They say you earn your luck in football and if that’s really the case then Radcliffe walked off the pitch millionaires today.
After a long old break without any games or training due to bad weather and Xmas it wasn’t ideal to start the New Year with a Quarter Final tie against the very capable Nottingham FC away.
All credit to the away manager who rearranged the venue twice and got a 3G pitch eventually to ensure that the rain didn’t win.
Radcliffe started a little slow and seemed to still be in the Christmas spirit rather than on the pitch. This gave Nottingham FC hope and they played the ball around very well on the smooth surface. Time and again the back line had to throw themselves in the way of an effort and were it not for some stunning saves from Harvey Woodward in goal the game could have been out of reach within the first half hour.
The boys stayed strong though and almost looked to have weathered the storm when a through ball saw their striker finally beat Harvey to the ball and dink it over him into the net for 1-0 (24).
Radcliffe were working hard and putting in great challenges all over the park but couldn’t keep the ball for any amount of time. This invited the Nottingham FC players to step further and further up the pitch with wave after wave of attack, again Harry Timpson-Smith and Will Quilter working great as a central defensive pair and Harvey having a barnstormer in the goal.
Morgan Roberts was replaced by Fin Jackson in the centre and Harry Timpson-Smith had to come off with a sore ankle so Ethan Fallon came on to replace him. Almost immediately he was in the thick of it, throwing himself into a block from a stinger of a shot that hit him flush in the face and left him seeing stars...Time for Harry Timpson-Smith to quickly shake off the knock and come back into the fray.
The momentum was all with the home team but it only takes a second for everything to change and a beautiful through ball, timed to perfection from Ollie Petchell, saw Ollie Jones-Wilkinson through for Radcliffe’s first sight of goal. He looked to have taken too many touches and gone too wide on the keeper but he never had a doubt and tucked it smoothly into the far corner for 1-1 (34).
Nottingham FC were visibly shaken and this led to them dropping deeper to counter the threat of our attackers. Radcliffe suddenly seemed to have more of a threat with width from both Ollie Petchell and Nathan Stocks pushing the Nottingham back line even deeper. The half time whistle came with the game firmly in the balance.
Second half and a few more changes in personnel for Radcliffe with George Arrowsmith taking the striker role from Ollie Skinner and Josh Jones-Wilkinson on for Ollie Petchell down the left.
The game was more of a contest now and the width that Radcliffe could utilise meant the opposition had more to think about. They were still getting chances but not so often and the back four had it under control.
Ollie Jones-Wilkinson was getting more space in front of the opposition defence and from one great run down the left he managed to round the keeper again, this time driving a ball across the goal...was it going in? George Arrowsmith wasn’t waiting to find out and he smuggled in there to tap home for 1-2 (56).
Amazing scenes, Radcliffe had turned it around and now it was all about game management. Jack Willis had a jarring fall and had to come off with a sore knee for MaLahku Selassie. Ethan Fallon replaced Jacob Sadler in the back line having recovered from the block with his face and Ollie Petchell was brought back on to replace Nathan down the right with Ollie Jones-Wilkinson dropping in to the centre to make it 4-5-1.
Then came the two incidents that could have changed everything...a free kick for Radcliffe was beautifully steered home only for the linesman’s flag to be raised...close surely?
Then with the game in the dying seconds the Nottingham FC winger had a great shot from the left cannon back off the bar. It fell oh so kindly to the head of the towering striker who only had to nod it home...somehow he managed to put it over the bar and Radcliffe were saved.
The final whistle and what a Cup Tie turnaround. Radcliffe were second best for large parts of the game but never stopped trying and took both our chances when they came.
Nottingham FC will feel this was a bit of a smash and grab but the sign of a good team is knowing how to win ugly. Heroes at the back, a world class keeper and some clinical finishing saw us into the Semi Final of the Notts FA Challenge Cup.
A great reward for the boys and particularly for a man-of-the-match display from Harvey Woodward in goal.