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Story posted: Monday, 18th February 1991

Twin towers still in sight
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Gallant Gresley Rovers stormed into the last eight of the FA Vase with a script not even a writer for fantasy comics would have dreamed up.
At 4.30 on Saturday afternoon the Moatmen were 3-1 down to North west Counties League leaders Knowsley United and looked dead and buried.

Yet by 5.30 Rovers had completed a transformation a chameleon would have been proud of, going through 5-4 after extra time. It’s an old saying in football that a team’s mane can be “written” on a cup beforehand which makes them unbeatable in the rounds leading to the final.

Gresley’s name isn’t so much written on the Vase but engraved all the way through it after bizarre circumstances which they ought not survived.

In an earlier round the Moatmen lost to Mile Oak Rovers – one of only three defeats they’ve suffered all season – but were reinstated because the Tamworth side fielded an ineligibles player.

Then on Saturday, Rovers who’d prepared well for the fifth round tie on Merseyside, found themselves behind because of dreadful defending – something they could legislate for.

In fact it was the worst defensive display I’ve seen in many a long year. All four Knowsley goals were the result of defensive errors – yet it heightened the excitement and made for a gripping game to watch.

Former Burton Albion boss Kenny Blair gave Gresley the low down on United – seven points clear at the top of their league with two games in hand and only one defeat.

They had only three decent attempts on goal in the first half. But they scored from two of them, hitting the target in the 14th and 17th minutes just when Gresley were beginning to stamp their authority on the game. Manager Frank Northwood went to work during half time and told his lads to believe in themselves. And it looked as though they had taken his words to heart when Kieron Smith pulled one back just three minutes after the re-start.

But in the 55th minute no-one picked up dangerman Dave Siddell as he stole through to beat Bob Aston from close range and restore Knowsley’s two-goal advantage.

When Carl Rathbone – an FA Vase finalist with Tamworth – scored the goal of the game nine minutes from time, a fierce near post header after an excellent run and cross by Steve Adcock, Gresley had a chance.

Character shone through as Rovers bagged the equaliser. And it was a good job referee Richard Poulain of Huddersfield had a stopwatch. On my time piece it was the fifth minute of injury time when Steve Astley knocked Richard Denby’s free kick back across the box for Neil Lovell to force the ball home at the far post.

Again Northwood and his assistant Steve Dolby went to work but this time they didn’t have to say a lot as Gresley knew a place in the quaterfinals was theirs for the taking.

Even so, they still allowed Knowsley to score a fourth. This time it was the usually impeccable Bob Aston who was at fault, coming for a cross but failing to get there as Siddell headed home his hat trick.

But by that time Rovers were playing with more fire and purpose. Steve Adcock one of two masterly substitutions, knocked the ball in and once luck was on Gresley’s side.

Steve Jackson got to it before Rathbone but hit his back pass wide of his keeper. The ball rebounded off the inside of the post and who should be there but Lovell to get a toe to it and level it up 4-4.

The Moatmen now sensed victory and the goal that clinched it came in the 112th minute. Again Adcock was the provider, Gil Land, a Wembley finalist four years ago with Burton Albion, dispatched a ferocious header into the roof of the net.

“There was so much character in the side. And the support they got was tremendous,” said Northwood afterwards. “Credit to their manager Peter Orr. He said he felt we were the best non-league side that had been to their ground. And we had to be a very good side to beat Knowsley.”

Rovers will be on their travels again in the quarter-finals as they take on Essex side Harwich and Parkeston of the Jewson Eastern League.
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League Position
  Team P GD Pts
10 Highgate United 29 -3 38
11 South Normanton Athletic 26 0 37
12 Worcester City 26 11 36
13 AFC Wulfunians 31 -6 36
14 Coventry Sphinx 25 -19 34
15 Tividale 23 -4 27
16 Haughmond 29 -29 26
17 Racing Club Warwick 24 -29 24
18 Lye Town 28 -31 18
19 Gresley 26 -22 16
20 Selston 25 -38 13

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