Rugby Town were left crestfallen and shell shocked in Saturday’s FA Cup 3rd Qualifying Round tie after hosts Brackley Town hit a stoppage time equaliser to take the tie to a replay on Tuesday.
After a tepid first half which saw little clear cut chances for either side, the second half kicked into life when Brackley were awarded a soft penalty just after the hour mark.
Valley ‘keeper Raajan Gill had to quickly rush off his line to deny Brackley’s man from reaching the ball. In doing so, the ref adjudged Gill to have fouled his man and pointed to the spot. Gill, meanwhile, had been clattered during the incident and had to receive lengthy treatment before the spot kick could be taken.
When Gill got back on his feet, he at least only received a yellow card, and not the red that everyone – including the Rugby coaching staff, who had warmed up a replacement ‘keeper – were expecting.
So with Gill now ready, Brackley’s Steve Diggin struck his spot kick low to the ‘keeper’s right. But justice was done, as Gill guessed correctly to make an outstanding save.
Revved up by this, Rugby sensed this might be their day, and as they pressed on, a weak back pass by Brackley defender Eddie Odhiambo was pounced on by the unrushing Callum Powell who slid in as Brackley’s ‘keeper Dan Crane attempted to clear the danger. But his kick hit Powell’s legs and rolled into the gaping net to send the travelling Valley army wild.
From that moment on, Brackley clawed at Rugby, creating and fluffing chances. Indeed, Rugby’s lead could have been increased when Kolodynski lifted the ball over a stranded Dan Crane only to see it agonisingly bounce back off the crossbar.
Due to the injury to Gill, there was always going to be hefty amount of stoppage time, and when 8 minutes was announced, nails began to get bitten. Rugby looked like they’d done enough, as scuffed efforts and goal line clearances were going their way. But in the 7th minute of the added eight, Rugby’s dreams were dashed when Diggin – who failed from the spot earlier – did find the net with a rising drive into Gill’s top right corner.
It means the two sides meet again on Tuesday. But it also means Rugby go into the 4th Qualifying Round draw – as an either/or at least – for the first time in 21 years.
So it was heartache for Rugby and their brilliant support. In the second half they never once stopped singing. Even after that last gasp heart breaker they continued to chant, and as the whistle blew for the final time, they bellowed their pride to try and lift the spirits of the players whose heads were down. Fantastic support.
Rugby must be given credit for their performance against a side two steps above them on the non-league ladder.
In all, our trip to Brackley was an enjoyable one, even if we too were as disappointed as the biggest of Valley fans when Diggin’s equaliser flew in.
Brackley treated us well. The Red Lion – the nearest pub to the ground – provided us with a decent pre-match pint (unlike the half of Old Speckled Hen Mark had in the club house at half time. It was so bad it almost made him physically sick!) and the burgers – made from locally-sourced meat from the local butcher – were the best we’ve had on this adventure yet.
But it’s back to Rugby on Tuesday by which time we’ll know which team awaits us in the last qualifying stage before the First Round Proper. Exciting times.
The players emerge from the tunnel
Crazy scenes as Rugby take the lead.
Never stopped singing.
Raaj Gill receives treatment after he was clattered. Picture courtesy of @Rugby_Revisited via Twitter
Raaj Gill sporting a huge shiner. Picture courtesy of Raaj (@BigManGill) via Twitter