That was an amazing turnout considering just how really, really awful Saturday’s match was.
The Walsall defeat had pushed us down to 21st place. However, Hereford’s position in the division below was even worse; - just two points in the bag with only the luckless Plymouth Argyle keeping the Bulls from 92nd place.
Bradbury made the maximum five changes allowed under the competition rules. Jalal made his first start of the season between the sticks, as did Purches. Also starting were Cummings, Doble and Gregory. Speculation was rife as to who was injured, rested or dropped.
The referee was a real spoil-sport. He ruined everything by blowing the whistle to kick-off. We carried on the way we left off on Saturday and were dire for the first 10 minutes or so apart from a corner move were Pugh headed across the six-yard box that Barrett just couldn’t get up to. Playing towards the North Stand, two loanees were shining for Hereford while Cummings light seemed to have gone out. Wolves man, Winnall fluffed his finish but the Blackpool striker, Barkhuizen, went one better, a tap-in from 2 yards at the far post. A Hereford midfielder was allowed to advance behind the sluggish defence and play a square ball inside the six yard box! Cummings completely failed to challenge. Here we go again!
There was an urgency in our play now and an over enthusiasm not to give the ball away, that sometimes led to us, er, giving the ball away. Pugh kept the ball to feet and made a great run in but the final shot lacked power and was straight at the keeper. We didn’t really bothering their keeper. Not even when MacDonald made a sort of a volley that went just wide. Hereford were dangerous on the break and created positions that could have put them 2-0 up. Then came Pugh’s magic goal to change the course of the match. MacDonald made an inch perfect pass from our own half to Pugh who was racing ahead of the Bulls’ defence. He controlled, turned back and then shimmied his way past two defenders. He fired off a right-footer from 15 yards. The Hereford keeper had no chance to stretch to the bottom left hand side of his goal. 38 minutes of ineffective play, but we were level. Hereford might have gone 2-1 up had Arquin not put the ball over the bar when it looked easier to slot the ball home at the near post. HT 1-1
Arter came on for Gregory at half time. Hereford made an unusual substitution and changed their ‘keeper. End-to-end for the first 10 minutes of the second period with long range efforts from both sides including a 40 yard Arter attempt that bobbled unpredictably, as night closed in,
Lovell left the field, possibly injured and to immediate speculation in the East Stand “Well that’s him done then.” Stockley strode on, looking powerful. Within a couple of minutes, a ball from Doble down the centre reaches Stockley. One, two, three touches to take the ball into the box and slip it past the advancing keeper into the empty net from about 12 yards out. 2-1.
Stockley’s effort was something to shout about and the three-quarters empty stadium was buzzing at last. Ten minutes or so later, Stockley scored again from slightly further out to the left. A short pass from Pugh and the youngster placed the ball perfectly with his first touch to the far corner of the net to give the ‘keeper little chance. 3-1.
Now we played with confidence and began running at the Hereford defence. Each attack had the promise to increase the scoreline. Jalal was beginning to get lonely. Such had the mood of the crowd turned, that even Arter’s wasteful speculative effort that was never going in was indulged by the North stand. Another 10 minutes or so and MacDonald saw a gap in the defence from about 20 yards out. A powerful but well-placed shot through a group of four defenders left the Hereford ‘keeper vainly stretching to his right as the net bulged. 4-1
Stockley almost had a hat-trick; his header so powerful that the ‘keeper could only parry from close range. A more experienced striker would have aimed wider, but it was indeed a will it- won’t it moment before a defender hoofed it away. Full time whistle, result, cheers. Some great football served up as we set about to dominate in the last half-hour of the match. What a contrast to the previous ninety minutes of dross.
The ‘goods’ were that we weren’t totally crap. MacDonald showed why he is worth his fee. Pugh demonstrated once again that he is our most skilful player. Arter, if he were less impetuous, that he would be a huge asset to the team. Byrne for not being as useless as he was on Saturday and we got to see Schwan Jalal in action at last. Oh, and Jayden Stockley. Maiden goal, goal two and almost three. Raw but very promising for the future. Last but not least, Bradbury made a decent substitution!
The ‘bad’, just Lovell. He was never in it. Have we seen the last of him?
I have not seen us lose at Meadow Lane. Can we go to Notts County on Saturday with confidence?
AFCB: Jalal, Purches, Cooper, Barrett, Cummings, Bryne, MacDonald, Gregory, Pugh, Doble, Lovell
Subs: Flahavan, Fletcher, Arter (for Gregory, HT), Stockley (for Lovell, 60 mins), Baudry (for MacDonald, 90 mins)
Nick Waters, Sweden