Two stoppage time goals completed a remarkable comeback by the hosts as they knocked gallant Workington out of the FA Cup.
With Reds hanging on by their fingertips for a penalty shoot-out decider, two wonderful goals from Matty Crothers and Andy Owens got Radcliffe over the line in a memorable First Round Qualifying tie.
But for seventy minutes of this enthralling match, Step 4 Reds looked as though they were going to pull off a cup shock against their Step 3 opponents. Comfortably in control, and deservedly 3-1 ahead, the red thread unravelled spectacularly in the final twenty minutes and credit to Radcliffe for turning the game on its head.
Yes, it was a painful experience and a tough one to take for Danny Grainger and his side and it will be of no consolation whatsoever that Reds played their part in a pulsating game.
There were mitigating circumstances, obviously, and it should be pointed out that Lady Luck switched her allegiance midway through the second half.
Niggling injuries saw the departure of Messrs Symington, Jerome and Allison whilst skipper Tinnion was forced to complete the game in discomfort. The contribution of that quartet cannot be praised enough – offensively and defensively, they were immense.
And Sam Smith’s dismissal was the right decision albeit an unlucky one from a Workington perspective. Dan Wordsworth committed the first foul, but the referee allowed play to continue giving Radcliffe the advantage. But Smith disrupted the attack again and it was he who was punished with a second yellow card.
Smith had collected his first yellow ten minutes earlier, conceding a free kick, and his punishment was compounded when Crothers thundered the ball past Jim Atkinson for what proved to be a game changing goal.
Reds best moments, and there had been plenty of those, didn’t warrant the heart-breaking finale but football is like that – pleasure and hurt, highs and lows and elation and deflation.
A positive start was rewarded after thirteen minutes when Scott Allison reacted quickly to a poor back pass before sublimely chipping the ball over Cameron Belford for his tenth goal in the competition.
Reds moved the ball about well and must have impressed two of Danny Grainger’s former team mates – Nicky Adams and Luke Joyce – who were watching from the terraces.
Radcliffe’s approach was far more direct and, it has to be said, ultimately effective.
They levelled matters when Belford’s booming free-kick was collected by Owens who crashed the ball beyond the returning Atkinson.
There was a loud appeal for a Workington penalty when Allison’s progress was checked inside the area, but the referee deemed Rhain Hellawell’s challenge as legitimate.
The lead was restored just a minute after the restart following great approach play from Dav Symington down the left. The loose ball fell conveniently, and Reuben Jerome converted Reds’ second from close range.
And the loyal travelling support were dreaming of Cup glory when Brad Carroll pick-pocketed a home defender and smashed home Reds third goal after sixty-six minutes.
But the balance of play swung dramatically in favour of Radcliffe thereafter on the back of Crothers’ set piece goal.
An equaliser looked inevitable and duly arrived following a seventy-ninth minute corner. Atkinson was pinned to his goal line by one of Radcliffe’s six foot plus attackers and was only able to partially punch the ball under pressure. The clearance fell to Jean Louis Akpa-Akpro who drove the ball through a sea of legs and into the net.
There was an instant response from Reds and Carroll’s rasping drive saw a fumbled save from Belford.
A failure to score then and Smith’s unfortunate departure handed extra impetus to the Radcliffe recovery, not that they needed any help.
Luca Navarro thought he had netted the winner, but his goal-bound volley was deflected off the line by Ceiran Casson for another corner.
The ninety minutes was completed after Atkinson was booked for time wasting and Reds were hoping to settle the tie via spot-kicks, despite knowing that four potential penalty takers were off the pitch.
But wonder strikes after ninety-two and ninety-three minutes settled the game without the need for the ‘end-of-game’ drama. Crothers and Owens scored their second each to secure their passage to the next round after an amazing eight goal extravaganza.
Radcliffe: Belford, Hellawell (Hall, 51), Hanley (Swaby-Neavin, 40), Crothers, Shiels, Belinga-Bilounga, Royle, Lenighan (Obeng, 63), Owens, Akpa-Akpro, Navarro. Substitutes – Oldham, Donnelly, Metz, Fikula (not used).
Workington: Atkinson J, Clarke, Brockbank, Wordsworth, Smith, Hubbold, Symington (Casson, 82), Carroll, Jerome (Bowman, 68), Allison (Potts, 68), Tinnion. Substitutes – Kelly J, Robinson, Holt, Robertson (not used).
Referee: Declan Brown, Manchester
Bookings: Shiels, Belinga-Bilounga, Lenighan (Radcliffe), Atkinson, Smith (Workington)
Red card: Smith (Workington), second yellow.
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