A long-anticipated eighth season for FC United has now begun, with the Reds picking up three points away from home, defeating Grantham Town 4-2 thanks to goals from Adam Jones, Jerome Wright, Carlos Roca and Michael Norton.
This time last year, United kicked off their campaign with a 2 goal cushion victory against the relegated Stafford Rangers, and this year travelling to take on another unknown quantity in the form of the newly promoted Division 1 South champions, in the glorious Lincolnshire sunshine.
There was much pre-match speculation amongst the supporters surrounding Marginson’s first XI with the fans having witnessed experimentation and different configurations of starting line-ups throughout the pre-season.
One face ruled out of contention however was Rhodri Giggs, following the news that the forward has broken his foot after limping off at Trafford on Tuesday, meaning that it is likely to be several weeks before he gets his first kick of the season.
The teams received a warm welcome onto the pitch, particularly from the travelling support who filled up their half of the terrace, creating a sea of red.
As the game began, a couple of slight efforts from FC saw the keeper punch clear, but it was the Gingerbreads who offered the first real test, as Paul Grimes broke and unleashed a shot from the edge of the area, which curled round the far post.
The forward then had the Reds caught short at the back, running through and leaving the back-line behind, before slotting the ball under James Spencer to make it 1-0 twelve minutes in.
Rhys Lewis soon after had a free header on goal, which fortunately was not strong enough to test Spencer and minutes later, David Birch picked up a booking, conceding a free kick on to the edge of the ‘D’ which lacked power as it rolled along the ground, and despite initially spilling, Spencer managed to collect to keep the ball from approaching attackers.
United were for the most part resorting to the long ball, which was perhaps matching the home side’s playing style: instead of playing the ball along the ground with any sort of fluency, and had to wait ‘til 38 minutes to get back into the game, drawing level as Roca’s corner found Jones at the far post, who rose to head across the keeper into the bottom corner.
In spite of perhaps not having the half envisaged, the Reds would have been relieved to have been able to draw level prior to the break in order to begin the second half on an equal footing.
A sense of déja vu ensued at the restart as the United defence were caught napping, and the consequences could have been worse than a conceded corner, if not for an important interception by captain Kyle Jacobs.
At the opposite end of the pitch, Norton managed to beat the offside trap, latching onto a ball over the top and attempting to round James Lindley, who brought the striker to ground. From the stands, a duo of game-changing decisions from the referee seemed inevitable as United were awarded a penalty and the keeper was dismissed from the game.
Grant Brindley pulled on the shirt of Lindley, before assuming his position between the uprights to face Dean Stott’s spot kick. For a moment, it seemed as though the outfield player had prevented United from taking the lead as Stott’s penalty was palmed away, however Wright seized the rebound, finishing well from a tight angle, silencing the home fans’ celebrations which were replaced by a roar from the United Faithful.
Four minutes later and the bar scarves were out again, as Roca came in at the far post to pick up Wright’s cross and squeeze the ball between the keeper and the upright.
Ideally, United would have hoped to hold onto the two goal advantage for much longer than the two minutes they managed, but poor defending and opportune finishing allowed a gap to open up for Sam Purcicoe to shoot from range beating Spencer down to his right.
Having contributed to the scoring, Roca was replaced by Stephen Johnson, in a like-for-like swap.
FC United were extremely lucky to cling to their lead as a cross from the left found its way to the far post and looked likely to prove the equaliser, but Lee Neville turned saviour, clearing the ball off the line.
All changed in the next move as United weaved the ball forward, proving their capability in the passing game and Norton received the ball in a central position, and flicked it over the keeper to restore a two goal cushion.
With just over twenty minutes to go, and needing to score at least twice to take anything from their inaugural game in the league, Grantham pushed forward. Martin Ball played the ball in and Emeka Nadwike managed a low header which Spencer pushed around the post.
Scott Cheetham and Kris Amadi helped United to close the game out, replacing Birch and Norton respectively, and although the Gingerbreads hurried to find a way back in the closing stages, the Reds ended the game the much better side, having found their footballing feet.
A stuttered beginning to the game may have left the spectating fans wondering if a winning start to the season would materialise, however a much better second half saw United resume their own style of play, and pick up a maximum number of points. The Reds will look to add three more to the board on Tuesday night in the first home game of the season against Whitby Town.
Report by Victoria Fullen.