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Tuesday 6th January 2015 ko 19.45

Northern Premier League Challenge Cup 2nd Round

STAFFORD RANGERS 2 (Curtis 71 90)

RUSHALL OLYMPIC 2 (Mugisha 35 Heath 88)

No extra time, Rushall won 6-5 on penalties

Att 192

Entry £5 (reduced from £9)

Programme £1 (reduced size)

Don’t you just love seeing a floodlit stadium come into view as you turn round a bend? If like me you do, then a trip to Marston Road is a must. That must for me was way overdue, perhaps that one season when in the Conference Premier, my club Oxford United played Rangers made me subconsciously procrastinate from going.

Either way, I walked in and stopped and stared, it really is a place that does that to you. I’d visited the quintessentially big, modern ground in hospitality at Arsenal on Sunday and found the whole experience rather lacking. What I didn’t realise was that at Stafford Rangers I found everything that had been missing in North London.

A wooden pitched roofed stand, a main stand with a steep rake, and it’ll get even better if the supporters can raise the funds to reinstate the roof on the “Shed End.”  The space breathes football, even down to the smell of frying onions from the burger van and the steam from the half-time teas.

There was though one similarity with Sunday’s game, and that neither side seemed to want to be there! The Northern Premier League is notorious for the sheer number of its cup competitions and is was obvious that the clubs were feeling a sense of overkill. Even with admission prices slashed, the attendance was less than half the normal number. Both sides saw marked changes from their league line-ups but that didn’t stop the game being hugely competitive, fortunately when you put semi-professional footballers on a pitch, they always try their best.

It helped that Stafford boss Neil Kitching was at Rushall last season and brought plenty of players with him. What was harder to fathom was that for the game Stafford were very much the underdogs; they play in Division 1 South while Rushall are a Premier Division side, quite a role reversal from years’ past.

Predictably, Rushall had the majority of possession, and in winger Stan Mugisha had a real match-winner. He jinked, he turned, and on occasion simply outpaced his markers, and all-too-often new signing Ryan Price in goal was left to save Rangers clean sheet. Eventually the defence was breached when Mugisha was left unmarked and he fired home from close-range.

That could, and probably should have been that, but a poor clearance from former Bury and Tamworth keeper Cameron Belford, allowed Alex Curtis to equalise, then Jake Heath bundled home a corner to give Rangers what looked to be a quite unbelievable win. That notion lasted a mere 90 seconds, as Heath failed to deal with a long ball and Curtis sent the tie to penalties.

Yes, straight to penalties- perhaps the League realises just how unpopular all these cups are, and on a cold night extra-time would have been too much. I tend to have sympathy for the player who misses the penalty to send his side out, but I have more in this case for Louis Downes, he was the sixth penalty, and so didn’t expect to have to take one!

Did it matter? Probably not in all honesty, although in the moment that Downes’ penalty sailed over the changing rooms you can bet your life he did! I cared, perhaps not who won, my neutrality isn’t negotiable, but if you want to measure whether I care about where I’ve visited, just watch me when I leave; if I care I always glance back. Except on this occasion I didn’t so much glance, I gawped! Why did I wait so long?