FA TROPHY QUARTER FINAL Replay – 14/3/2000
Rushden & Diamonds – 1 [O.G. 86]
Sutton United – 3 [Winston 35, Newhouse 55 Ekoku 67]
Well bugger me. I’m not quite sure exactly where to start with this one!
We all expected a bumming, but what we got was the most unbelievable result attained at high flying Rushden and Diamonds by the most hard working, disciplined performance by a Sutton team at least since the Semi-Final 1st leg at Wycombe back in 1993. Wowzers.
The afternoon started with Bob and myself meeting up in Blackfriars and heading to St Pancras to get the 4pm train to Wellingborough. Chalmers had long ago elected to travel west for the Cheltenham Festival, so it left just the 2 of us from the SUFC formation drinking team to attend this game. We hit Wellingboro at 10 to 5 and set about locating a decent boozer. This proved to be harder than we’d imagined! A 10 minute trot into town produced several ‘Free Houses’ stocking nowt but fizzy shite and cold smoothflow crap. The only way they should be allowed to use the phrase ‘Free House’ is if they’re giving the stuff away.
Eventually we find the Cambridge Tap which does a half decent pint of Pedigree. After this we decide we need more obscure scrunge to quench our thirst. Another 20 minutes later and just as we’re about to give up our folorn quest, I spy a sign. ‘Free House’ it says. Hmmm, may as well take a look I s’pose. We enter what turns out to be a splendid pub called The Cannon. “Fucking hell, we’re in here Taz!” exclaims Bob. I soon see what he means. The bar contains about 8 different handpump ales. Result! Get ‘em in son.
After a couple of pints and a nice chat with the landlord, who also kindly produces the number of a taxi firm for us, we book a cab and head back to the station via Joe’s Fish Bar which does a blinding sausage and chips. Well, at least we know where we’ll be spending the early part of Saturday afternoon when we’re back here for the league game!
The cab dumps us at Nene Park with 15 mins to Kick off and we stroll into the away end, commenting how bloody impressive it looks with the floodlights blazing. How is this club still in the Conference?? Proggies purchased, we take our place in the stand and await the tanking we expected to get 3 days earlier at GGL. All this negative vibe, lack of expectation shit must work. ‘Cos it doesn’t happen. Again!
The side remains unchanged and from the first whistle we’re again attacking our illustrious opponents. There’s less footy being played by the U’s than on saturday, but for once the direct, long balls forward seem to be working. They’re dropping into the channels between defenders allowing Sammy to chase after them like a lunatic. This in turn seems to unsettle the home defenders, who themselves resort to hoofing the ball clear. Obviously they don’t want a repeat of the goal they conceded at the weekend. The home side try to play as much as possible, but seem to mainly aim deep balls forwards towards Collins. He’s good in the air, but he’s snuffed out before a threat can develop. One of our huge hoofs has Sam tussling with the defender before sending a shot just wide, but the ref awards a free kick to the home side for some infringement or other.
Rushden have their best move soon after, with some nice passing resulting in a 20-odd yard shot drifting over Howells crossbar. More lumping forwards keeps the home side occupied and away from our back four! But our rearguard is dealing with most threats adequately. The line is holding well, supporting each other and not actually leaving anyone unmarked for a change!
Then, with the big posh digital scoreboard showing 35 minutes played, Newhouse brings down a long ball forwards and advances on the Rushden back four. Sammy makes a run and Aidan slips the ball through into the channel in front of him. Sam leaves his marker for dead and from 12 yards, slams the ball past the exposed Turley. Our section goes mad! We’ve bloody done it again! Now if we can only hold it until half time!!!
Rushden immediately push for the equaliser. But this time they can’t force an opening and the half time whistle is greeted with a loud cheer from the travelling U’s fans. Fucking hell! We’re actually 1-0 up at Rushden and looking good! I’m a little emotional, so I elect to call the missus and catch up on her days activities. Bob discovers that K’s are 0-0 at Southport, so no news there.
The second half starts and the home side have made a sub. Obviously to maybe try and counter our midfield, which is actually having a bloody good game and picking up loads of loose ball for a change. Diamonds get their first corner of the match early in the half and it’s headed miles over. Phew! Then moments later, another Diamonds attack see’s a Collins cross hit Laker. The home end screams for a penalty, but to our relief the ref waves play on.
It’s to prove a pivotal moment in the match, as almost immediately we break downfield. Sammy is unable to control a square ball and it runs to Dacky. He does control it and steps inside the approaching defender before playing a little flick to his right. Newhouse collects, controls and on the half volley smashes the ball beyond Turley’s full stretch dive and into the corner of the net.
WAAAHOOOOO!!! 2-0 and DAYLIGHT! We understandably go completely apeshit as a pile of at least 8 U’s players bundles over to the byeline in front of us to celebrate. Quite how the ref doesn’t book anyone for over celebrating is beyond me! In fact, how none of us gets ejected for our frankly OTT wild celebrating is something to think about!
Suddenly it’s all Sutton as Rushden are clearly rocked. The midfield opens up and the Harlow/Dack partnership really starts to click for the first time this season. Sammy is running his arse off like never before, Nko’s galloping runs from deep are unsettling the home defence and we roar the lads on to finish the favourites off once and for all.
Just after the hour mark and Chalmers calls me on my mobile for an update. Thoughtless bastard! FUCK OFF!!! I’M TRYING TO WATCH THE GAME PC! Still, I take the call. He nearly faints with shock and accuses me of winding him up when I inform him we’re 2-0 up. Well if you don’t want the truth mate, don’t fucking call!
Just as I’m trying to end the call and get back to watching the game, Dacky recieves a ball in the corner right in front of us and wins a throw in. Chalmers asks whats going on. I ignore him! The throw is taken and again Dacky is the recipient. This time he turns and knocks the ball off the covering defenders legs for a corner. The volume level goes up a notch and Chalmers again requests information. I tell him we have a corner.
For the first time that night, just Dave Harlow trots over to take the kick. He floats the ball to the near post where Ekoku rises unchallenged, twists and loops a header over the ‘keeper and into the far corner of the net. Total delirium breaks out in the away section as the 80 or so travelling fans lose their minds and all Chalmers hears for a good 2 minutes is just crazed screaming, hollering, some choice Anglo-Saxon phrases and other assorted background noise. Suddenly I remember he’s on the phone and check he’s actually still there. Amazingly, he is!! I tell him in a now rather hoarse voice that we’re now 3-0 up. Dazed, he mumbles something and hangs up. Charming!
I stare at the scoreboard at the far end. It shows that the situation is real and it is happening. We’re 3-0 up at Rushden! And there’s some 20 minutes still to play. Oooh bugger. Surely we can’t chuck THIS one?
Soon after, Chalmers calls me again. He’s calmed down a touch and asks again for a calm report on the situation. I repeat the score again. “3-0 Mate. I swear on my family’s life”, “Fucking Hell” is his only response and again he hangs up on me. Twat.
The clock on the scoreboard is now ticking away the minutes in agonisingly slow fashion. Every time I look up at it, the score looks fucking brilliant but only a minute has ticked by. Rushden by this time are starting to find the gaps as our lads tire a bit and start allowing them to pass the ball more. One cross from the byeline finds Collins unmarked and he heads way over from 7 yards or so. Cooper then misses two similar sitters from corners. Heading one down and well wide when he really should have scored and the other well over the bar. Then with 4 minutes to play, Rushden win a free kick out wide, around 30 yards from goal. It’s delivered deep into the penalty area. Cooper goes for it and Brooker then throws himself at the ball to try and clear. Unfortunately he only succeeds in forcing it in via the post and bar. Bollocks. 3-1. We look at the clock for about the 1000th time. Shit! 4 minutes! More than enought time to piss it away. Bob and I exchange looks. “Bastards! Don’t do this to us lads!!”
The home side now throw everything forward to try and salvage the match. Even goalkeeper Turley goes up for a couple of corners but to no avail. The clock hits 90 minutes. We’re nearly there! Bob and I trot down to the paddock at the front of the stand. The board is held up by the 4th official and shows 2 minutes. Aaaaaagggh!!!
120 seconds later and the ref looks at his watch one last time before calling time on the best Sutton performance for years. Unbelievable! Absolutely no-one, even myself and other U’s fans gave us much chance of pulling this off, but somehow the lads have produced an amazing performance and achieved mission impossible.
Whilst in the bar awaiting our taxi back to the station, we hear K’s have snatched an 86th minute winner at Southport. Fucking typical. Bloody hoopy tossers. S’pose we’ll have to knock out ‘The one team in Surrey’ to get to Wembley then.
LET’S HAVE IT!!!!
MAN OF THE MATCH : I simply can’t pick one man! It’s just not possible.
ENTERTAINMENT : 10. Brilliant performance.
TEAM : Howells, Harford, Laker, Brooker, Skelly, Riley, Harlow, Dack, Ekoku, Newhouse, Winston
SUBS : Hutchinson, Forrester, Sears