted ~ 19:17 Sat 6 Nov 2010
News ID ~ 3205
Last Updated ~ 19:17 Sat 6 Nov 2010