|North Greenford United||3|
Responding to going two down early in the second half, two late Zak Joseph strikes, the first on ninety-two minutes, the second at the end of extra time, saw North Greenford pull off an excellent win against Premier Division side Bedford Town in the Third Round of the Southern League Red Insure Cup.
Although Joseph will rightly make the headlines after this unexpected victory, it was earned as the result of a magnificent team performance with each and every United player sustaining an incredible effort and work-rate throughout the 120 minutes. More than that, during periods of the game, Greenford outplayed their Premier League opponents with quality, quick passing football – easily the best the side have produced this season – that was a delight to watch.
It was a performance that was marred only by the fact that some United players allowed their frustrations to get the better of them following some highly controversial refereeing decisions in the second half, with referee John Steel showing yellow cards to four Greenford players, and sending player-coach Mark Nicholls from the field of play for a second bookable offence.
Greenford dominated play in the opening period, moving the ball well and creating a number of goal-scoring opportunities, and it wasn’t until some 25 minutes into the game that Bedford began to show just how dangerous their front line could be if they were allowed to run at the United defence.
Against the run of play, it was the home side that opened the scoring five minutes before the interval when, on the end of a penetrating counter attack, Eagles top scorer Drew Roberts found himself in space inside the Greenford box and produced a clinical finish that gave keeper Aaron Bufton no chance.
Matters turned sour for United five minutes into the second period when Mr Steel controversially ruled that full-back Sean Hillier had handled the ball after he had first controlled a cross into the area with his knee. It was a harsh decision as, although the ball had brushed the top of Hillier’s arm, it was clearly not intentional and the United players let their feelings be known to the referee in no uncertain terms. The protests earned Nicholls his first booking of the game.
Greenford’s heads could easily have dropped after Roberts had made no mistake with the spot kick for his second goal of the evening, but this was the last thing on the players’ minds as they lifted themselves, if anything now even more determined to get themselves back into the game.
On the hour the team did just that. Hillier and Liam Hind combined well to play Joseph in down the right flank. The young United winger, brimming with confidence every time he had a chance to run at the Bedford defence, dribbled the ball to the byline before delivering a perfect low cross into the six yard box. Desperate to prevent the cross reaching Greenford striker Ricky Pither, Eagles full-back Max York sliced his clearance and the ball ended up in the back of the home net.
This was just the fillip United needed and five minutes later, after another penetrating Joseph run, Pither was unlucky when his shot on the rebound struck the Eagles post.
On seventy minutes referee Steel created a further furore when he booked Greenford midfielder Jack Duffy for what appeared a strong but fair challenge, which he clearly considered reckless, issuing further bookings to Hind and Eagles Ollie Thorne in the minor melee that followed.
During the final fifteen minutes, manager Neil Shipperley decided to introduce fresh legs by bringing on substitutes Wayne Jackson, Callum Roberts and Jack Sikora. United continued to play with tremendous spirit but as the game moved past the ninety minute mark it seemed the home side were going to hold on to their narrow lead and secure their place in the next round.
Greenford though were determined to play to the final whistle and two minutes into stoppage time won a corner. Nicholls produced a perfect delivery just under the bar which Joseph was first to get his head to at the near post to equalise from close range and take the match to extra time.
The drama didn’t end there as in United’s next move Nicholls found himself with a clear run out on the left. In what was at best a marginal decision, the Greenford player-coach was ruled off-side and in his frustration kicked the ball against the fencing behind the goal, earning Nicholls a second yellow and leaving Greenford to play out extra time with ten men.
Surprisingly, during the additional thirty minutes, Bedford failed to take full advantage of the extra man, with their only effort in the first period being a speculative long range shot from the right which was dipping under the cross bar, forcing Bufton to scramble across his goal before making a fine save.
With the thirty minutes played and when it looked as if the match was heading towards penalties Bedford were awarded a free-kick on the edge of the United area in a dangerous central position. The ball was blocked by the wall and in the Greenford counter attack that followed Pither, drawing three Eagles defenders, slipped the ball out to Joseph who had made a fine supporting run on the right. Driving into the box Joseph struck the ball across keeper Michael Kavanagh into the far corner to seal a most memorable win for the club.
This confidence raising and morale-boosting victory will provide the perfect preparation the Greenford team need for their two forthcoming home games against Biggleswade Town on Saturday and Marlow the following Tuesday. There can though be no room for complacency for, as excellent as it was, last night’s win at Bedford was a bonus and getting league points on the board remains the club’s priority.
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