The concern that had been aired during the week was that the “Beyond The Debt” rally could be scuppered by the weather. As the tenants at Bury’s Gigg Lane, FC United of Manchester suffer more postponements than most but on Saurday, even though the pitch is in a poor condition, the predicted rain has managed to hold off for long enough to ensure that the game goes ahead. In an exceptionally tight Unibond League Premier Division, FC United have gone from being relegation contenders to being in a position to be able to view the play-offs on the horizon. Five straight wins have taken them into the top half of the table.
Today, though, lies a big challenge. North Ferriby United survive on crowds that are roughly one-tenth the size of the crowd here today, but they are in fourth place in the Unibond League Premier Division with games in hand on all three of the teams above them in the table. They seem likely to grab one of the play-off places and could yet win the Unibond League championship this season. Within five minutes of the start of the match, they have taken the lead. United defender Ludovic Quistin and Davidson tussle for the ball on the right-hand side of the penalty area. It seems that the referee may to penalty to North Ferriby but Quiston wraps his foot around the ball and rolls it wide of Sam Ashton and a foot over the line before it can be scrambled away.
Ferriby are strong and well organised, and seem likely to be able to repel anything that the home side throw at them. FCUM’s clearest chances of the first half fall in quick succession to Jerome Wright and Ben Deegan. Wright’s shot is well blocked by the Ferriby goalkeeper, who recovers excellently to stop the follow up from Deegan. Two minutes from half-time, though, Ferriby extend their lead. A ball down the right hand side is perfectly controlled by Russell Fry, who flicks the ball back across the goal for Mark Whitehouse to touch the ball in from close range to double their lead. The half-time whistle blew with FCUM facing their first league defeat since the middle of December.
Whatever manager Karl Marginson says to the players during the half-time break seems to have the desired effect upon the players. FCUM start the second half with renewed purpose and vigour and, for the first time in the match start to properly test the visiting defence. Some clumsy defending sees the ball poked wide to Phil Marsh, and Marsh sends over an inch perfect cross that Deegan can jump for and head comfortably wide of Wilson to pull the score back to 2-1. With the home side now well in control of the game, an equaliser starts to feel inevitable and it isn’t long before it comes. A corner from the right hand side is swung over towards the near post and defender David Chadwick hurls himself at the ball, heading it powerfully into the net to make the score 2-2.
Ferriby are, however, quickly allowed a route back into the match and after seventy-one minutes they retake the lead. The FCUM defence, largely untested in the second half, seems to be half asleep as Davidson gets some space on the right hand side and crosses for Chris Bolder to head in from close range at the far post. Still though, FCUM push forward in the hope of an equaliser and when another cross from the right had side is deflected away from Ben Deegan by a defender’s arm, the referee is quick to point to the penalty spot. Phil Marsh took the resulting penalty, but his shot is a poor one and was comfortably saved by Wilson. With eleven minutes to play, though, history repeats itself. Carlos Roca bursts into the penalty area and is clumsily tripped by Kevin Larvin. Larvin in sent off for his troubles, and this time Ben Deegan makes no mistake, sending Wilson the wrong way to bring the sides level again.
With a one man advantage and late in the game on a heavy, difficult pitch, it would have been unsurprising to see FCUM go on to win the match, but they fail to fully take advantage of their extra man, and even this advantage melts away when Rob Nugent is sent off with four minutes left to play after picking up a second yellow card. At full-time, then, there is a feeling of mixed emotion for the home supporters, who may be relieved at having picked up a point against one of the best teams in their division after having been two goals down at half-time yet still disappointed at the fact that, level at 3-3 and with a (albeit brief) one man advantage, the team couldn’t quite find within themselves to go on and win the match. Still, though, the unbeaten run continues and small possibility of a play-off place at the end of the season will remain just about in view as long as this run continues.
There is really no link to be had between the quality of football to be seen in a match and the notion of the supporter ownership of football clubs. If there was, though, this would have been a pretty good advertisement for it, with six goals, two sendings off, two penalties and a comeback from what seemed like an almost impossible position to rescue a point and preserve an unbeaten run. And all for an entrance fee of £7.50. As prices continue to rise at Old Trafford, Gigg Lane might find that there is a bit more interest in FC United of Manchester matches if this level of entertainment can be maintained through to the end of the season.
There are a few inexpertly taken photographs of Saturday’s match between FC United and North Ferriby here.