Leicester City 0
A DISTINCT WHIFF of manure pervades at Hereford United's Edgar Street ground. Not surprisingly, as it is adjacent to the city's cattle market. By the end of a typical FA Cup tie, of much beef against bone, but far from just brain against brawn, Leicester were exceedingly fortunate here yesterday that they didn't step into anything nasty, like the ignominy of a third-round exit.
The non-Leaguers, with such a proud tradition of diminishing the powers of the elite prima donnas, pushed them close enough though, to a celebrated tumble out of this year's Manchester United-free competition, and by the final whistle Leicester were relieved to be able to continue the confrontation at Filbert Street next week.
Like Rembrandt the Herefordshire bull, United's mascot, who was paraded before the game, Hereford snorted threateningly enough at their illustrious visitors, particularly in a vibrant second half which encapsulated the essence of the FA Cup, with both sides spurning inviting opportunities.
Unfortunately for them, and unlike their mascot, Hereford's team (comprising a dairy farmer, electrician and teacher of German) lacked that vital potency in front of goal. Teenager Paul Parry, for instance, rounded off a scintillating dash through the visitors' rearguard - where Leicester's captain Matt Elliott failed even to mount a challenge - with an effort that eluded goalkeeper Tim Flowers, but crashed back off the near post.
That was at the same Merton Meadow end where Ronnie Radford found the net so gloriously 27 years ago against Newcastle, but this time the youngster, together with the Hereford supporters packed behind the goal, ready to acclaim another famous winning goal, could only reflect on what might have been.
Arguably this, the most remarkable of all FA Cup goals - at least of those which have been televised - still strikes a romantic chord with all football followers. You could imagine the emotions passing through his mind as the chance fell to him.
The 19-year-old from Chepstow, who joined as a YTS trainee and is in his first year as a professional, lamented: "I picked the ball up and there was no one round me. I ran on and just managed to stick out a foot and get in a shot. When I saw it hit the post I was devastated."
Parry, who is being watched by several League scouts, can only have enhanced a belief by his director of football and chairman, Graham Turner, that he may one day perform in a higher grade of football. He added rather sadly: "It would have been nice to rewrite the history books, and as a team we had the chances to win. I thought we did really well."
As Martin O'Neill observed, when he later praised Hereford's performance: "The atmosphere was a throwback to the old days." It certainly was. Avoiding the mud and puddles before the game, then being confronted by overflowing urinals. The lush environment of the Premiership it was not.
Four divisions separate Leicester, placed sixth in the Premier League, and Hereford, ninth in the Conference, and before the interval that fact was all too evident. It was Foxes versus transfixed rabbits, as Leicester's Emile Heskey, Gerry Taggert, Muzzy Izzet, Tony Cottee and substitute Steve Walsh all queued up to try their luck at the Hereford shy as Turner's men began with caution, verging on severe trepidation. Yet, for all their openings, goalkeeper Mark Jones, elder brother of Southampton's Paul and a Shropshire farmer by trade, was stretched by only one attempt, a 25- yard drive from Izzet which he turned away with the aplomb of his sibling.
But in the second half, with a gale at their backs, playing down the slope, with a low sun in Flowers' eyes, a pitch of uncertain bounce, and history also on their side - the club having already defeated 12 League teams - the belief flowed through Turner's team. Even before striking the post, Parry had burst through but failed to test Flowers severely enough, and you sensed that if there was a player to immortalise himself yesterday it would be him.
But Leicester survived and might even have brought a flat ending to the day, had an Izzet header not been saved on the line by the excellent Jones, and Cottee not shot straight at the keeper. Hereford were not complaining about a replay. Relegated from the Football League three seasons ago amid much wailing and flowing of tears, they are pounds 1.3m in debt. "Leicester did not underestimate us," declared Turner. "In the first half their pace took us a little bit by surprise, but then we had a really good half-hour and in a spell like that you need to score.
"I hoped my young players wouldn't freeze, and they did not let me down." The afternoon finished with a lap of honour, something prepared win, lose or draw. Probably best to take the opportunity yesterday, lads, because you imagine there will not be much celebrating back at Filbert Street.