FA Cup return brings back cruel memories for Curzon Ashton

CURZON ASHTON’s return to FA Cup action this Saturday will no doubt bring back a few memories for everyone involved with the National League North club.

Although the Nash provided one of the stories of last season’s competition, it all ended in despair for the Tameside outfit. It is 9 months since their run came to a dramatic halt but, for some, the emotions will still be as raw as if it were yesterday.

After almost suffering an upset against non-league minnows Westfields, the tables were turned in the 2nd round as the Nash were drawn at home to AFC Wimbledon, who were some 3 divisions above them and had infamously won the whole competition in their previous life.

The game was shown live on BT Sport and the upset they hoped for appeared to be in the offing when Adam Morgan fired in a superb opener after just 30 seconds. That strike would end up being named goal of the round, but the former Liverpool trainee wasn’t done there as he scored either side of the break to complete a hat-trick.

Curzon still led 3-0 with 10 minutes left. They were in dreamland. But it soon turned into a nightmare as Wimbledon scored 3 goals in 3 minutes to draw level and, deep into stoppage time, ex-Stockport County striker Tom Elliott gave the Dons a remarkable 4-3 victory.

I wasn’t at the game, I was watching from the press room at Bolton, and the main thing that stuck in my mind was the bemused look on manager John Flanagan’s face as he watched his side capitulate. Then there was the image of Morgan which featured in many of the next day’s national newspapers, where he was holding the matchball yet looked on the verge of crying and was being comforted by a team-mate. I’ve never seen someone look so unhappy after scoring a hat-trick.

To be fair to Flanagan, he focused on the positives after the game and didn’t point any fingers at his players. He knows Curzon are punching above their weight to stay in non-league’s 2nd tier, let alone reaching the FA Cup 2nd round and running a League One side so close.

In their 3rd season at step 2 of the non-league ladder, the Nash look set to defy the odds again. After a run of 3 straight defeats, they now sit 16th in the table after going unbeaten in 4. The Nash stopped the rot with a 1-1 draw against local rivals Salford City, who are joint-top of the National League North with Harrogate Town, before finally claiming a win over FC United last Saturday – at the 13th time of asking.

Max Leonard scored the winner against FC, putting him level on 4 goals this season with long-serving striker Niall Cummins. Leonard arrived from Glossop North End in the summer to replace Matty Warburton, who was lured to STOCKPORT COUNTY and scored against his former club as the Hatters beat Curzon 3-0 in August.

The two sides were then drawn against each other in the 2nd qualifying round of the FA Cup, to be played at Edgeley Park this Saturday. It was County’s 8th home draw in a row in the FA Cup and FA Trophy, and in their last home game they thumped Southport 6-0 last week. But the feelgood factor generated by their biggest win for 10 years has almost worn off already following defeats away to York City on Saturday and then AFC Telford on Tuesday night.

Manager Jim Gannon’s task at Telford was complicated by the fact 3 key players were held up in traffic on the M6 and arrived late so couldn’t start the game. However, he will be hoping for a repeat of last season’s competition, when the Hatters also enjoyed a run into the main draw, knocking out SALFORD CITY before losing to Woking in the 1st round proper.

This term Salford have been drawn at home to league rivals York and will be confident as they remain joint-leaders after beating Nuneaton 3-0 on Tuesday night to register their 8th win from 11 league games so far.

FC UNITED’s start to the season went from bad to worse, though, as after being forced to sell influential midfielder Nathan Lowe to Southport on Tuesday, they suffered a 4th straight defeat at Darlington on Wednesday night, having 2 players sent off in the process. The Rebels are now 2nd bottom in the National League North so the wonderfully-named Handsworth Paramore will fancy an upset as they host FC on Saturday.

The day’s other 2nd qualifying round ties see DROYLSDEN, who are 2nd in the Evo-Stik North, travel to last season’s champions Lancaster City. ALTRINCHAM and ASHTON UNITED are mid-table in the Evo-Stik Premier and both were handed trips to the North East, to face Shildon and Newcastle Benfield, respectively.