Penalties heartbreak for Alfreton

FA Cup qualifyng round IV Alfreton Town 1 Hereford United 1 aet Hereford win 4-3 on pens Report by Clive Edwards (BBC Radio Derby)

After the promise of the first half, a session filled with action, chances and hope, from which Alfreton left the field with their noses just ahead, the outcome of this cup-tie was a gut-wrenching disappointment.

The look on Gary Mills' face at the end of the game said it all.

He knew that they were a penalty kick and a save away from victory, and he also knows that dwelling on defeat is no way forward.

"I'm gutted," he said. "We have proved that we are not easy to beat. In the end, the fitness levels of the professional side counted against the fitness levels of the semi-pro side. But I'm proud of my team and their performance tonight."

It was an honest appraisal, and as cheerful as one could hope for after the morale-deflating finale.

The evening started well for Alfreton. In damp and blustery conditions, the Reds created plenty of chances, often beating their opponents for skill and pace.

Chris Bettney, Jon Stevenson and Mick Godber combined well time after time to threaten the Bulls' defence. Ryan Clarke, as ever, showed genuine pace in his attacking forays. This was a different Alfreton from the cautious, defensive side that Hereford had met at their ground on Saturday. This time, Alfreton meant business.

For the visitors, Tamika Mkandawire slammed a shot against the bar on the half-hour, but it came as no surprise when the Reds went a goal up three minutes later.

A corner, not well cleared, came to Jason Blunt who crossed left-footed into the six-yard box.

Mark Turner, inevitably, was there to head home the opening goal of the cup-tie. His dad probably didn't know whether to laugh or cry. The Reds fans had no such moral dilemma.

After the break, Alfreton were pinned on the defensive.

The match changed in the space of four minutes. In the 53rd minute, a cross by Jon Brady from the right was headed home by Craig Stanley for the equaliser. It was unquestionably a good goal. But the subsequent series of events gave the initiative completely to the visitors.

Dave Robinson was pulled up for a foul tackle. His response - dissent- earned him a booking. From the free-kick, Jason Blunt was booked for persistent offending - the referee considered that his break away from the wall towards the ball was a second too early, and a transgression too many.

Then Bettney limped off to the sideline. His contribution had been a joy - skilful, and exciting. He could have been the matchwinner.

Alas, Alfreton never fully recovered their composure. The back line played solidly, but the midfield frequently gave the ball away cheaply.

Unable to keep possession, the Reds put themselves under too much pressure, and consequently had to play too deep.

It is a lesson that Gary Mills had demonstrated to them by playing himself in previous matches. In soccer physics, it might be known as Mills' Law - if you let go of the ball, it must be certain to go to one of your players. Like all laws, under pressure, it's easier to say than to do.

Alfreton's survival was thanks to an outstanding display from Mark Turner at the heart of the defence, and from Adam Legzdins between the posts. The youngster commanded his area with the authority of a senior pro. And he pulled off a string of saves at various points in the match which took the breath away.

At full time the scores were level. And so to extra-time, so often a period of stalemate between two teams who fancy their chances in the 50/50 lottery of a sudden death shoot-out. And so it came to pass.

The dream would have been for the young superhero to pull off a few magnificent saves, and for Mark Turner to slot in the final kick of the evening before shaking hands with his dejected but proud father. And then off we all go to Cambridge for the next round.

But Alfreton's fairy godmother had turned in for the night by this late hour. She slept soundly as the home fans saw Turner, and then Chris White have their efforts saved by Craig Mawson in the Hereford goal.

Legzdins raised home spirits briefly with a brilliant save against Andy Ferrell, and he almost kept out Graham Evans' spot-kick to level the scales. But the shot had just enough power to trickle over the line. And it was left to Hereford's Cameroon international, Guy Ipoua, to blast home the final kick of the night.

Those inclined to praise Graham Turner's tactical genius might point to the fact that, very late in the game, he made three substitutions. All three players who came on for Hereford, took penalties in the shoot-out. And all three of them scored. He's no mug, that Turner fellow.

And in victory he generously paid tribute to Adam Legzdins at the end of the match. "We deserved to win, but we should have won in open play. Alfreton's keeper was magnificent. In both matches, he stood between us and the next round," said Turner.

Gary Mills said: "Adam was superb. He has been a credit to Birmingham City, to us, and to himself."

Before his first match against Leigh RMI last week, Birmingham City academy manager Vic Callow said of him: "He's a good prospect with a great attitude."

Before his first match against Leigh RMI last week, Birmingham City Academy manager Vic Callow said of him: "He's a good prospect with a great attitude."

Memo to Vic Callow: "You've underestimated him, Vic. You may want him back, pretty soon."

The Reds fans know that they have seen a young keeper who has a very bright future. I look forward to hearing my commentating colleagues mispronounce his name for years to come.

match details

ALFRETON: Legzdins, Clarke, Featherstone, Blount (Nwadike 76), Turner, Robinson, Blunt, Fisher, Godber, Stevenson (Duffield 71), Bettney (White 61). Subs not used: Ross, Powell.

HEREFORD: Mawson, Mkandawire, James, Brady, Pitman, Ferrell, Stanley (Evans 113), Carey-Bertram (Williams 81), Jeannin, Purdie, Bailey (Ipoua 98). Subs not used: Blewitt, Beckwith.

REFEREE: Phil Gibbs of West Midlands.


OPEN PLAY SCORERS: Alfreton - Turner 33. Hereford - Stanley 53.

SHOOT-OUT: Alfreton scorers - Duffield, Blunt, Godber; saved - Turner, White. Hereford scorers - James, Williams, Evans, Ipoua; saved - Ferrell.

CAUTIONS: Alfreton - Robinson 53 (dissent); Blunt 56 (persistent misconduct); Clarke 105 (foul). Hereford - Stanley 43 (foul).