Football: Hednesford held at bay

Hednesford Town 2 Middlesbrough 3
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The Independent Online
Like any accountant worth his weight in receipts, John Baldwin bristled at the mere suggestion that Fabrizio Ravanelli might have knocked on the Hednesford dressing-room door and requested a souvenir from his close encounter with English football's giant-killing phenomenon.

"I wouldn't have let him have one of our shirts," Hednesford's manager, co-owner and general mastermind said. "They cost us nearly pounds 25."

Considering the tone of dissatisfaction Ravanelli is wont to adopt whenever he ventures beyond earshot of Teesside, it would not have been altogether surprising had he asked Bernard McNally for the "For Sale" sign he once pinned to his tracksuit as an untamed and disaffected Shrew at Gay Meadow.

In the six minutes he played as a substitute on Saturday, McNally made as much of an impact as Cleveland's reluctant Italian resident did in the 91 minutes of his latest pounds 42,000 (before tax) shift. The veteran midfielder delivered the injury-time cross Joe O'Connor converted in style with a diving header.

Having conceded home advantage, it was Hednesford's misfortune that Ravanelli's one decisive contribution was the 88th-minute tap-in which ultimately pushed what would have been a hard-earned but nonetheless thoroughly merited replay beyond their gallant grasp.

If the Middlesbrough centre-forward's hair had not already been famously white, it would have had good reason to lose its former colour as he and his Premiership colleagues met their match in the inspired and astutely-organised team of part-timers from Staffordshire.

In the long-serving O'Connor, Hednesford had the most impressive striker on view. His crisp shot on the turn gave the non-Leaguers a 13th-minute lead and also, after Colin Lambert headed into his own goal 12 minutes later, the prospect of a replay as the agile Scott Cooksey dealt assuredly with Middlesbrough's second-half sniper-fire - until the frantic closing stages.

Not until the 86th minute, when Jan Age Fjortoft rifled the ball past the Hednesford keeper did Middlesbrough, with their sextet of overseas players, manage to get ahead of the Conference side. Even then, before Ravanelli struck, O'Connor rattled the woodwork with a header.

"Joe's been with me for seven years and I can't understand why a League club haven't come in for the fellow," Baldwin said. "He's 29 but how can you say it's too late for him when he gives a performance like that?"

O'Connor just happens to spend his weekdays working in a chemical factory. So Bryan Robson knows at least one centre-forward who would find Teesside a home from home.

Goals: O'Connor (13) 1-0; Lambert (og 25) 1-1; Fjortoft (86) 1- 2; Ravanelli (88) 1-3; O'Connor (90) 2-3.

Hednesford Town (4-1-4-1): Cooksey; Fitzpatrick, Essex, Comyn, Collins; Simpson; Carty, Lambert, Lake (McNally, 84), Russell (Devine, 84); O'Connor. Substitute not used: Hemmings.

Middlesbrough (4-3-1-2): Roberts; Kinder, Festa, Vickers, Whyte; Mustoe, Emerson, Moore; Juninho; Beck (Fjortoft, 74), Ravanelli. Substitutes not used: Liddle, Ormerod.

Referee: M Bodenham (Cornwall).

Bookings: Hednesford: Simpson, O'Connor. Middlesbrough: Vickers, Festa.

Man of the match: O'Connor.

Attendance: 27,511.