Mossley 4 - 1 Lincoln Moorlands Railway

Breathe out... ... ... and relax.

It's a hearty "phew!" to be exhaled too because this game wasn’t quite as straight forward as what the score line above may lead you to believe. At face value it suggests that Mossley may have dominated proceedings and to be fair they did - controlling virtually all but a small percentage of the play - but their extraordinary ability to do so while remaining one scuffed pass away from disaster meant that the finger nails of the home fans would not go on unbitten for long stretches of this FA Cup 3rd Qualifying Round replay.

The pattern of the game was set out early on with Mossley looking to attack their opponent’s goal at every available opportunity (to wildly varying degrees of success) and the Lincolnshire side focussed on attacking anything that moved; a tactic which saw them come into contact with the ball occasionally and the ankles of men in white shirts slightly more often. Within the first five minutes alone there were three challenges perpetrated by the visitors that were all worthy a booking yet it was only the third one which received the requisite punishment - a three for one special offer that went on all night and one taken advantage of by far too many players.

For all the possession Mossley had in the opening period they didn’t really create a lot of chances with it. There were plenty of crosses and cut backs from wide positions but rarely did they lead to Railway’s goal being troubled. Only twice in the first half hour was keeper Mario Ziccardi was called upon to rescue his side; the first time to deny Ben Richardson after the right back had made one of his trademark darts into the box and the second to keep out a fizzing shot from the edge of the area by Mike Fish. The closest Mossley actually came to taking the lead was when the ball grazed the cross bar after a low cross from Steve Settle ricocheted off the knee of a defender.

As the half wore on Lincoln began to get a little more adventurous and their back line started to sit a little closer to the halfway line than their own 18 yard line. Given how leaden footed their defence was compared to Mossley’s forward line it looked and was soon proven to be a bad idea. A simple through ball gave Mike Oates a free run on goal and he calmly placed the ball past Ziccardi to give the home side the lead. Although looking at the video of the goal, it seems it needed the help of one of the many and infamous Seel Park bumps to take it over the leg of a covering defender as well.

Over the remaining seven minutes of the half Lincoln abandoned their short lived positive approach to the game and returned to the more robust style they’d ‘entertained’ the crowd with previously. I truthfully don’t think the game went on for more than twenty seconds without the referee calling a halt to proceedings for a foul. The match would restart, a group of players would cluster round the ball before one player in a white shirt was suddenly two foot higher (and more horizontal) than everyone else, at which point the whistle would blow, Mossley were given a free-kick and the cycle would begin again. Not even the interval brought an end to the combativeness as the walk back to the changing rooms took three minutes longer than expected due to the first players to leave the pitch having what is commonly described as an ‘altercation in the tunnel.’

Still, things were looking good for Mossley. One up at the break against a team that already looked dead on their feet and one that seemed highly unlikely to finish the match with eleven players on the pitch. And if you think that’s a cue for the next paragraph to begin with the word however, you’re not wrong.

However something happened while the teams were devouring orange segments, drinking energy boosting coloured water or whatever it is players do between halves. Mossley returned to the field of play looking a shadow of the side they were fifteen minutes earlier - full of nerves, misplaced passes and leaden of boot - while Lincoln emerged from the changing rooms like they’d spent the interval channelling the gods of football.

I speak with all honesty when I say that if it wasn’t for the fact that their faces were the same you could have sworn they’d replaced their entire team with ringers, because for ten minutes after the restart they ran rings round us. If I hadn’t been fretting about what this turn of events could mean I might have been impressed with how Lincoln were playing. The fretting didn’t last long though because it was quickly superseded by a full blown collective panic attack when the visitors pulled level; another moment in which Mossley didn't cover themselves in any glory defensively. A failure to clear the ball, an opponent allowed time to put a cross into the area, an attacker winning a header in the six yard box, a man in acres of space at the back post... it was like a compilation of Mossley's recent worst bits - Now That's What I Call Schoolboy Defending Vol 10/11

Even though they had us on the proverbial ropes by the simple act of playing decent football, Lincoln couldn't help themselves from reverting back to the Bruce Lee impressions they were 'delighting' us with in the first half and one spectacularly unnecessary challenge outside their own box later, Mossley were presented with a free-kick from which they were able to retake the lead. Ben Richardson’s delivery was headed back across the face of the goal by Aaron Chalmers and Oates notched his second of the night from close range.

At this point I'd like to say that the wobbles stopped and the Lilywhites strode purposefully onto victory but they didn't. It took a fantastic save from Peter Collinge and the flag of an assistant referee to stop Lincoln drawing level again though the butterflies in the pits of the supporters’ stomachs were settled when the Lilywhites gave their lead a cushion. And a smart little goal it was too with Lee Blackshaw flicking the ball past Ziccardi with the back of his heel. A moment I believe the word 'deft' was invented for.

With time ebbing away and the game slipping from them with every passing second, Lincoln once again set about their opponents legs with great gusto and I'm sure they'll be disappointed that, thanks to the increasing leniency of the referee, they didn't take their card count into double figures. Still, a total of seven yellow cards isn't something to be sniffed at for ninety minutes work.

”Hiiiiiii-ya!” And the referee reaches for his pocket once again...

Three became four for Mossley in the closing stages of the match when Mark Connor bundled the ball over the line following more good work from Blackshaw and that was it: the last hurrah on what eventually turned out to be good night for the majority of people situated within Seel Park.

If you can blank out the jittery period following the interval, there are plenty of reasons to be cheerful about this result and performance. First of all there’s the win and the cheque in the post from the FA that comes with it. Secondly, and even taking into account the lower league status of the opposition, this was arguably our best display at Seel Park this season. It wasn’t fantastic but it was a class above the other showings I’ve seen in terms of spirit and ideas.

And if you think that the last paragraph is a little too upbeat for this blog then I should balance it out by saying that the defence looks frighteningly porous at times. Until we start to look a bit more solid we run a real risk of being punished heavily by good sides for the laxness we seem unable to shake.

Still, I'm sure there'll be plenty of time in the comings weeks and months to grumble about the whys and woes - defensive or otherwise – that come with following this club. Till then though it would be silly not to take time out and admire the accomplishment of reaching the 4th Qualifying Round of the FA Cup for the first time in over two decades.

Better still is the fact that there's no pressure in the next round. Our opponents Darlington are three leagues above us and expected to win.; we’re just there to make up the numbers and give one or two of their supporters a 'look how far we've fallen' anecdote. It's a terrible footballing cliché but I'm just going to enjoy the match and keep my fingers crossed that we manage to give them a scare or two before bowing gracefully out of the competition.

Hoping for more than that would be silly... wouldn't it? ;-)