Football: County's nervous passage

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The Independent Online
Newcastle Town 0 Notts County 2

For once, the surprise of the first round of the FA Cup was that there were no surprises. Notts County looked ripe for embarrassment at the Victoria Ground yesterday, but emerged unscathed from their meeting with a Newcastle Town side five divisions below them.

The Football League's lowest scorers did, however, take 50 minutes to pierce the defence of the team lying eighth in the North West Counties League. Even when Phil Robinson added to Peter Kennedy's goal, the Nottingham contingent in a crowd of under 4,000 continued to call for the head of Colin Murphy, the County manager.

Many Stoke City supporters present, doubtless recalling their part in the protest by Manchester City fans against Alan Ball at the same venue, mischievously joined in the chants of "We want Murphy out." In Ball's case the dissenters had their wish inside 48 hours; Murphy may take more shifting.

Resplendent in a deerstalker hat, the one-time prince of programme gobbledegook was a model of succinctness afterwards. "Supporters have their feelings, for whatever reasons, and it's not for me to sit in judgment," Murphy said. "You have to live in the city and know the history of the club in the past few years to understand it.

"But it's not just Nottingham. Fans all over the country are becoming more militant and more questioning. What you have to ask yourself is whether they represent the majority or just a minority."

For all his dignity under duress, Murphy's 18-month tenure would probably not have survived defeat in the Potteries. A succession of near-misses by his forwards increased the tension and had the Second Division team living on their nerves whenever the part-timers retaliated.

Phil Butler, the 35-year-old window fitter in Newcastle's goal, belied his bulk with a stunning point-blank save from Gary Jones after only six minutes. There were further escapes when Lyndon Beardmore headed against his own crossbar and when the inspirational Andy Holmes hoofed Sean Farrell's effort off the line. Headers flashed inches wide, and Butler again defied gravity to touch over Kennedy's angled drive.

Newcastle, with the wind and rain at their backs initially, were also well served by John Burndred, a waspish David Speedie clone. Shortly after half-time, Burndred let fly from 25 yards, only to see Darren Ward concede a corner at full stretch.

It was to prove a turning point. Moments later, County's lively wingers at last gained their reward. Steve Finnan crossed for the impressive Kennedy, charging in from the opposite flank, to head his first goal since a pounds 100,000 transfer from Portadown. When another centre by Finnan was cut back at the far post by Kennedy, Jones stepped over the ball for Robinson to shoot home.

County, who thus became the first side to score twice against Newcastle in 24 games, now have only Rochdale between them and the kind of third- round draw that could muzzle the anti-Murphy movement. As for Newcastle, taking part in the competition for only the sixth time, manager Glyn Chamberlain looked forward to some time-honoured concentrating on the league.

Goals: Kennedy (50) 0-1; Robinson (63) 0-2.

Newcastle Town (5-2-1-2): Butler; Poxon, Beardmore, Holmes, Johnson, Williams; Pestridge, Lawton (Wade, 66); Dunn; Ritchie, Burndred. Substitutes not used: Pugh, Mullock.

Notts County (4-4-2): Ward; Wilder, Redmile, Hogg, Walker (Hunt, 81); Finnan, Robinson, Derry, Kennedy; Jones (Arkins, 70), Farrell. Substitute not used: Pollitt.

Referee: C F Foy (St Helens).

Booking: Notts County: Redmile.

Man of the match: Holmes.

Attendance: 3,918.