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The Emirates FA Cup returned this weekend and my latest game in my journey took me to Stoneylands for the very first time to see Long Melford host FC Romania in a Preliminary Round tie.

The hosts knocked out Hackney Wick away in the last round whilst the visitors needed a replay to finally dispatch Waltham Forest in their Extra Preliminary Round contest. After chatting with home and away officials and having a nice cup of coffee made by the home side’s chairman (which was a nice touch) it was almost time for action.

The pitch was a like a carpet it has to be said, one of the best I’ve seen at this level, and it certainly suited good passing football. The opening ten minutes saw Melford create two openings, both headers, with one straight at keeper Razvan Negrila and the other one headed wide, whilst the visitors saw an effort saved well by Darren Moyes.

The hosts were then gifted a chance when a poor back pass allowed them in on goal but the effort was saved well by Negrila who had come to close the shot down.

The visitors then saw a couple of efforts blocked inside the hosts box whilst Melford saw an effort of their own well saved by Negrila in what was a fairly decent game even if there had been no goals thus far.

That was until the 26th minute when the visitors got their noses in front as hesitation in the box from the defence allowed Sergiu Pitaru to pounce and slot home, this moments after hesitant Melford defending saw the visitors drive wide of the far post, but the hosts hadn’t learned their lesson and found themselves behind.

Melford saw an effort blocked as they tried to respond to going behind before home keeper Moyes had to tip over a decent strike to prevent his side going further behind.

But with eight minutes to go before the break the Romanians did double their advantage when a great team move saw Toby Cleaver played in down the right and he duly slotted across keeper Moyes and into the far corner. It was a great goal and drew applause from all inside the ground.

The hosts came close to immediately reducing the deficit but saw the ball hacked away from goal after keeper Negrila had seen the ball lobbed over him by pacey winger Hassan Ally.

Pitaru almost grabbed his second minutes before the break but saw his close range effort go straight at Moyes, whilst Melford saw a weak header go straight at Negrila and it meant the visitors went into the half time interval with a useful two goal cushion.

Melford knew they had to get the next goal if they were to have any realistic chance of pulling this tie back but the early exchanges of the second period saw two visiting efforts go close, one a long range effort well saved by Moyes and then another shot whistled over from an angle.

And by the time the game had reached the hour mark the visitors should have been out of sight but could not take advantage of some decent openings that came their way.

Melford were trying hard though and as the game entered its final twenty minutes or so started to apply pressure on the visitor’s goal, sending a header wide and then seeing a looping header go over, but it was clear that the home side were not out of this tie yet.

And from their next attack Luke Payne thought he had headed Melford right back into the tie after heading in off the post, however the linesman’s flag had gone up so the goal did not count. The hosts were rather upset by this decision as they claimed the ball had gone backwards when crossed, however it didn’t stand but it was a warning for the visitors.

And as the contest entered its final ten minutes Melford glanced a header onto the post as they continued to threaten. The visitors needed to raise their game here as a goal back for the hosts would really see them come under serious pressure.

And sure enough the hosts found a goal with six minutes of normal time remaining when the ball fell to substitute Nathan Rowe and he slotted the ball into the corner of the net and it was now very much game on.

The visitors did catch the hosts on the break on one occasion as they pressed forward for an equaliser but saw George Taban’s effort chalked off for offside then moments later they visitors sent an effort wide of the far post as the game entered stoppage time.

The hosts huffed and puffed but just could not find a way through the hard working FCR backline and after several minutes of stoppage time referee Michael Jarvis brought an end to proceedings and the ESL visitors were in the next round.

The Romanians made harder work of this than they probably should have,  however you have to applaud how Long Melford pushed them hard and could have easily earned a replay in the end. However it’s FC Romania who now wait and see who they get in Mondays First Qualifying Round draw.

Long Melford Scorer – Nathan Rowe (84’)
FC Romania Scorers – Sergiu Pitaru (25’),     Toby Cleaver (37’)

Report/Photo: Pete Dudley @ped1980