Tamworth celebrated a famous draw and Stoke slunk away with their tails between their legs, but after a truly awful game it was hard not to wonder if the romance of the Cup is all it's cracked up to be. The result may resonate and hint towards a famous giant-killing in the replay a week come Tuesday, but on an ugly afternoon, this was ugly football.
"If you put two banks of four in front of a team, it's very difficult to break them down," Tamworth's manager, Mark Cooper, explained. "If there's one chink in the chain the whole thing's broken, so we knew everybody had to play well for us to have any chance of getting a result."
His enthusiasm was understandable and his delight justifiable, but there was perhaps an element of him imposing patterns where none existed. Certainly, the dyspeptic response of Johan Boskamp, the Stoke manager, seemed rather more in keeping with the game. "I'm very disappointed in what my team did today," he said. "If you start a game as we did today, you don't deserve to go to the next round. The only good thing is that we've kept a clean sheet for the first time in about six months."
Although he acknowledged the diligence of Tamworth's defending, he was evidently frustrated at his side's inability to create chances. "You have to play at a higher tempo," the Dutchman explained. "The ball circulation has to be better, but we played like old people today. Maybe we thought we were so good, but now we know we are not so good."
Stoke were not helped by the late loss of the forward Sambegou Bangoura. He had been expected to be available before joining up with Guinea for the African Nations' Cup, but in the absence of the necessary documentation, Boskamp was unwill-ing to field him and risk losing the game by default if his national side protested.
Tamworth, too, could have their problems with forwards for the replay, with Jake Edwards' loan spell from Exeter due to expire before then and the 17-year-old Nick Wright, who "ran his socks off" in Cooper's words, likely to return to Birmingham having competed his work experience. Such difficulties perhaps hint at the magnitude of Tamworth's achievement, with Cooper, desperate for a live TV deal, describing the replay as being "as romantic as they come".
Romance, though, can be a one-way street, and the contrast could hardly have been greater between the grimly shivering Stoke few and the delighted 2,500 who had made the trip from Tamworth. They came as near to carnival as it's possible to get in January in the Potteries when the sleet is leaching down. Certainly, Rambo, their lamb mascot, enjoyed himself. An apparently unthreatening, poodle-like figure as he lolloped on to the pitch, he demonstrated a darker streak with a series of flying kicks (baartial arts, perhaps?).
Tamworth's players also emerged docilely, but they too went on to demonstrate a meaner aspect. The centre-backs Matt Redmile - an immense figure - and the experienced Adie Smith were both admirably solid, but it was their goalkeeper, Scott Bevan, released by MK Dons last week, who caught the eye. Shaky in the early stages after dropping a sixth-minute cross, he recovered to emerge as the hero, blocking at the feet of Mamady Sidibe and making a superb save low to his left to turn away Darel Russell's 82nd-minute drive.
The only consolation for Stoke is that it could have been worse, Eddie Anaclet and Edwards both going close to nicking a winner for Tamworth in injury time. "We're looking forward to the replay," said Cooper. "Our ground's not the most illustrious, so I'm not sure they are." Neutrals are likely to be equally suspicious; but then it can hardly be as bad to watch as this.Reuse content