Middlesbrough's Premiership worries were replaced by a more immediate peril when Joe O'Connor, a chemical factory worker, gave the Cup's 5,000-1 outsiders a 13th minute lead. It was Boro's good fortune that when Hednesford scored again, 12 minutes later, it was into his own goal that Colin Lambert headed. The GM Vauxhall Conference side seemed, nevertheless, to have earned a replay - until the final four minutes of a rousing contest.
First Jan Age Fjortoft spread relief round three-quarters of the Riverside when he slid the ball past Scott Cooksey, Hednesford's inspired custodian. Then, after O'Connor had headed against the woodwork, Fabrizio Ravanelli - who might as well have spent the first 88 minutes peppering the dart- board at the nearby Navigation Inn - side-footed a flattering third. It was only fitting, however, that the underdogs should have the final word, O'Connor heading the goal of the game in injury time.
"I'm glad we've done ourselves proud," John Baldwin, Hednesford's manager and co-owner, said."We've proved we're no village idiots." That much was obvious as his collection of students, spray-painters and factory workers made themselves at home from the start. They had every right to, not just because they were technically the hosts but because of the 5,000 fans they brought with them. The locals were serenaded with a hearty rendition of "I'm a believer" and the Hednesford players were clearly convinced that their cause was not a doomed one.
Baldwin pledged to make Middlesbrough's task a hard one and he was true to his pre-match word, filling his midfield with tidy workers and starting O'Connor on his own up front. His side played with such assurance in the opening stages it was no great surprise when O'Connor, his long-serving poacher, turned smartly to lash in a 10-yard drive after the Middlesbrough defence failed to clear a Keith Russell shot.
The Hednesford defenders showed greater alertness in shepherding the celebrating fans back behind their goal. Slowly, though, the non-Leaguers came under pressure and the subsequent fraying of nerves undoubtedly contributed to the 25th-minute equaliser. In attempting to clear Juninho's free-kick, Andy Comyn merely succeeded in deflecting the ball into the net off the back of the unsuspecting Lambert's head.
Cooksey's agility kept Hednesford on level terms when Juninho sparked Boro into attacking life after the break. The Pitmen were obliged to dig deep and a replay would not have been unwarranted. Instead, they departed with a standing ovation - from all sections of the ground.Reuse content