**FROLESWORTH UNITED 3-2 AFC COUNTRYMAN (AET)**
JAKE Pantony’s extra-time double gave Frolesworth United a dramatic late win in a pulsating F.A Intermediate Cup encounter in front of a packed house at the Warren on Sunday morning, as the Rabbits progressed to the last 16 of the competition for the second successive season.
The talismanic midfielder bagged either side of the break to overturn a 2-1 deficit and exercise the ghosts of last week’s shock Billy Walton Cup defeat as United survived a certain Halloween scare.
His side had earlier fallen behind after Josh Baines was punished for a fatal challenge in the penalty area, before Liam Barratt levelled on his return to the Warren in the second half. The visitors then took a shock lead in the first period of extra-time, before Pantony stole the show to ensure the Clarets remained in the velvet bag for Round Three.
Manager Ben Harris plumped for 4-4-2 in the absence of target man Chris Bradshaw, while the back four remained the unchanged. Youngster Dan Morrow was again preferred on the right, as Joe Cook partnered Pantony in the engine room with Baines on the left and Evans leading the line alongside the returning Barratt.
Luke Hammond was named amongst the substitutes bench after recovering ahead of schedule from a dislocated leg, but United’s preparations were far from idyllic, as chairman Baines, manager Harris and Assistant manager Jordan Halford made the staggering 226-mile round trip to collect centre-half Jack Boulton from Ashill in Norfolk at 1.30am on the day of the game.
And that lack of sleep, coupled with illness certainly seemed to unhinge Baines as he suffered from a lapse of concentration, or rather a rush of blood to the head in the 34th minute. The chairman diving in rashly and unnecessarily in the penalty box, leading to his side falling a goal behind in a largely uneventful first period.
Harris soon changed things up at the break, though, reverting to the familiar 4-2-3-1 formation and replacing young Morrow with the experienced club captain Craig Rowbottom as Cook moved out wide.
And the decision proved to be a masterstroke as Cook had an almost immediate impact, last season’s top scorer turning provider for the Rabbits’ opener. He latched on to a superb ball inside the full-back from Luke Evans and crossed to Barratt, who turned home after a second bite of the cherry.
And the goal appeared to completely reinvigorate the hosts, as they created a glut of chances, which should have given them the win in regulation time. Barratt, who had tormented Countryman with his frantic work rate and rampaging running was next to threaten and he was desperately unlucky as his shot trickled back off the post in the 64th minute.
The game was opening up and playing into Frolesworth’s hands as first the impressive Cook had a rasping drive tipped over the bar before Rowbottom’s header was blocked en route to goal and Evans flashed a free-kick just wide.
Second-half substitute Jack Rudman continued his galloping forays forward and he was unlucky when his lob was thwarted, and then Barratt blazed over clean through with just 10 minutes remaining. There was certainly no time to draw breath, but whilst it looked as though extra-time was looming there was still one chance left in it for the Clarets.
Rowbottom, who had finally found his goalscoring form this season with two so far, leapt whole-heartedly towards Barratt’s stand-up at the back post but his diving header flew just the wrong side of the upright before at the other end, Errington made a crucial save.
And so, after all of their endeavour and a breathless second 45 minutes, Hall Park braced itself for another half an hour of compelling cup action. Full credit to the visitors too, who had certainly rode their luck but they demonstrated their fighting quality, although Assistant Halford knew that all too well having played with opposing players Tom Elliott and Lewis Whalley during his time at Hinckley United.
But his former team-mates would unbelievably gain the upper hand largely against the run of play just five minutes into extra-time. Countrymen, buoyed by United’s lack of cutting edge, nudged themselves ahead to completely stun the hosts.
Harris had earlier thrown on Hammond, perhaps a sign of desperate measures in the attacking department, and he had a great chance straight from the restart, which he could only poke wide.
But he certainly had a positive impact on the left and his determination led to the second Frolesworth equaliser of the match just before the turn around. He drilled a low cross in to Pantony, who had been quiet by his own admission thus far and he dispatched a composed finish into the far corner.
And the script was written for the returning striker to be the hero in the second-half of extra-time, as Pantony was felled in the box for a penalty. But incredibly, if the game hadn’t had enough drama, Hammond would add to it as he completely rushed his kick and with just two steps, he lashed over from 12 yards.
Harris, a crumbling wreck in his technical area, could not believe it. The rollercoaster of emotions continued and in the 110th minute of a truly thrilling cup-tie, with the dreaded lottery of penalty kicks looming, Pantony finally settled the matter by elegantly firing into the far corner and firing the Country Boys in to the next round.
FROLESWORTH: ERRINGTON 7, FINNIGAN 6, BAKER 8, BOULTON 8, JAMES 8, EVANS 7, COOK 8, BAINES 6, MORROW 7, PANTONY 9 (MOM), BARRATT 9. SUBS: ROWBOTTOM 7, RUDMAN 7, HAMMOND 7.
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