x Abu Dhabi, UAESaturday 22 July 2017

Tamworth highlight FA Cup's charm by running Everton close

Despite 96 league places and and a gulf in resources separating the two clubs, the non-league side spent 90 minutes as equals at Goodison Park.

Everton's Landon Donovan, top, jumps over Tamworth's Danny Thomas during the third-round tie at Goodison Park yesterday.
Everton's Landon Donovan, top, jumps over Tamworth's Danny Thomas during the third-round tie at Goodison Park yesterday.

Everton 2 Tamworth 0

Goals: Everton - Heitinga 5, Baines (pen) 79

LIVERPOOL // A mismatch can be an even contest. Everton and Tamworth occupy different worlds, separated not by the 77 miles from the Staffordshire town to Merseyside, or even the 96 league places between the two clubs, but by the gargantuan gulf between football's haves and the have nots.

And yet for 90 minutes they were equals. That is the enduring charm of the FA Cup, a competition where Tamworth, thrashed 5-2 by lowly Alfreton on Boxing Day, could hold their own against the 2009 finalists.

Johnny Heitinga and Leighton Baines denied them a place in the fourth round for the first time, but the non-league Conference side left Goodison Park with reputations enhanced.

Tamworth can put many Premier League problems into perspective.

Comparative paupers, by top-flight standards, Everton's new signing is nonetheless arguably the finest outfield player the United States has ever produced; Tamworth's a midfielder who has played for six different non-league sides in four years.

Without the excellent Landon Donovan, it is doubtful if Everton would have won.

With the industrious Nick McKoy, Tamworth produced a performance of organisation and determination.

"I'm proud of the players," Marcus Law, the Tamworth manager, said.

"They are a feisty group and I knew we would be able to compete and be able to deal with the occasion.

"The difference between a mid-table Conference team and a Premier League team was a set-piece and a questionable penalty."

It was all the more startling as, arguably, Tamworth are overachieving even to be in English football's fifth tier.

While this is their third appearance in the last 64 in five years, they were a club without an FA Cup pedigree, one whose roots are still lowlier. Their average attendance is in four figures, but only just.

Yet once-in-a-lifetime opportunities draw in long-lost supporters and the other people of an area alike.

Tamworth brought 6,000 fans to Goodison Park and they made the majority of the noise.

Nicknamed the Lambs, they were anything but silent. "The town can be very proud," said Law, aware that the next task is to make many of their recently-discovered supporters attend games more often.

They came, however, because this was the biggest game in their history.

Law had estimated Tamworth's chances at 0.0001 per cent before kick-off, and with good reason.

It is now 23 years since a non-league team eliminated top-flight opposition, two decades in which there has been a revolution in the English game.

The greater pedigree of the elite players was epitomised by the opener. A goal created by a player with 138 caps for his country and scored by a World Cup finalist occurred when Donovan's corner was headed in by Heitinga.

Everton had the opportunities to extend their lead, James McFadden twice shooting wide and Joe Collister, the Tamworth goalkeeper, denying Victor Anichebe.

Yet after that flurry of chances for the home side, Tamworth came into the ascendancy.

They almost had a moment to savour.

Kyle Patterson, briefly a teammate of Donovan and David Beckham for Los Angeles Galaxy, showed some star quality himself.

A swift solo run preceded a shot that only narrowly missed the far post. A strike from 20 yards brought Tim Howard into action.

Such occasions can be a stage to display talents that otherwise go ignored.

Patterson, whose eclectic CV has taken in a game for the Hollywood United Hitmen and a spell in Sweden, is a case in point.

Others flourished, too: the defiant defenders Francino Francis and Patrick Kanyuka, the skilful wingers Scott Barrow and Danny Thomas.

Belatedly, Everton responded. Donovan shot narrowly wide, Diniyar Bilyaletdinov drew a fine save from Collister and Royston Drenthe went down under Sam Habergham's challenge.

Somewhat dubiously, a penalty was awarded and coolly converted by Baines. The scoreline would have had a cruelty had Donovan's ferocious strike gone in rather than rebounding off the woodwork.

"Tamworth did really well," David Moyes, the Everton manager, said. "We didn't play well but our attitude was good."

That was enough to secure progress. Tamworth's rewards are different.

Prize money and gate receipts - of which the away side take a share in the FA Cup - have made their FA Cup run worth around £300,000 (Dh1.725 million).

Pocket money for a Premier League club, but enough to let them plan for a more prosperous future.

sports@thenational.ae