Extra time sees United triumph.
United’s speedy return to form was concluded in dramatic circumstances during an NCEL League Cup tie at Grange Park that saw a re-shuffled starting line-up overcome a two goal second half deficit to finally win through in extra-time and edge out Handsworth by four goals to three.
Nathan Parker, Paul Gamble and Martin Bowles all returned to first-team duty and James Carder and Elliot King were each given their first starts of the season along with ‘keeper Scott Webb, who was deputising for the unavailable Ross Whalin. Jimmy Hunter and new signing Matt Weightman were both making their full debuts and. Micky Allsop, Will Mellors-Blair, Shaun Rickford, and Theo Ganderson were ‘rested’ to the bench.
During a competitive first half, in which both sides matched each other well, nobody could have predicted the goal frenzy that followed after the interval.
In the first forty-five minutes United got off to a speedy start and both Weightman and King were prominent as Gamble fired in some probing crosses from the left. Bowles had an early long range effort which visiting ‘keeper Luke Herriott did well to keep hold of and a Parker shot was screwed wide from distance. At the other end, the Handsworth strikers appeared lively but Dean Whiley and Carder were both effective when danger emerged. Jacob Webster was also showing great composure, coping efficiently with the pace down the Handsworth left.
Immediately after the restart United went close to opening the scoring twice within a minute. First King sent a header over the bar and moments later a fierce drive from Parker inched wide of the upright.
With United playing so well it was a setback on fifty minutes when a corner found the head of Dave Kippax, who rose unchallenged to power his side into the lead and three minutes later Handsworth nearly had a second when a shot hit the post and rebounded back across the goal to safety.
Eager to battle their way back, United went desperately close on a number of occasions. King laid a header into the path of Weightman, whose low shot was well saved, and Michael Martin shrugged of the attentions of his markers to almost edge the ball past Herriott. Rickford and Mellors-Blair joined the action during the final quarter and soon afterwards the latter slipped a clever ball to Bowles whose hurried shot was saved.
Just as United appeared to be edging their way back, Handsworth increased their lead after a loose ball fell to Dave Cockerhill and his strike was despatched in clinical fashion from twelve yards.
In light of last Saturday’s result, United could have capitulated completely but a great fight-back began when Martin got behind the Handsworth rearguard to power his header past Herriott and within four minutes the scores were level again. Gamble, who had been whipping in dangerous crosses from the outset, zipped in a goal-bound effort from the left and his shot took a telling deflection on its way into the net.
With their tails up, United had the lead for the first time soon afterwards when Martin again got himself in the right place to head his second goal of the evening. Unfortunately, and perhaps due to the nature of the tie, the visitors hit back only three minutes later when Cockerhill was able to nudge the ball over the line after a goalmouth scramble.
Extra time belonged to United and Rickford gave his side the lead again four minutes before the break when he took his opportunity from close range. Webb had to make a good save moments before the second interval but during the closing fifteen minutes King, Ganderson and Rickford all went agonisingly close to making the game secure.
At the conclusion United were deserved victors in a highly entertaining game, in which both sides played their part. However, despite scoring four goals on the night, they could have had many more.
The end result was just the lift that the team needed, as much for themselves as any of the Grange Park faithful, and their performance was as far removed from their previous game as two matches could be.
The display from Elliot King deserved reward of having his name on the score-sheet as the young striker worked tirelessly for the whole 120 minutes and he went very close on more than one occasion. Theo Ganderson, who perhaps needs a goal himself, created problems when he was introduced and new signing Matt Weightman impressed enough on the night to raise hopes.
Shaun Rickford continues to ‘do what it says on the tin’ and although he could have already doubled his early season tally, it is enough to know that he is getting himself in the right areas. Will Mellors-Blair will always be a handful and is a significant reason why the team seems to now have much greater pace
James Carder again impressed and the regular stalwarts all played their part in a spirited victory, with Michael Martin emphatically consigning his FA Cup performance three days earlier to his ‘least memorable games’ dustbin.