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|A look back at the 1990/91 FA Trophy run
Wycombe Wanderers 2
Saturday 6th April 1991
FA Trophy Semi-Final 1st Leg
(research, memories and words by Paul Lewis - first published during 2015/16 to mark the 25th anniversary)
Wanderers took a crucial lead to the 2nd Leg of the Semi-Final FA Trophy meeting with Altrincham, following a 2-1 victory in front of a bubbling 5,000 plus gate at Adams Park - nearly a 1,000 more than Oxford United's Second Division gate on the same day.
However, there were fears of an opposite fate when the visitors took a 5th minute lead through Paul Rowlands but a Dave Carroll goal on 12 minutes turned up the volume for the Wycombe fans and an opportunist steal from Keith Scott on 72 minutes, meant that Wanderers fans were now seriously dreaming of a first Wembley Stadium appearance for 34 years.
The meeting with Altrincham had been set up following a Quarter-Final victory at Northwich Victoria and it was Martin O'Neill's side who got the better over another Cheshire side as Wanderers' registered their most significant victory in the short history of Adams Park.
Reporting for the Bucks Free Press from Adams Park, Pete Lansley wrote: 'Wycombe Wanderers went from the peak of anticipation to the worst start they could have dreaded before hauling themselves back into a first round lead against Altrincham on Saturday.
In front of Adams Park’s second-highest attendance, Blues’ fans fell from a noisy pre-match crescendo to a miserable silence as Altrincham snatched the lead from their first attack. This is the second successive week Blues have been guilty of going behind the first time their goal has been threatened and surely provides a warning for Saturday.
A free kick was needlessly conceded on the left and Paul Showler floated in a free kick which John Granville never looked like reaching. Paul Rowlands moved in unmarked to nod the league leaders into a dramatic lead.
John King’s men must have thought they were through to the final, and on for only the second ever non-league double of league and Trophy. But Blues are made from durable stuff, which is especially evident when they are hyped up to play the big games. Seven more minutes had not passed when the visitors’ defence made the first of their two defensive bodge jobs which mean Blues need to avoid defeat at Moss Lane to reach their first-ever FA Trophy final.
Harry Wiggins messed up his back pass to Jeff Wealands, allowing Dave Carroll to weave into Altrincham’s penalty area. The winger, who had not scored this year, kept his cool to take the chance and roll a shot, left footed, beyond Wealands for his first cup goal of the season.
It was vital timing and well worth the wait. The visitors, unbeaten in a record 24 Conference games, calmed the game down from this thrilling opening to look in control for most of the first half.
Mark West was understandably rusty, but his presence ensured the Altrincham defence had their hands full. On 27 minutes, West took to the air to scissor kick over. The striker also put in Keith Ryan, three minutes before the break, to cross long from the left. Steve Guppy launched himself at the ball, narrowly missing.
Former Manchester United keeper Wealands never looked conformable and gifted Blues their winner just as 1-1 looked the likely outcome. As the Altrincham back line moved out, Matt Crossley played a ball back into the area. Keith Scott came from an offside position to pressurise Wealands, who failed to grasp the ball and Scott was allowed to knick the ball and tap in an invaluable winner.'
Speaking after the game, Wanderers' boss Martin O'Neill said: "Considering we started the match a goal behind we’ve done brilliantly to win the game. We could have caved in but we didn’t.”
Wanderers poor start to proceedings came after Club Director Alan Parry had took to the pitch pre-match to proclaim that the fans' support was 'worth a goal start'. It was to the credit of the players that they responded to Paul Rowlands’ 5th minute goal. O'Neill added: "In its very short history, this was the biggest game at Adams Park. It’s a lovely ground, so is Anfield, but I’d like it to be intimidating. The crowd can help us, and we’d be lost without the fans behind the goal. They’ve stayed with us — we’ve played some good stuff this season, sometimes it’s been diabolical, but let’s see if we can see it through for them now."
The 1st Leg tie saw Mark West play his first game since the Quarter-Final tie at Northwich. O'Neill commented: "We took a risk on Westy and he did well considering. He could’ve scored early on, and could’ve got us a penalty." Meanwhile, West, who needed treatment again after the final whistle, said; "It was all right until a quarter of an hour into the second half. It felt good in the first half, but in the second I had to get off because it started hurting."
Defender Stuart Cash commented: “The lads were a bit nervous before we went out, but second half I thought we defended well. After the first half, we settled down. It’s going to be a hard game, but I’d say we’re in the driving seat at the moment." The on-loan left back, who claimed he had enjoyed “an easy afternoon” with no winger to mark, praised Matt Crossley who had to handle the threat of England semi-professional international winger Paul Showler on the other flank, saying: “Matt was a bit nervy to start with, but he played him well after that.” Cash added: "I was just happy to play today and hopefully be there next week when we’ll get the champagne corks popping, hopefully."
Keith Scott made it five goals from eight starts with his winner in the 72nd minute. He told the press: "From a forward’s point of view, you’ve got to score goals, and I’m happy to have scored five. I’m hoping to score 20 league goals next season, but there are still eight games left this season." Commenting on the goal, he added: "The goalie bottled it. Matt’s put it in, he (the keeper) could’ve come and got it around the penalty spot, but he bottled it. The only thing I’m a bit embarrassed about is the silly dance at the end. It was more relief than anything."
Scott goal versus Alty meant he had now scored three times in three games against Altrincham during the 1990/91 season, following earlier on-loan strikes for Gateshead and Boston United. He said he was now looking forward to the following Saturday’s second leg. "The lads are all in very good spirits for next week, definitely. It’s always nice in a two-leg affair just to win, whether 1-0, 2-1 or 3-2, because when we go back to Altrincham, they’ve got to come at us. Otherwise they’re going to lose the game. The longer we can hold out, the more the pressure’s on them and they’ll have to push forward which will leave gaps at the back." Scott added that O’Neill had pointedly calmed the players down following the 1st leg victory but added, "Obviously next week when we win through to the final, you'll see a different reaction."
Kidderminster Harriers won the first leg of the other semi final, against Witton Albion, by 1-0, the goal coming from Mark Whitehouse in the 87th minute. Andrew Lee of Witton was sent off after 16 minutes following an off-the-ball clash with Whitehouse.
Wanderers' 2nd Leg tie at Moss Lane would be an all-ticket affair, with Wycombe fans allocated 1,200 places from the 3,500 capacity. The limited number of tickets for the 2nd Leg had come about due to safety concerns at what was prevously a 10,000 capacity ground. The latest safety certificate had been for 3,000 but with the high demand from Wycombe fans, the figure was raised to 3,500 for the day. Wycombe officials drew criticism on the way tickets were allocated - giving priority only to those travelling on the official coaches and the semi-official group train booking. All the tickets were sold-out within hours of going on sale on the Sunday after the 1st Leg at Adams Park, with even Keith Ryan having to resort to queing up (unsuccesfully) in an attempt to get tickets for his parents. Wanderers General Manager Brian Lee commented: "We have just had the problem of who gets the tickets. We had to sell them on a first-come first-served basis, that was the only fair way. It is not ideal but we cannot please everyone whichever way we do it."
The Club tried to set up a live satellite link to beam back the game to giant screens at Adams Park. But, what was described as 'the enormous cost', thought to be around £5,000, had scuppered the idea. Instead live commentary from Wycombe HOspital Radio would be relayed to the Vere Suite at Adams Park.
It was also confirmed that if the aggregate scores were level after 90 minutes of the 2nd Leg, there would be 30 minutes extra-time. Away goals would not count double. If a replay was needed it would take place at Walsall’s Bescot Stadium the following Tuesday. Meanwhile, those who were lucky enough to get a ticket for the tie at Moss Lane tomorrow were urged by manager Martin O’Neill to let the team know they are there. He said: “We hope they’ll cheer us on. The away fans have been incredible all season. We want to do it for them and everyone back in Wycombe." The Wycombe boss went on to say: "We are going there to attack, there’s no doubt about that. When you go to defend that’s when you usually get done. We are not capable of sitting on a lead. The boys are very confident, they think they can do it. What is certain is that during the game we will will get a chance to score and it is up to us to take it." The team would leave on the Friday afternoon of the eve of the tie and stay in a hotel in Newcastle-under-Lyne. O’Neill, who had never lost in a semi-final during his career, added: "When you get this close you don’t want to lose, Wembley would be a great day out for the team and the fans. But we can’t think about it yet."
Picture Gallery published for the first time to mark the 25th anniversary>>>
Next: Saturday 13th April 1991 - Altrincham v Wycombe - FA Trophy Semi-Final 2nd Leg
report, memories and pictures to follow >>>
FA Trophy memories 1991 - 25 year anniversary retro index
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