The FA Cup Second Round: Solihull Moors vs Rotherham United
They’ve come a long way, have Solihull Moors. A merger of Solihull Borough and Moor Green in 2007, they came from a pretty unforgiving set of circumstances. When Moor Green FC’s ground was rendered unsuable following an arson attack, the club moved to ground-share at nearby Soluhull Borough, another middling non-league club of little to no consequence. With a move back to their home deemed impossible by the directors of the club, they merged with their hosts. It was not a universally popular move.
The new club did take Moor Green’s place in the Conference North, but their earlier years were mostly spent in the bottom half of that division, finishing as low as nineteenth, as recently as 2012. The league title came in 2016, and two seasons of struggle in the National League followed. Last season, however, they surprised everyone by finishing in second place in the table behind Leyton Orient, ahead of Salford City, Wrexham and Fylde. They currently sit in third place in the National League table, a point behind second-placed Bromley and four points behind leaders Barrow.
Rotherham United, meanwhile, still can’t decide whether they’re a Championship club or a League One club. Relegated from the former in bottom place at the end of last season, they’re currently in fourth place in the latter. There’s every chance that they could be in the Championship again next season. But last night they demonstrated that this tendency towards being the apparent Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde aspect to their personalty within the space of 95 breathless minutes.
They already knew that Hull City would be awaiting the winners in the next round of the FA Cup. The draw for the Third Round had been made before the match, and it wasn’t a bad one, either, throwing up a Merseyside derby, the prospect of Manchester “Definitely Not In Crisis” United having to travel to Molineux, the site of their elimination last year, and Arsenal vs Leeds United, a match which into question why, although Premier League managers have started dropping like flies over the last couple of weeks or so, Marcelo Bielsa never gets linked with these positions.
I’m not saying, by the way, that Bielsa should go to Arsenal. Or anywhere else, for that matter. Bielsa and Leeds United feels like a life-affirming union, like a romantic comedy about two misfits who find love under testing circumstances, or something. Who knows? Perhaps it will be, in a couple of years. It would certainly make a change from the steady push of behind the scenes documentaries, none of which can ever be as grimly entertaining as Sunderland Til I Die.
Whichever way you choose to frame it, though, last night was ultimately a disaster for Solihull Moors. When Jimmy Ball touched the ball into the Rotherham goal to put Solihull three goals up with just over an hour played, it felt in just about every way possible that there was no way back for the visitors. They had been outplayed to such a point that we were left wondering whether manager Paul Warne had decided before the match that his team should simply throw the match and free up some space in the calendar towards their push to finish second from the bottom in the Championship next season. They weren’t just three goals down. They were three goals down and being completely outplayed, as though the coming of the sweet release of the final whistle would be sweet release for a team that had found itself in the wrong place, at the wrong time.
There were just fourteen minutes to play when Freddie Ladapo pulled one back and, despite the two goal cushion and the limited amount of time left to play, it felt as though the match was only headed one way. And so they came. Three-two, after seventy-nine minutes. Three-all, after eighty-eight minutes. Four-three after ninety-one. All the character that had been missing from the first seventy-five minutes of Rotherham’s performance came flooding back over the course of that last fifteen minutes or so as Solihull, whose game management skills may reasonably be called into question on the basis of such a spectacular collapse, folded in front of them. They’re all professionals at Solihull these days, of course, The butchers, bakers and candle-stick makers of the past departed the top end of the National League. Yet the gulf remains, and it was visible most obviously in the colour seeming to visibly drain from the faces of their defenders as that first Rotherham goal hit the back of the net.
It makes you think, all of this, about the nature of coming behind to snatch a win and just how rare it is. I can count on the fingers of one hand the number of times I’ve seen a team throw away a three-goal lead before – perhaps unsurprisingly, Spurs are the grandmasters of this over the last couple of decades, having thrown away 3-0 half-time leads against both Manchester United and Manchester City in the space of three years at the start of this century, with the latter coming against a team that had been reduced to ten men. Solihull have a way to go yet if they’re to ever match this level of munificence.
The reasons why it is rare should be obvious, and the most obvious reason of all is that a team playing badly enough to fall three goals behind in the first place is unlikely to have the wherewithal to turn things around in the space of considerably less than ninety minutes. Even so, though, considering the vast number of matches that are played every single season, it remains mildly surprising that it should happen quite so infrequently. But it does. Even Liverpool required thirty minutes of extra-time and possibly the funniest penalty shoot-out of all time to secure their “Miracle of Istanbul.”
Solihull Moors’ results will be worth keeping an eye on over the next couple of weeks or so, if only to see how a team reacts to such an obliteration. They travel to bottom of the table Wrexham on Saturday in the National League. With that club undergoing difficulties this season that few outside of the club would have foreseen, that match promises to be a firecracker, one way or the other, and may prove instructive about what – if any – lasting effects a team might suffer as a result of losing a match under such unusual circumstances. It should also be remembered, and this is often forgotten by broadcasters at this time of years, that not all non-league clubs are created the same or evolve into the same thing. Solihull Moors are a full-time club, not the plucky amateurs of half a century ago, and their supporters probably did deserve something better than last night’s late capitulation.
By extension of this, if Solihull aren’t off the hook, then neither should Rotherham United go without praise for coming from three goals down to win a cup match in ninety minutes. True enough, they are two divisions above their opponents and probably shouldn’t have found themselves three goals down in the first place, but they didn’t fold, and their superior professionalism was to be seen in the manner in which they didn’t consider anything a lost cause, and kept fighting until they found themselves right back in the match. Such a comeback drops a heavy hint as to why they’re amongst the favourites to bounce back into the Championship come the end of this season.