By Chris Sweetman
JOE Thompson’s injury-time winner saw Newcastle scrape past ten-man Romulus 1-0 in the FA Cup Extra-Preliminary Round replay at the Red Industries Stadium.
The Newcastle midfielder’s powerful late strike proved to be the one moment of decisive quality in a very scrappy game.
In truth Romulus offered more fight than threat, after they forced the replay with 2-2 draw at Castle Vale on Saturday.
The first half had seen few attempts on goal, with Castle’s best chances falling to headers by Jack and Tommy van der Laan, and Joseph Berks’ free kick.
The second half saw more enterprise by both teams, as Max Chimenes glanced a header wide moments after the restart.
Romulus were reduced to 10 men on the hour mark, as Louie O’Connor was dismissed for a second yellow in a contentious incident.
Callum Speed then missed a golden chance to give Newcastle the lead, as he broke free but fired straight at Romulus keeper Lewis Gwilliams.
Finn Douglas – Romulus’ hero on Saturday – then dragged their best chance wide after a quick break.
However, despite both sides pushing for a winner, it took until the 93rd minute for Thompson to clinch the tie, and set up a trip to Rugby Town for the Preliminary Round.
A scrappy first half saw both sides struggle to impose themselves, or show much quality with a series of fouls and poor passes making continuity difficult.
The first opportunity of game came to Romulus early, as Douglas – scorer of two goals on Saturday – broke free, but a superb tackle by Joshua Jordan prevented a shot.
However, after that early break, the game devolved into a scrappy, niggly affair with both sides willing to impose themselves physically in defence, an approach which was often penalised.
Newcastle were looking to establish themselves through a fast-passing game, with the pace of wingers Speed and Berks proving a useful outlet.
But the visitor’s defence proved equal to the task of preventing the final ball, and helped them establish a threat on the break, without truly establishing a scoring opportunity.
This stalemate meant that it took more than 20 minutes before either side had a shot on target, with Jack van der Laan’s weak header easily dealt with by Gwilliams.
A few minutes later, Chimenes did well to force his way into space in the Romulus area, before a return cross saw captain Tommy van der Laan head wide.
Newcastle’s best chance of the half came from a free kick, as Berks’s direct shot flew through the wall, but bobbled wide of the goal.
With half time approaching, Romulus seemed willing to contain Newcastle, but a great pass by Thompson split the defence, but the recipient Oliver Ritchie was clearly offside.
On the stroke of the break, Romulus broke up field, but Rob Hanna dragged his shot wide, to ensure the deadlock remained intact.
Both sides needed to show improvement after a low quality first half, and there was an immediate response by the hosts.
Newcastle quickly won an attacking thrown, which was half cleared, but Kyle Stubbs’ return cross was perfectly placed for Chimenes, who glanced his header wide.
Romulus had also come out after the break with greater intent, as Stephen Palmer shot wide from range.
While both sides were more eager to commit to attack, much of the niggle from the first half remained, leading to a flashpoint around the hour mark.
A foul by Romulus saw a long stoppage as the referee struggled to establish control, with both sets of players making vigorous protests.
After a consultation with the linesman, O’Connor was shown a second yellow, and a Romulus manager was also sent off.
The whole incident proved confusing to all parties, with some suggestion that O’Connor was not the player to commit the original foul.
Nevertheless, Romulus were down to ten players, and they consequently dug in to try and frustrate Newcastle, and potential hit them on the break.
However, Newcastle initially began to find space, with Speed in particular proving a handful, with his pace getting him behind the defence several times.
He should have opened the scoring in one such instance, with 15 minutes to go, as he broke free of the defence, but with only Gwilliams to beat, fired straight at the visiting keeper.
From that, Romulus immediately broke up field, and got the ball to Douglas, whose shot crept just wide, much to Newcastle’s relief.
That proved almost the last moment of quality in the game, as both sides became increasingly scrappy, making no real chances, as the 90-minute mark approached.
In fact, it wasn’t until deep in a long period of injury time – brought on by the delay around the O’Connor red card – that Newcastle finally secured their place in the Preliminary Round.
A long throw by Stubbs was half cleared by Romulus, but only as far as Thompson, who steadied himself, before firing a powerful shot past a stranded Gwilliams.
That proved enough for Newcastle to see out the rest of injury time and secure a nervy win, to advance past the Extra-Preliminary Round for the second year in succession.
They will travel to Rugby Town – who also needed an injury time winner to beat Malvern Town – on August 19th.
Before that, we begin this season’s Northern Premier League West Division away at Bootle on Saturday.
Our first home league fixture is next Tuesday against newly relegated – and fellow Staffordshire side – Hednesford Town.