Roberts pen 49
Just when you thought that after 126 years there was nothing new in the FA Cup out popped a centre-forward called Darren Roberts. No sooner had he scored his 49th-minute penalty for Darlington yesterday than he was sent off. Roberts was charging towards the away fans by way of celebration but on his way stopped by the opposition goalkeeper, Scott Cooksey, whom he appeared to assault with his studs. It was the sort of raking normally associated with especially mean-spirited second-row forwards. Roberts said later that he merely wished to dispatch the ball into the net once more and any contact was inadvertent. Still, it was difficult to tell which was more thunderous, the penalty or its sequel kick. It was a bizarre way to be dismissed and Roberts will doubtless have to choose a more genteel way of marking goals in future. His only consolations are that his side progressed and that he will forever be an FA Cup footmark.
His goal was enough to create a small cup shock. Darlington might have been the Nationwide League side but there was no doubt that Hednesford, second in the Vauxhall Conference and on a roll, were the rightful favourites. The bookmakers had them at 11-10 on and the price did not flatter them considering their recent form against higher opposition.
Hednesford's owner manager, John Baldwin, played down their chances but the previous wins in the past two seasons against Blackpool, York and Hull - plus a heartbreakingly narrow defeat against Middlesbrough - must have told him a different story. In the event, his judgement was correct: Darlington were the more stylish and also the more robust. After Roberts went they did not panic but rearranged and cut out the threats.
The victory was probably more important for the North-east club. A favourable draw in the third round today - favourable means a top 10 Premiership team, preferably away - will make their season if not their decade. The scenes of joy after the match which stopped only just short of a lap of honour told the result's significance.
Hednesford, meanwhile, have other places to go. Their finances will hardly benefit from this defeat but it should be a mere blip in the remarkable progress they have made in the Nineties. When Baldwin was appointed manager they were rock bottom of the old Beazer Homes Midland division and, in truth, probably fulfilling all the potential of a team in a dying pit village. Baldwin had been a player with the club but is an accountant by profession. Months after becoming manager he also bought the club and since then has taken them all the way through two divisions and almost to the summit of the Conference and to a new ground, built on a former brickworks-cum-slagheap.
It has been an epic journey even in football terms and Baldwin, while sustaining his accountancy practice in Birmingham, is determined to take Hednesford into the League. The ground, which is cold and exposed, should be complete by the end of February. It will have cost pounds 2m by then. Baldwin all but shrugs off the money.
He has invested considerably in players as well and shows no sign of tightening the purse strings. For 20 minutes yesterday, they posed Darlington some problems and both Gary Fitzpatrick and Micky Norbury should have scored in that period. But it was Darlington thereafter who were the more controlled. If this came as something unexpected to the rest of football, Darlington might even have surprised themselves.