For the intrepid visitor from East London to Droylsden this evening, that shiver running down the spine might not be entirely down to the bitter cold in the air tonight. The home side are, after all nicknamed “The Bloods” and the venue for this evening’s Second Round match in the FA Cup is The Butchers Arms, all of which rather calls to mind the opening scenes from “An American Werewolf In London”. Compared to the giants of the the area, Manchester United and the recently-minted Manchester City, they remain very much in the shadows, and the reality of their position is that their real competitors are the other Tameside clubs – the likes of Hyde FC, Stalybridge Celtic and Ashton United – rather than the impenetrable two of the Greater Manchester area. It’s a crowded part of the world, and a little extra publicity will do them good. Also, in the cold, hard reality of non-league football, the money from this run in the competition will come in useful and, much as we might like occasionally indulge ourselves in “The Romance Of The FA Cup” (© The FA), this counts for a lot for a Blue Square North side with an average home crowd of 400 people.
Leyton Orient, meanwhile, have had a curious start to the new season. They started poorly, but have seen their form pick up of late and have lost just once the ninth of October. Some Orient supporters may still view manager Russell Slade with some suspicion considering his connection with rivals Brighton & Hove Albion, and for all of their recent improvement they remain just two places above the League One relegation positions at present. Confidence can be a brittle substance, and this match may well fall into the category of being an inconvenience that they could do without at the moment. Even the notion of a Third Round match away to Norwich City (drawn by Noel Gallagher, who, it should be added, seems to not have fully completed his journey to a parallel universe in which Parker from Thunderbirds has been invited to join Mott The Hoople), seems unlikely to gird their collective loin.
Still, though, they start strongly enough, looking solid in midfield and creating one or two reasonable chances – Scott McGleish has a firm header tipped over the crossbar by the Droylsden goalkeeper Paul Phillips – but, as the half wears on and the Droylsden players start to shake off their early nerves, the home side start to improve and it’s hardly as if Orient don’t receive a warning shot across the bows when Ciaran Kilheeney finds himself in space on the left-hand side of the penalty area and sees his shot flash across the face of goal and narrowly wide. Just past the mid-way point in the half, the unheeded warning is punished when Kilheeney heads in to give Droylsden the lead. Orient rally after the goal and spend much of the remainder of the half encamped in or around the Droylsden penalty area, but they are lacking much of an incisive edge, and Droylsden leave the pitch with their lead relatively comfortably intact.
The second half continues the relentless onslaught of mediocrity. Orient are going at Droylsden but they’re doing so without great conviction, and on an increasingly difficult pitch they seldom create much of any substance. The home side, meanwhile, seem plenty happy enough to sit back and try to soak up whatever happens to be thrown at them. The plan works reasonably successfully for just over twenty-five minutes, before Orient finally throw in a touch of Football League class. With seventeen minutes to play, Dean Cox crosses from the right-hand side and McGleish, who has comfortably looked like Orient’s best chance of a goal all evening, heads past Phillips, who manages to get himself almost wrapped around the post, off said post, off said goalkeeper and in to bring Orient level. As we might have expected, the final ten minutes are a little more open as both teams push for the win. Droylsden perhaps realise that right now is their best chance to win this tie while Orient really start to look like a team that don’t look like want a replay. On a pitch which seems pretty close to frozen, however, the draw seems more likely than not and at full-time it’s all back to Brisbane Road for a replay next week.
If the draw is, on balance, a fair result between these two teams tonight, it is perhaps a little harsh on the Droylsden goalkeeper Paul Phillips. Phillips had been enjoying a comfortable evening before the unfortunateness of McGleish’s second half goal, but goalkeeping, of all of the positions on the pitch, is often the least fair. All of his hard work this evening – to the extent that Orient made him work particularly hard – was undone in a single moment. Still, the tie is not lost yet and Droylsden might not be feeling too pessimistic about the replay, considering the paucity of Orient’s performance tonight. Perhaps the gap between these divisions isn’t that great after all. Ultimately, Orient commanded possession for considerable periods of the match but only occasionally properly threatened the Droylsden goal. This is, perhaps, the difference in quality between, say the top end of the Championship and the nether regions of League One. Clubs like Leyton Orient can’t necessarily guarantee a player that can kill a game off on demand. Still, though, they’re still in the competition at the end of an evening that both sides may feel vaguely dissatisfied with.
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