ZANDER Diamond admitted he and his team-mates put Burton Albion fans through the wringer yesterday afternoon as they avoided being dumped out of the FA Cup at the first hurdle by the skin of their teeth.
Altrincham, the visitors from the Blue Square Bet North, looked like dumping their League Two hosts out of the competition at the Pirelli Stadium as they led 2-0 at half-time and 3-2 with two minutes of injury time played at the end of the 90 minutes.
However, striker Calvin Zola popped up to head home winger Jordan Chapell’s cross to earn the Brewers a replay a week tomorrow.
Said Brewers skipper Diamond: “No, I’ve not been involved in many games like that.
“I suppose it’s the romance of the FA Cup if you’re a neutral, but as a player and a spectator of the home team, I think we’ve given them every emotion possible today.
“You know, we’ve come back from two goals down, missed a penalty and then got a last-minute equaliser.
“They might say we don’t deserve to still be in the FA Cup, but we’ve dug in and we’ve got a draw and a replay.”
Albion were awful in the first half and Diamond admitted as much.
The visitors could have been in front as early as the fifth minute after Brewers keeper Mark Oxley felled midfielder Simon Richman in the penalty area.
However, the keeper made amends, producing a brilliant save to turn striker Damian Reeves’ spot-kick away.
Albion failed to heed the warning, however, and Altrincham went in front on 29 minutes.
Winger Nicky Clee worked a neat free-kick down the right with right-back Shaun Densmore and when he received the ball back, he cut back between two Brewers defenders before firing in a cross which was forced home at the near post by midfielder Carl Rodgers.
The lead was doubled five minutes later when Oxley failed to claim Clee’s corner and Albion centre-back Nathan Stanton could only turn the ball into his own net at the far post, despite the best efforts of left-back Damien McCrory.
Diamond almost gave the hosts a lifeline in first-half stoppage time, but his header from Lee Bell’s corner was cleared off the line.
The big centre-back did get on the scoresheet eight minute into the second half, however, side-footing Bell’s whipped in free-kick home and it was game on.
The Brewers had a chance to level matters 10 minutes later when they were awarded a penalty of their own for a handball offence against midfielder Jake Moult, but Robbie Weir completely skied the spot-kick into the back of the stand.
The visitors almost made it 3-1 on 73 minutes, but Moult’s shot rebounded off the underside of the bar, with the officials deciding it had not crossed the line, despite vociferous Altrincham protests.
That decision proved costly as, three minutes later, midfielder Jacques Maghoma touched home another wicked Bell free-kick despite initial thoughts that Diamond had grabbed his second of the game.
Then, in another twist, visiting substitute Duncan Watmore’s cross struck McCrory, with the ball looping off him and into the far corner, giving Oxley no chance.
But just as the visitors thought they had finally secured the tie, Zola struck virtually at the death.
Said Diamond on the first two Albion goals: “They gave me both goals, but the deliveries are into a dangerous area and you put yourself about to mess the defenders about and whoever it hits, it goes in.
“I’d need to see it again but definitely the second one doesn’t hit me, but I don’t know so much about the first one.
“But we got the goals and a replay.
“I had a header cleared off the line in the first half and I thought we needed that (a goal before half-time), you know, they had the ascendancy.
“If we’d have got that, you know, it would have given us a platform, but we rallied well and we’re just happy to still be in the cup.
“We spoke and half-time and it was a massive test for the boys.
“It took a lot for the boys (to come back). We had the missed penalty from Robbie, but we kept going and we got back to two each, and we kept going to get the third equaliser, so that’s a positive we can take from today.
“We know the performance wasn’t good enough and up to our standards.
“We got warned about them, they came here with no fear, and when you don’t start the game well, it’s very hard to get up to the level that you want to be.
“The early penalty could have been the kick up the backside, but we had to go two goals down before we realised we were in a battle.
“We’re still in the cup. We know it’s gonna be difficult (in the replay), you’ve seen today Altrincham are a good passing team.
“They’ll be licking their wounds, very unlucky not to be in the second round proper, so we need to go there and be very professional.
“We started the game sloppy and when you start the game sloppy, you get punished regardless of who the opposition is, and we got punished.”