Bent shatters Diamonds in shoot-out

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The Independent Online

Simon Tracey, the Sheffield United goalkeeper, atoned for gifting Rushden & Diamonds their extra-time equaliser with the only save of a 12-kick penalty shoot-out in last night's replay. Tracey's parry from John Brady's shot, followed by Marcus Bent's successful conversion, earned the First Division stragglers an away tie at Tottenham or Newcastle.

Simon Tracey, the Sheffield United goalkeeper, atoned for gifting Rushden & Diamonds their extra-time equaliser with the only save of a 12-kick penalty shoot-out in last night's replay. Tracey's parry from John Brady's shot, followed by Marcus Bent's successful conversion, earned the First Division stragglers an away tie at Tottenham or Newcastle.

After a barren 90 minutes, Shaun Derry fired United in front from Paul Devlin's pass in 103rd minute. Within 90 seconds, the South Yorkshire-born Ray Warburton headed a captain's equaliser for the Nationwide Conference team following a handling error by Tracey.

United's new manager, Neil Warnock, is thoroughly acquainted with the Conference, having led Scarborough out of it while doubling as a chiropodist. Rushden, however, are no ordinary non-League outfit, being bankrolled by Max Griggs of the Doc Martens footwear empire and managed by a two-time Cup winner, Brian Talbot.

The Northamptonshire side, who are all full-timers, have also established quite a reputation for collecting League scouts during their seven-year history. At this stage last season they even held Leeds before honourable defeat in the replay.

In the 1-1 draw at Bramall Lane, Turley had been Rushden's saviour, repeatedly defying the First Division forwards and saving a penalty by Jonathan Hunt. The £130,000 recruit from Northampton soon picked up where he had left off, diving full length to touch Paul Devlin's 25-yard drive on to and over the crossbar.

United, wearing a fluorescent lime green strip more redolent of motorway traffic cones than the romance of the Cup, struggled to maintain their early momentum. The next two opportunities fell to Rushden's David Town, who drilled both too close to Simon Tracey in the visitors' goal.

Indeed, as the first half unfolded, a neutral observer would have been pushed to establish which team were 54 places above the other in the football pyramid. Fully 34 minutes had elapsed before Hunt, taking a return pass from Marcus Bent, brought Turley back into action.

Conditions, so often a leveller in knock-out competition, could not be cited as an excuse for United's inability to assert their superior skills. The pitch was pristine, the kind Manchester United would kill for, and Rushden looked as comfortable on it as Warnock's men.

Yet it was from an aerial set-piece that they could have taken a 51st-minute lead, only for Darren Collins to head straight at Tracey from a Jon Brady corner. United's instant response was a volley on the turn by Martin Smith which narrowly cleared the bar, though significantly it was the result of opportunism rather than a genuine opening.

The most technically accomplished player afield was arguably Rushden's left-sided midfielder Andy Burgess but his customary precision deserted him when a path to goal opened up after 69 minutes, his volley bobbling yards wide.

Warburton unwittingly applied the decisive touch to Derry's goal, but his instant riposte set up a chance which Rushden could not quite grasp.

Rushden & Diamonds (4-4-2): Turley; Wooding, Rodwell, Warburton, Underwood; Brady, McElhatton, Butterworth, Burgess (Hamsher, 119); Town (Desouza, 65), Collins. Substitutes not used: Heggs, Mison, Mark Smith (gk).

Sheffield United (4-4-2): Tracey; Kozluk, Murphy, Sandford, Quinn; Devlin, Derry, Woodhouse, Hunt (Katchouro,79); Martin Smith (Hamilton, 104), Bent. Substitutes not used: Gysbrechts, Doane, Duke (gk).

Referee: B Knight (Orpington).

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