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FA Cup 4th qualifying round: Accrington Stanley 2 Leigh RMI 0

THE smiles around the Interlink Express Stadium said it all. Third Division Huddersfield at the Interlink Express Stadium with a full-house, the prospect of the BBC cameras and more exposure for the rising Stanley.

PAUL Mullin tries to shrug off goalkeeper Gary Kelly
PAUL Mullin tries to shrug off goalkeeper Gary Kelly

THE smiles around the Interlink Express Stadium said it all. Third Division Huddersfield at the Interlink Express Stadium with a full-house, the prospect of the BBC cameras and more exposure for the rising Stanley.

A huge cheer went up in the club house when the draw was made at 5.05pm. The Reds fans, who had hung around after the game waiting for the draw, went away anticipating the next round a week on Sunday. And it didn't seem to sink in for the players who will pits their wits against a league side and be on television - and terrestial TV this time - for the second time since their rise into the Nationwide Conference.

It was perhaps good for the Reds that all this fuss happened to take the gloss of what wasn't a top class performance against Leigh as Stanley ground out a result. The Reds were always the favourites going into the game against the Conference strugglers. But, after Mark Patterson had resigned last week, there was always the danger that Leigh would pull off a shock result.

And it seemed like it may not be the Reds' day when Lutel James raced free of the defence with just over a minute on the clock. It looked certain the hitman would score a goal with only former Oldham keeper Gary Kelly to beat - instead Kelly pulled off a wonder save. And it raised the question - was the FA Cup jinx going to strike again for Stanley?

Manager John Coleman had never taken the Reds into the first round and every year, with expectations high, they seemed to fall far too early. Emley and Harrogate had disposed of the Reds in the last two years and Leigh did then take a foothold in the game after James' early threat.

Andy Roscoe was always dangerous from the left wing and he played in a cross which sailed too close for comfort over the Stanley crossbar. And Gerry Harrison, a one-time Coleman target, shot from 20 yards but his effort was well off-target. In fairness, Leigh never looked like they would have the finishing touch in front of goal but the longer the game went on - and the more chances Stanley missed - the more anxious it got.

Stanley appealed for a penalty on 26 minutes when Rory Prendergast's cross found Andy Procter in the area. He headed the ball goalwards and appealed that it had hit the arm of Darwen-born Neil Durkin but the referee was having none of it despite the shouts of the watching Stanley fans behind the goal.

James was through again on the half hour but this time his shot from around 25 yards out went across the face of goal and wide. Then Prendergast's persistence almost paid off. He pressed in the box, forced a save out of Kelly and the ball came out to defender Steve Halford whose looping header was headed off the line by Leigh captain Martin Lancaster.

Fortunately James finally gave the Reds some breathing space. And it came from a full-bodied tackle from Halford in midfield who was determined to not let the Leigh forwards through.

Andy Gouck picked up the ball and sent it forward. The Leigh players were appealing for off-side - as Stanley had continually been caught out in the opening half - but there was no flag and James delivered his usual cool, calm and collected finish to loop the ball over Kelly. Leigh player-manager Phil Starbuck, who has taken over temporary charge at Hilton Park, threw himself on and did make a difference. He had a good curling effort on 72 minutes pushed away by Jon Kennedy as Leigh looked for an equaliser.

But Paul Mullin made sure Coleman could rest a little easier in the dug-out two minutes later. The hard work was all done by striker Lee Madin. The 20-year-old - on the bench as new signing Justin Jackson was out with flu - really impressed when he came on for the final 24 minutes. The former Preston trainee never stopped running and chasing balls and his effort was rewarded. He got the ball on the left and unleashed a fierce shot at Kelly which fell invitingly for the incoming Mullin who fired the ball into the empty net.

McNiven tried to get something for Leigh and had a point blank effort close to the end but it was straight into Kennedy's arms. And Prendergast came close in the dying minutes and kicked the advertising board in frustration that he hadn't got on the scoresheet. And, in a final flurry, James had a curling effort in injury time which was just wide of the top post.

"I did not think we played well," admitted the Reds chief. "You have got to give Leigh a lot of credit as they came here and had a go. There was nothing in the game and they controlled it for around 20 minutes. They had a good chance to equalise and then we went straight down the other end and made it 2-0 - it happens like that sometimes.

"We played well last week and got nothing from it so I guess these things even themselves out. I can't put my finger on why we didn't play well but the lads stuck together and got a result. I can accept everyone having a bad day at some point but if the problem persists I will have to do something about it."

Some of his players, however, did impress Coleman.

"Lutel was a constant threat, I think Andy Procter was the pick of the bunch and Paul Mullin had a steady game. I know Leigh were disappointed as they felt Lutel's goal was off-side but I think he ducked out of the way of the lad and timed it just right. There were a lot of off-sides given and I thought around four or five of them were on-side."

Coleman added: "But overall you wouldn't think that we were at home in the FA Cup in a game we wanted to win. I expected more chances and we didn't work their keeper enough and so I was a little bit disappointed because of what was at stake."

He knows they will have to step up a gear against Huddersfield - and at least he can smile that his side will have the chance to do so.


Stuart Pike
Deputy editor specialising in politics
Alex Bell
Bethany English
District reporter
Beth Abbit
Court reporter
Jon Macpherson
Kate Watkins
Reporter specialising in communities
Garth Dawson
Photographer and columnist