AFC Mansfield sniffed some non-league giant killing in the FA Cup First Qualifying Round at the Forest Town Arena on Saturday, September 3.
AFC, who only formed in 2012 and are embarking on only their second FA Cup adventure, hosted Stratford Town, who play in the Southern League, two steps above them on the non-league ladder. And it was they who took control of the first half, wasting a hat full of chances and being denied by AFC keeper Jason White and the woodwork.
However, in AFC number 10 Gary Bradshaw, they have a player with vision and ability, and he very nearly caught out Town keeper Niall Cooper with an audacious 30-yard raked lob which Cooper just about managed to keep out with a goal line clearance. His relief was palpable.
And it was Bradshaw who put the hosts ahead in the second half with a cool finish after being put through one-on-one with Cooper. It wasn’t against the run of play either, as AFC made a fist of it after the break.
It was met by total hysteria from the bench, but it was lucky for AFC that this goal was allowed at all. It came after a truly bizarre incident. The referee pulled up with an injury, much to the amusement of the crowd as you can imagine. But amusement turned to bemusement as the ref could not continue his officiating duties and had to ‘come off’. The problem was, no 4th official. This prompted an appeal to the crowd as to whether any refs were in attendance, first from AFC boss Rudy Funk (great name) and then again over the PA. But no joy. There was no one qualified to ref the game.
With the game now in doubt, serious discussions were going ahead on the touch line as the crowd could only ponder as to what was going on. After 10 minutes of deliberating, it was decided that the linesman would become the ref and a Stratford sub the linesman. Controversial perhaps. It certainly raised eyebrows amongst the AFC contingent, and questions as to our new man’s integrity may well have come into play had anything controversial happened.
But alas, we could finish the game. And what a game. Stratford levelled through a thumping Guy Clark header from a corner. Nothing controversial there. But if Stratford thought they could turn this game around they were wrong.
From a Town attack, the ball was cleared to Oli Fearon on the left flank. He picked the ball up well inside his own half and just ran, using his power and pace to barge past soft Stratford challenges. Then, suddenly, he was in on goal. Surely not. Surely AFC couldn’t win it in impeccable style could they? But they could, and they did. Fearon’s industrious run was finished with a sublime slot past Cooper and the Forest Town Arena erupted again.
It was an incredible goal that, by rights, should be replayed over and over again, but you’ll be hard pushed to find even a grainy You Tube clip of it, sadly.
AFC hung on for a famous victory. Fearon’s excellent goal proving the difference in a brilliant game of football played in wet conditions. They now go to Coalville in the second qualifying round and who knows how far this little club can go.
Reffing hell: “Is there a ref in the house?”
AFC celebrate Bradshaw’s opener
Scenes at the final whistle as AFC beat Stratford 2-1