Football: Harriers take off in style

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The Independent Online
Kidderminster Harriers. . .1

Preston North End. . . . . 0

THE difference between the League team and the GM Vauxhall Conference leaders was immediately apparent. One set of players was passing and dribbling; the other was just hoofing the ball forward hoping their big forwards might get a lucky bounce or a knock-on. If only Preston played the way Kidderminster do.

This was a Cup upset in more ways than one. That Kidderminster became the first non-League team to reach the FA Cup's last 16 for nine years was extraordinary enough, but the manner in which they did so was even more surprising. Normally the have-nots chase and harry hoping to close the gap in skill; this time it was the supposed bourgeoisie of the Third Division. Proud Preston? Not really.

The kick-offs at the start of the halves were a case in point. Preston thumped the ball towards the corner flag for a throw-in while Kidderminster made five passes before losing possession to a fitter, more muscular opposition. As the game progressed you feared for them in the same way you worry for a small, skilled rugby threequarter when he is engulfed by the leviathans of an opposition pack.

'The key was if we could get enough of the ball to play our normal game,' their manager, Graham Allner, said, and they worked like slaves to do so. The first half was a football wasteland of little merit but for 20 minutes after the interval Kidderminster's labours were rewarded and the match won for what Allner described as the finest day in the club's 108-year history.

Jon Purdie, a free spirit with a talent that is either an indictment of him or the English game that it is not being employed at a higher level, dribbled elegantly down the left wing in the 47th minute and then pulled the ball back perfectly for Delwyn Humphreys to score with his left foot. 'Jon has been going on at me to go to the near post,' Humphreys said, 'and it's just about the first time I've ever done so.'

Purdie arrived at Kidderminster on a downward route that had begun as an apprentice at Arsenal, where his contemporaries were Tony Adams and Paul Merson. 'He's one of those who has been either misused or misunderstood,' Allner said, and even yesterday you could see why a more pragmatic manager might tear his hair out when the winger's mind wanders.

One was John Beck, the manager of Preston who had Purdie on loan when he was at Cambridge. 'Jon says they fell out because Beck wanted him to dive into a puddle to head the ball in training and he refused to do it.'

The story might be apocryphal but Purdie certainly played on Saturday as if he had a grudge, going close with a shot from 20 yards and also heading to Humphreys, who headed against the bar immediately after the goal. 'In the last year Jon has played the best football of his life,' Allner said. 'He's a very skilful footballer who will always go past defenders.'

Which is precisely what Preston failed to do. For the final 20 minutes they hurled everything but imagination into the Kidderminster area, the only surprising element about their attacks being the absence of Tony Ellis.

He had been substituted, a decision that had the club's leading scorer shaking his head in disbelief and the visiting supporters voicing their disapproval, and as a consequence their best chance fell to his replacement, Mickey Norbury, instead of the man who has scored 24 goals this season. Norbury, who had been on the pitch only three minutes, was given a clear run at goal when Humphreys's clearance was deflected to him, but lost his composure and blazed over.

Goal: Humphreys (47).

Kidderminster Harriers (4-4-2): Rose; Hodson, Weir, Brindley, Bancroft; N Cartwright, Forsyth (Deakin, 46), Grainger, Purdie; Humphreys, Davies (Woodall, 82). Substitute not used: Steadman (gk).

Preston North End (4-4-2): Woods; Fensome, Moyes, Nebbeling, Kidd; Ainsworth, Lucas, L Cartwright, Raynor; Ellis (Norbury, 63), Conroy. Substitutes not used: Whalley, O'Hanlon (gk).

Referee: P Alcock (Redhill).