Football: FA Cup third round: County scale the heights

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The Independent Online
Stockport County. . . . . .2

Francis 39, Preece 74

Queen's Park Rangers. . . .1

Barker 19

Attendance: 7,569

CLASS is no substitute for commitment on a cold day in the FA Cup, and Queen's Park Rangers, for all their pretty angles, were deservedly dispatched at the third-round stage by an energetic Stockport County side at Edgeley Park yesterday.

'You've got to battle in matches like these and match the other team's work rate, which we didn't,' Gerry Francis, the Rangers manager, said. 'It's my most disappointing time in three years at the club.'

Francis's side, normally so alert and assured in the Premiership, were strangely subdued against purposeful Second Division opposition. Danny Bergara's team, often criticised for being long-ball disciples, mixed up their approach play so efficiently that a Stockport victory was the only just outcome. By the end, it was difficult to discern which of the two powerful No 9s on view, Les Ferdinand and Kevin Francis, was the England international.

Francis was initially eclipsed as Ferdinand helped give Rangers the lead, against the run of play, after 20 minutes when he flicked Clive Wilson's cross from the left towards Simon Barker. The midfielder's response was instantaneous, a fine volley beating Neil Edwards from 20 yards.

But it was another Welsh goalkeeper, Tony Roberts, a 12th-minute replacement for Jan Stejskal, who was by far the busier throughout a pulsating tie dominated by Stockport. Roberts dealt comfortably with a straightforward, sighting shot from Francis, but was left exposed in contentious fashion six minutes from half-time.

Rangers' rearguard, pointing at the prostrate Tony Barras lying in their box, waited in vain for John Key to whistle for off- side as Francis broke through from the right. Key, indicating that Barras was not interfering with play, waved the 6ft 7in Francis on and the tallest player in the English game placed his shot calmly past Roberts - his 17th goal of the season.

'I was not happy with their first goal,' Gerry Francis said. 'The referee said before the game that he would blow up if there were injuries to the head and we were all waiting for that. I talked to the referee at half- time and he said that the player was not interfering with play.'

'It comes down to a matter of interpretation,' Ray Wilkins, who was booked for remonstrating with Keys, said, 'and it was the turning point.'

Too true. County controlled the second half, forcing a series of corners which would have brought goals for Francis and Barras but for desperate goal-line clearances. Rangers were looking increasingly dishevelled and County secured their place in the fourth round for the first time since 1965 when Andy Preece scored a superb, left-footed winner 16 minutes from time. Peter Ward's free-kick fell invitingly for Preece to swivel and volley his 20th goal of the season.

'It's the most important goal I've ever scored,' Preece said. 'It dropped nicely for me and if it had landed on the other foot it could have been a different story.'

The final whistle brought the fans on to the pitch in their hundreds. Bergara summed up the day: 'It's magnificent.'