FA Cup First Round
Sunday, November 10th 2013
We can all breathe a big, fat sigh of relief. The banana skin has been avoided, the upset did not materialise like the rest of the country hoped and the Cobblers progress into Round Two of the FA Cup with only a late scare to offer any sign of an alternative outcome. Town made hard work of their Conference South opposition and should have sealed the game by half-time but the most important stat is the score line that sends us through to a less enticing trip to either Grimsby Town or Scunthorpe United.
The hosts made us work hard for the victory and on another day could well have nicked a replay at the death but ultimately the Cobblers did a professional job and were deserved winners in deepest Hertfordshire thanks to goals from the recalled Danny Emerton and striker Luke Norris.
ITV had earlier built up the underdogs as usual and the ever dreary Adrian Chiles did his best to convince the viewing public that the upset was on the cards. As the team line-ups were flashed onto the screen, so too were the part time occupations of the Bishop’s Stortford first team with the stage apparently set for us to fall.
Fortunately the Cobblers weren’t listening to the hype and came flying out of the blocks. An early corner led to Mathias Doumbe’s header being cleared off the line before Norris got on the end of a Chris Hackett cross to test home keeper Joe Wright. As Town continued the early pressure, Kane Ferdinand hit the bar with a looping header.
As the half wore on, though, Stortford settled and were invited back into the game. They hit the bar themselves before Norris was once again denied by Wright at the other end.
Chris Hackett was then sent clear through on goal on the right hand side and after he lobbed the keeper, just missing out on giving us the lead, he was clattered by the Stortford keeper and had anyone at all dressed in black kept their eyes on the incident we would surely have had a penalty alongside questions being raised over whether Wright would have stayed on the pitch.
Reece Prestedge found an opening late in the half but Paul Reid did well to block his effort at the end of a decent spell for his side but the half ended goalless with the Cobblers needing the break more than the increasingly confident Blues.
We came out in the second half much like the first and after a couple of half chances the breakthrough came on the hour mark. Danny Emerton picked the ball up on the left and curled in a superb effort into the top corner. The former Hull man ran directly to Aidy Boothroyd to celebrate and no-one in the ground would have been more relieved than the Town boss.
The first goal was always going to be crucial and we built on it almost immediately with a second that should have completely killed the game off. Hackett did well again and raced into the box to see his shot palmed away by Wright into the path of Norris who side footed the ball into the net.
That should have been that but being the Cobblers it always felt like there could be a twist to come. We were right to not be sitting completely comfortably.
Prestedge was to be the man to give us the late jitters as he made the most of a break in the area to blast in an unstoppable shot into the roof of the net with ten minutes to play. That was enough to raise his side for one last effort but the Cobblers reduced them to a few dangerous crosses. Somehow the officials found five minutes of stoppage time to play on our nerves even more but it wasn’t enough for Stortford to claim an unlikely replay.
It wasn’t the vintage and blowing away performance that Boothroyd may have wanted and big questions are still a long, long way from being answered. Blyth and Norris have real potential as a front two but it’s a short term fix as things stand. Both played well but I got the feeling that Blyth tired after his recent spell on the sidelines. By the time there is real synergy between the forwards at least one of them will likely be back at his parent club.
Ricky Ravenhill had a decent debut and had some bite about him whilst Kane Ferdinand flitted in and out of the game whilst making an awful lot out of a brush to his cheek in one incident. Watching someone writhe around on the floor after a mild touch from an opposition player isn’t what we need right now and he could be another luxury player.
Chris Hackett was named man of the match and rightly so. The winger was given the freedom of the right wing and created chance after chance for the front two. What is vital now is that it continues for him back in the league – we need that version of him back, and soon.
Another man we could do with having back is Kevin Amankwaah. The right back position was filled by Lee Collins and then Ben Tozer and neither looked comfortable there – more clinical opposition will expose their weaknesses and really exploit them.
A word on Bishop’s Stortford, though, and I thought that they were terrific battlers to the end and can be proud of their efforts. They seemed overawed by the occasion early on but once they settled caused plenty of problems. Star striker Kyle Vassell was kept quiet before coming off injured but it felt like some of the home side’s belief waned after his departure from the play.
All in all, then, a good afternoon and the fact that we’ve avoided an embarrassment is reason for cheer in a run of form that’s been lacking in any – even small – pieces of good news. The true test of Aidy Boothroyd’s ever changing side, though, comes back in League Two and with the visit of league leaders Fleetwood Town next weekend. Any adversity in that one will measure the character of the squad more than this game did, as tricky as it was.
Victory against the Cod Army, though, and this result won’t just be one that acts to hide our current problems.