PAUL Mullin has proved the Stanley saviour so many times - and thank goodness he came to their rescue against North West Counties side Fleetwood on Tuesday night.
The Lancashire FA Marsden Trophy, won by the Reds two years ago, may not be high on the fans' priorities but Stanley boss John Coleman wants his side to win this cup. But he admitted his side were "poor" and they needed extra time and the addition of Mullin and Lutel James from the bench to see off the NWCL Division One side.
"Fleetwood played well - they were lively up front and had us on the back foot a lot," said Coleman. "But our performance was poor. We were slovenly in our play, we did not get to the ball quick enough, and took liberties with our defending. 5-2 flattered us.
"We are trying to turn ourselves on and off and we can't do that. Some players had a chance to shine but when Lutel and Paul came on it was like a breath of fresh air. We are better than that and the lads should set their own standards. I want to win every game - and I try and transfer that to the lads. I am not saying the lads didn't want to win, they just didn't apply themselves like they should have.
"It is our third game in six days and perhaps one or two were tired, but that is no excuse for lacking enthusiasm. There were 400 fans there which is tremendous for a Lancashire Cup game."
Coleman started with Lee Madin and John Durnin up front. Jon Kennedy came into goal while Peter Cavanagh returned after missing two games through suspension. Gordon Armstrong also started at the back alongside Steve Hollis and Robbie Williams while Dean Calcutt got another run out as he returns after injury.
But Stanley were stunned when, on 17 minutes, Kevin Barnes chipped the ball home from the left wing after Kennedy had raced out. The Reds had chances but neither Madin, Steve Flitcroft, Rory Prendergast or Durnin could find a way through. And there was more worries for Coleman when Armstrong went off on 35 minutes, needing stitches to a cut on his shin to be replaced by left back Keiran Killackey, for his debut.
Coleman threw on James at the break and soon after added Mullin to his front line as they searched for an equaliser. And it came from Prendergast on 68 minutes when he curled the ball into the bottom of the net. But, one minute later, Kennedy came out to clear a ball, missed it and in nipped Lee Catlow to slot the ball into the empty net and Stanley once more were chasing the game.
However, on 71 minutes, the Reds' fans could breath again when a Prendergast effort was handled in the area and James converted the spot-kick. And then Fleetwood were reduced to ten men when midfielder Damien Dashti was shown a straight red for, it seemed, dissent.
But Stanley couldn't find the winner and, on a cold night, a huge groan went up as the game went into extra time but luckily Mullin turned on the style to prevent penalties. And it had to happen as, by the 92nd minute, promotion-chasers Fleetwood were down to nine men when Stuart Beech was sent off for a second bookable offence.
With the two-men advantage Stanley should have walked it but it was not until the 105th minute that they got their noses in front. Flitcroft raced down the right wing, played the ball in, James raced in with the defender and the ball fell to unmarked Mullin who tapped it into the empty net. Seconds later - in injury time in the first half of extra time - Mullin made it safe heading home a Cavanagh cross.
And, on 114 minutes, he celebrated a hat-trick when another Cavanagh cross was headed down by Prendergast at the far post and Mullin again touched it over the line - pure relief for the Reds.