By Nathan Bees
When Crawley Town took the lead at the Broadfield Stadium on Wednesday night, how many of us were thinking ‘here we go again’?
In 80-odd games Rovers have failed to win after falling behind and the prospect of us rectifying that stat against a League One side seemed ambitious at best.
Stood on the terrace at one end of the ground I feared that our extended stay in this season’s FA Cup was sure to come to an end. Our first half display was disjointed and any hopes I had of a trip to St. Andrews next Tuesday seemed a long way away.
The phrase ‘football is a game of two halves’ is cliched but it perfectly describes what happened over the course of 90 minutes in West Sussex.
Rovers returned from the half-time break rejuvenated and manager John Ward sensed that we still had a very good chance of progressing.
The introduction of Chris Beardsley early on saw a switch to two up front and Rovers started to create a few opportunities, keeping Paul Jones very busy in the home goal.
Eliot Richards had a few wayward efforts and John-Joe O’Toole blazed high and wide when well placed midway through the half. The 250 travelling supporters were beginning to think that we weren’t going to find the equaliser we desperately wanted - and it would have epitomised our season if we hadn’t.
For the first time all evening the Crawley fans began to sing and I’m sure they felt like they had weathered the storm. Happily, Richards was able to silence them once more with just under 10 minutes left on the clock.
He struck beyond Jones from 18 yards after a poor punched clearance and we were back in it. There was still plenty of time left to go on and get a second goal to avoid Extra Time and Rovers fans were willing the side go on and produce a cup upset.
Of course, there was a possibility that the home side could find a winner, but given the way we were playing it just didn’t seem like a likely outcome.
The tie was ours for the taking, if we wanted it enough. The team continued to pile on the pressure and captain Tom Parkes sent an overhead kick towards goal, only to see it smash against the post… it was agonisingly close. As a seasoned Gashead I thought that perhaps we had squandered our last chance.
But our midfield maestro John-Joe O’Toole was on hand to stroke home after Richards’ shot was parried towards him in stoppage time. Cue wild scenes in the away end that saw almost every fan chase the team towards the corner flag.
It was an incredible feeling and as a group we made the most of it because we’ve had very little to cheer about in recent months. Occasions like that make going to away games worthwhile and I feel it justifies why I spend so much time and money on following the team. It’s addictive.
JJ’s celebration may not have been the smoothest you’ve ever seen but it certainly highlighted the sheer delight that everyone connected with the club felt at winning the game in stoppage time.
The financial reward for a second round FA Cup victory will be gratefully received and the potential income from the game with Birmingham City next Tuesday cannot be underestimated.
I also hope that the result will provide a boost to the first team squad as we go into the second half of the season. We have ended our 89 game sequence of not winning after falling behind and that should be a monkey off our back.
Beating a League One side will give us great confidence heading into our weekend meeting with Exeter City at the Mem.
It’s a belated return to league action due to postponements and given our perilous position it is an even bigger game than normal.
We lost to the Grecians in disappointing fashion on the opening day back in August and while the team won’t be motivated by revenge it will certainly be on the minds of Gasheads.
It would be good to see a large crowd getting behind the team and doing all they can to make life as uncomfortable for Exeter as possible.
Young Grecian Tom Nichols has said that he is looking forward to playing in front of a big crowd so it would be good if we can live up to expectation and create a good atmosphere. He’ll know that his side won’t be handed a friendly welcome by Rovers fans, probably after hearing stories from Matt Gill and Danny Coles, and it’s our job to ensure he isn’t disappointed.
Having witnessed how well we can play when we are set up to attack, there is no reason for us to fear any side in this division.
We have more than enough about us to win games and it’s vital that we start show it on the pitch regularly from this point on. If John Ward is able to improve his squad over the coming days there will be no excuses if we fail to climb the table.
A win tomorrow would be massive and it has to be the only thing on our minds right now. Birmingham is an exciting prospect but we shouldn’t get carried away just yet - there’s important league business that requires our full attention first.
Come on Rovers, let’s get our first 3 points of 2014.
Up the Gas.