Winsford United 2, Padiham 1: IN a tough FA Vase second qualifying-round clash with one of their main promotion rivals, The Blues dominated the early exchanges, lost their way a little in the second half but came back strongly at the end to book their place in the first round proper.
Rick Arnold was having one of those games when he did everything but put the ball in the net. And as early as the third minute, he had a great chance but blazed Stuart Wellstead's pass over the bar.
Winsford piled on the pressure in the early stages and took a deserved lead on 16 minutes. Craig Robinson's perfectly placed pass fell to Rob Hanley and his turn and shot was saved by Rob Batty in the visitors' goal, but Hanley connected with the rebound and hooked the ball high into the net.
Robinson was involved again shortly afterwards when his pass found Hanley on the right and his centre was volleyed waist high by the luckless Arnold, who saw his shot go straight to Batty.
There were further efforts by Wellstead and Arnold before Padiham had their first serious effort on 29 minutes when a long shot by Craig Chadwick saw Blues keeper Craig Clare scrambling to push it around the post. Chadwick tested Clare again five minutes later but the Winsford custodian made a fine reaction save.
Padiham came out for the second period in a more determined mood and began to take control. And for a while the Winsford defence was under pressure, cracking for the equaliser on 57 minutes when Paul Fildes slotted the ball home from close range.
And for a while, Padiham were calling the shots but, as the game progressed, the Blues began to take control with most of the danger coming from the unlikely source of left-back Iain Stanton. On 74 minutes, Polish debutant Mariusz Balcerzak set him up for a 25-yard shot that just skimmed the post, then three minutes later his hard low cross was missed by everyone.
Padiham had a great chance to tie things up on 89 minutes when Mark Derbyshire looked to have an easy header from close range, but his effort went wide of the target.
The match went to extra time and Winsford began to take total control - even so, it came as a bit of a shock when the deciding goal came. There looked to be little danger when Stanton collected the ball on the left, but he spotted a gap and his 25-yard drive found the far corner of the net.
From then on it was the Rick Arnold show and on another day he could easily have had an extra-time hat-trick as Padiham lost their composure, with both Gareth Seddon and Damien Ingham being given their marching orders - Seddon picked up a second yellow card for a needless foul on Clare and Ingham was shown a straight red when he appeared to throw a punch at Balcerzak.
UNITED: Clare; Robinson (Booth 84), Stanton, Chambers, Marsh; Hughes, Top-ping (Balcerzak, 70), Quinn, Arnold; Wellstead (Sweeney 83), Hanley. Attendance: 114 Star Man: Iain Stanton, solid display plus match-winning goal.
Next Best: Craig Robinson. Team Rating: 4 Match Rating: 4