A Nicky Platt hat-trick saw FC United through to the third qualifying round of the FA Cup sponsored by Budweiser in a dramatic five goal derby thriller at Salford City where goalkeeper James Spencer was sent off in the final minutes for conceding a penalty.
The Saturday sunshine was out to greet the second qualifying round of the FA Cup, and a packed Moor Lane hosted 1,292 as the two sides played their first competitive encounter at the historic old ground.
Memorable past encounters between the two sides, beginning in United’s North West Counties days, include an FA Vase victory at the Willows which also ended 3-2 in FC’s favour. Saturday’s hat-trick Nicky Platt was also in the starting line-up back in November 2006.
A ground divided by club loyalties came together prior to kick off for a minute’s silence out of respect for police officers Nicola Hughes and Fiona Bone, who were tragically killed this week.
United were attacking from the off, and being given plenty of room to do so. Jerome Wright ran down the left flank, coming close to the dead-ball line before whipping a cross into Matthew Wolfenden who turned and fired a shot which Salford keeper Ritchie Branagan stretched to claim.
Dave Birch also tested Branagan, as the Ammies’ number one tipped a lifted shot from outside the area over the bar.
The Reds broke the deadlock on the half hour mark, courtesy of Platt, a player not unused to scoring in the competition. Carlos Roca jinked a ball through into the area and Platt finished with conviction.
Salford’s Rob Kinsella almost levelled for the home side, running beyond the backline, and although appearing to be offside, the flag stayed down. Spencer came off his line, only to see Kinsella go past him, fortunately the United defence covered excellently and dispossessed the forward before he could get a shot away.
A good move saw Kyle Jacobs latch onto a ball from Birch to win a corner which was sent in by Roca to the far post. Adam Jones rose to see his downward header scooped around the post. His centre half partner also met a Roca corner with a header in a similar position a few minutes later, Dean Stott too forcing Branagan down to make the save.
FC continued to take advantage of the amount of room they were being afforded, getting forward through all the channels and went in at the break the deserved leaders.
Immediately after the restart, Norton, in a central position, chested the ball to control, before laying it off to Platt who hit a storming effort from around 25 yards which bounced down off the underside of the cross bar. Roca followed up to ensure United’s lead was doubled, however the linesmen had already adjudged the ball to have crossed the line and so Platt was on a hat-trick.
Lee Neville was immediately brought on in place of Wolfenden, assuming the left-back position on his old stomping ground, and minutes after his introduction was contributing to the United attack. The defender was set free by Jack Cottrell and ran the left line before whipping a cross into Norton whose header went just wide.
Branagan was an important factor for the Ammies throughout the game, and proved his worth once more as he parried Jacobs’ drive from the edge of the area to deny the United captain.
The Salford keeper was not to keep out the Reds’ third for much longer however, as Platt wrapped up an FA Cup hat-trick a minute later. Stott played the ball into Norton as the forward’s header across goal went under the keeper and ricocheted off the foot of his left post, Platt leapt in to seize the loose ball and hit home.
The United midfielder then had then chance to add further to the score line, coming in with a goal-bound header following a fantastic move. Norton managed to outrun his marker, before knocking the ball to substitute Chris Amadi who had replaced Jones. Amadi brought Cottrell into the move with a skilful back-heel, allowing the midfielder to whip the ball across to Roca who volleyed it into Platt’s path and the United goal-scorer saw his header go just wide.
FC’s final substitution came as Cedric Krou replaced Platt, and despite the changes altering the team’s setup, United still looked comfortable on the ball and it seemed as though all they had left to do was play out the final few minutes.
How unpredictable the beautiful game can be.
On 88 minutes, Salford were granted the ounce of luck needed to set up a dramatic finale to the encounter. The Ammies worked their way forward, and the ball fell with Jamie Rother whose cross-cum-shot took a fortunate deflection off the head of Stott and altered the course of the ball to send it beyond Spencer.
Stott’s reaction was telling of the disappointment of conceding in a game that the Reds had for the most part controlled, and although loosing the clean sheet, with only two minutes remaining it was surely to be no more than a consolation for the Ammies.
However, the game had not seen the last of the drama and Salford were to come right back into it. Nathan McDonald was played in by Kinsella and as the striker ran through, Spencer came off his line to try to claim the ball, but unfortunately his timing was poor, as he sent McDonald tumbling to the ground and the referee did not hesitate in pointing to the spot.
With the penalty decision came a red card for Spencer, and although frustrating to lose the keeper so late on in the match, the referee had little choice but to dismiss the United number one, who slung his jersey in the direction of Norton, leaving the striker to face the spot-kick.
It was striker against striker as McDonald stepped up to face Norton, and as the FC forward took a gamble on diving to his left, there were to be no Deegan-esque heroics as McDonald hit into the opposite corner of the net.
The home side were now fired up, displaying a keen sense of urgency and a nervy three minutes of additional time followed for FC. Luckily, the free kick Salford were awarded on the right hand side was blasted high over the bar, and Norton had little to do in his spell as keeper and as the referee blew for full-time, relief washed over a joyful United celebration.
Relief was perhaps an emotion the Reds would not have expected to experience, having been on top for the majority of the game, however a dramatic twist in the concluding period only goes to prove that the game isn’t over until the final whistle blows.
United now await a Monday lunchtime draw to see who they will face in the next round of qualifying.
Report by Victoria Fullen.