Notts County broke Oxford City hearts in the FA Cup
RELIEVED Notts County boss Kevin Nolan paid tribute to cup minnows Oxford City after they were cruelly denied a famous replay.
A desperate last-gasp strike from Jorge Grant , who is originally from Oxfordshire, broke the hearts of the Non-League side as the Magpies sneaked into the third round following an entertaining tie at Meadow Lane.
Mark Jones’s plucky outfit had twice bounced back to level but were left devastated by Grant’s last kick of the game in the fourth and final minute of injury-time.
“Oxford City were fantastic and if I was their manager now I’d be very disappointed,” said Nolan.
“To be honest, I would have taken a replay with five minutes to go because they seemed to be getting stronger as the game went on. They deserve a lot of credit.
“But I am delighted because from our point of view we were nowhere near our best but we kept doing what we believe in and we never give in. What we believe in is our quality and to keep working hard and that paid off at the end. It’s nice to get through.”
City enjoyed the better of the opening moments but the first genuine chance fell to the hosts on the half-hour mark.
Former Lincoln winger Terry Hawkridge swung over a cross that was deflected on its way to Jon Stead, who chested the ball down and volleyed to force a fine save from Jack Stevens.
However, from the resulting corner, County took the lead with 31 minutes on the clock. City failed to deal with a Carl Dickinson centre and captain Richard Duffy bundled the ball home from close range.
County fashioned another chance on the stroke of half-time but Stead’s nodded effort from Ryan Yates’ ball over the top was comfortably caught by Stevens.
City began brightly after the break and Cristian Navarro could only send a volley high over the bar when well-positioned from a Rob Sinclair corner.
It wasn’t long before the near-300 visiting fans were in delirium.
Seconds after Stead saw a deflected strike hit the post, City equalised. A fine counter-attacking move finished with Zac McEachran crossing for Rob Sinclair and he fired low and hard into the net after 53 minutes.
Parity lasted just three minutes however as a rejuvenated Notts poured forward and after Hawkridge was tripped in the box, veteran forward Stead dispatched the resulting penalty with ease.
The tie had burst into life by this point and City levelled again after 72 minutes. Similar to their first equaliser, they broke after a long spell of defending stoutly and Matt Paterson finished sublimely from a McEachran cross.
Notts piled forward in injurytime and after substitute Jonathan Forte’s header was parried, Grant, who had been quiet all game, popped up to smash the ball home and deny City what would have been a hard-earned replay.
“We have to accept the result but it is so tough because we have had players in tears,” said City manager Jones.
“How we are going to get the players over this I don’t know because to get so close is heartbreaking. It wasn’t even a late goal, it was right at the very death.
“But we could not have given any more than we did. A lot of teams would have caved in but we equalised twice and showed tremendous character to come and do that at a stadium like this.
“We were trying to hang on for dear life at the end but it just wasn’t to be. We can be proud of our achievements to get as far as we have.”
RUFFLE SOME FEATHERS: Jorge Grant celebrates the winner and, inset, Godfrey Poku with Ryan Yates
HOW’S MATT: Oxford City’s Matt Paterson scores their second goal
FLYING: Jon Stead celebrates the second goal