As is now traditional for League Cup games, there were wholesale changes from the team at fetched a point back from Suffolk at the weekend. Goals from two forwards, McNulty in the first half and Wyke in the second, sandwiched a classic McGeady dribble and goal which had restored our lead after a second half penalty by Stanley. 3-1, and the first road to Wembley has been set out upon.
Like buses, games at Accy had never arrived for well over a century, but by the end of next month we’ll have been there four times in a year – but at least that means we get to stop off at Colne, which is where our suitably dinky bus (midweek, holiday season, League Cup….) hove into for a couple of civilised bevvies in the sunshine. No sign of rain at Accrington itself as the visiting fans were subject to the most thorough body search I’ve ever encountered at a football match, then gathered in the sunny outdoor bar area and marquee, before the small matter of a football match. Of course, we’d ripped apart the three man defence system in our pre-match discussions, and thankfully a more traditional line-up formed on the field, wearing our natty new blue away kit.
O’Nien Ozturk Willis McLaughlin
Gooch Power Leadbitter Maguire
Kicking away from the open end, and with six changes, we looked a lot more composed from the off, with a standard defence and O’Nien redeployed to the position he grew into so well last season, and he showed lots of energy, as you’d expect, backing up Gooch in the early exchanges. One such move helped Gooch to fire off a shot, but it wasn’t that much trouble to the home keeper, and he then swapped sides with Maguire to harry the other full back. We forced a corner and a goal looked likely when the ball dropped nicely in the box, but Qzturk’s effort was stopped by the keeper’s foot, and Stanley produced a couple of efforts of their own – neither of which caused Burge to even try for them, as they had “training pitch out the back” written all over them as they sailed over the heads of the Sunderland fans behind the goal.
With Power initially sitting the deeper of the two central midfielders, we were patient in our build-up, perhaps over-passing it at times, but managing to put together a couple of nice attacking moves which almost came off before the breakthrough just after the quarter hour. We moved it down the right, Maguire fired over a cross, and McNulty was at the back post to knock it in. A very well-worked goal, and no more than we deserved.
The home side had a great chance to test Burge (score, really) when Bishop found himself free in our box, but when he swung his leg he fell over, much to the amusement of the travelling fans. Mebbe it was the lack of imagination shown by their drummer, who’d been a veritable percussive ninja last time we were there, but this time was limited to fairly uninspiring and routine tub-thumping. We went for the second, and when Power put in a ball to the far post from a good distance out, Grigg flicked his header rather than powered it, and it drifted just beyond the back stick. Power was at it again as the break loomed, when he and Maguire worked it on the right and found Grigg at the near post with a low ball, but the keeper was up to the clever effort and we completed the extra minute to go in a single goal ahead. A nice feeling.
No changes for the second half for us, but Accy changed the drummer, it appeared, as some more complicated rhythms emerged from their shouty end, and that lifted their game a bit. Our Maguire got involved with their Maguire out on our right, and it got a bit niggly between them, ending with a yellow apiece. Another card appeared for an Accy player when he had a go at O’Nien when he was on the ground after a hefty challenge – we might not have agreed with everything the ref did, but he was by far the best one I’ve seen this season. He was firm and didn’t let the players get away with bad-mouthing him. Which is how it should be.
Anyway, as the hour approached, McLaughlin was caught out in the box and brought his man down. No arguments, really, and Burge stood no chance with the resultant penalty. 1-1, that’s more like Sunderland of late, but it was far from the end of the show. Ten minutes later, McGeady replaced Grigg and looked in the mood to sort things out, chasing loose balls and fairly zipping about. Within a couple of minutes of appearing, he carried the ball across the edge of the box from our right, looking to get a shot away, but when no space was available, he poked the ball behind the defence for McNulty to run on to from the left, and from a narrow angle he hit a rising shot off the crossbar. A move worthy of a goal, but not producing one.
Charlie Wyke came on for Maguire on 77, who’d lost his way a little after the break, and the big feller was straight into his game, leaving their git big centre half in a heap a couple of times before watching McGeady pick up the ball in the centre not that far into Stanley’s half, and set off on a run, drifting past defenders with apparent ease until he was in the box and could ping the ball right-footed past the keeper and low inside the far post. A thing of beauty that left the home defenders with their heads in their hands.
At the far end, there were corners and crosses, but Burge took them confidently, while Willis and Ozturk showed strength. When we won corners, Leadbitter produced quality crosses, but up against that git big centre-half, even Charlie Wyke needed springs in his boots. Gooch and a defender cracked their heads together, with their man leaving the field with a massive bandage round his napper. Power made way for Dobson with five minutes remaining, and George had a great chance to have ne writing my dream line of “Dobson fires home for Sunderland”, but with the ball dropping from height, he shanked it and I watched as it flew over my head. Ah well.
That wasn’t the end of things, though. With five added minutes allocated, McNulty got the ball out on the right, headed to the goal-line, and banged it in low for Wyke, virtually on the front post, to flick the ball into the net. Give the ball to Wyke and he will score.
Then the whistle went and it really was the end of proceedings, and a satisfactory result – it’s nice winning football games, it really is.
Man of the Match? A good return to full-back for O’Nien, and a game that improved as the match progressed from Power. Leadbitter was as cool as ever, while Gooch was releasing the ball more effectively than we’re used to. A great sub appearance by McGeady, and strength in defence from Willis and Ozturk, who seemed to understand what each other was supposed to be doing. I think I’ll give it to McNulty, though, as he worked very hard, was calm when in possession, and moved in to dangerous places - and he scored one and set up another. A partnership in the making with Wyke?
Burnley away in two weeks in the next round, so it’ll be back to Colne for us. Happy days.