Football / FA Cup: County's show of character

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Stockport County. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .2

Queen's Park Rangers. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .1

A KICK-OFF delayed by 15 minutes because of 'long queues in the executive car park' was bound to be followed by events that bordered on the extraordinary.

The trauma endured by one of the Premiership's most

admired sides at Edgeley Park was unending: Rangers' fans were held up by contraflow systems and bomb-scares while certain team members were less than thrilled when John Key passed as playable a frost- etched surface. The ensuing anger over a Key decision which permitted County's equaliser was climaxed by

stupefaction, the well-drilled Second Division hosts swarming to a merited victory and a fourth-round home tie with Bristol City or Liverpool.

Neither will fancy the trip.

Yesterday's headlines of the 'Shockport' variety reflected the nation's consternation that one of football's supporting cast could topple a leading light. But, for all the partying on the pitch outside, few in the hospitable labyrinth of offices and corridors under the main stand were completely incredulous. 'We always fancied our chances,' Andy Preece, County's match-winner, asserted.

It is not difficult to discover why. As befits an enterprise with Mike Yarwood as honorary vice-president, Edgeley Park brims over with characters, full of belief in their own skills and the club's future. The personalities run from boardroom to bootroom to taproom: an ambitious board, an astute manager in Danny Bergara and eye-catching strikers - all backed by a delirious support which has produced one of the country's foremost fanzines, The Tea Party.

Character imbues the whole team. Match Of The Day called County 'overawed' at one point. Far from it. Bergara's boys, assembled for pounds 313,000, battled from the word go, catching Rangers out not only with their endeavour but with the unexpected tactic of varying attacking avenues.

The tall targets of Preece and Kevin Francis ensured a steady supply of high balls - 'If I need any guttering done, I'll give Francis a call,' Ray Wilkins said - but both forwards showed considerable deftness on the deck. After Rangers, a shadow of their normal selves, had prised a 20th- minute lead through Simon Barker's exceptional volley, County took control and, before half-time, Francis contributed the Cup's great leveller.

Rangers were enraged. The Hatters' Tony Barras lay poleaxed on the spot as Francis nimbly broke through to score. Because of Barras's proximity to the goal-line, Rangers expected Key to rule him offside. Their complaints about 'interfering' contained a strong element of legitimacy as Barras's presence was, at the very least, a distraction - particularly in a climate when officials are encouraged to respond quickly to possible head injuries.

Wilkins and his manager, Gerry Francis, stated the case for their defence, but both could see the justice of the eventual scoreline. County's match- winner was a worthy one, bringing Preece his 20th, and best, goal of the season. The forward, who shares Ruud Gullit's taste in haircuts, came up with a finish the Dutchman would have been proud of - a magnificent, curling volley which precipitated a night of revelry.

Goals: Barker (19) 0-1; Francis (39) 1-1; Preece (74) 2-1.

Stockport County (5-3-2): Edwards; Todd, Flynn, Barras, Miller, Wallace; Frain, Ward, Beaumont; Francis, Preece. Substitutes not used: Gannon, Ryan, Ironside (gk).

Queen's Park Rangers (4-4-2): Stejskal (Roberts, 12); Bardsley, Yates, Peacock, Wilson; Sinclair (Impey, 67), Wilkins, Barker, Meaker; Ferdinand, Penrice. Substitute not used: Ready.

Referee: J Key (Sheffield).