Sunday, December 4, 2005

OUT but certainly not disgraced, brave Worcester City's tremendous FA Cup fairytale ended in frustration.

And what a gut-wrenching moment for City supporters just minutes after their gallant heroes trooped off St George's Lane to a standing ovation.

Slipping out to 10-men Huddersfield Town, in a contest which for long periods Worcester matched their League One guests, was painful enough.

But more heartbreaking was the third round draw that paired the Terriers with a glamorous January trip to Premiership champions Chelsea.

It could have been Andy Preece versus Jose Mourinho, Adam Webster versus John Terry and Dave Boddy versus Roman Abramovich. What a prospect!

Preece and Boddy put brave faces on missing a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to test themselves against England's leading football club, but neither could really hide their disappointment.

Alas, a journey to Stamford Bridge is not to be, but City have served up an unforgettable FA Cup run this season -- their best in 22 years.

However, the test from West Yorkshire, in front of Match of the Day's cameras and the glare of millions of football fans world-wide, proved an obstacle too far.

Huddersfield squeezed past City courtesy of Chris Brandon's clinical low strike mid-way through the second-half. And the visitors prevailed without a full complement, having harshly lost winger Danny Schofield before the interval for a second booking.

City were handed the rub of the green in that instance, but were denied that crucial bit of luck and composure in the penalty area.

American goalkeeper Paul Rachubka proved the biggest hurdle, as he mastered Leon Kelly and Webster in one-on-one confrontations, while his defensive colleagues quashed other scrambles inside the box.

It was tantamount to City that Rachubka, a former Manchester United and Charlton stopper, was seen by many as the deciding figure in the tie, his saves crucial to Town's cause.

Of course, Huddersfield posed a massive danger in attack and Danny McDonnell was equally on top form. But it was Rachubka called into action first as City made a lively, high-tempo, high-energy start.

Full-back Rob Warner sent over a second minute cross that fell at the feet of Chris Smith at the back post. Centre-half Smith, with three goals to his name this season, was in a great position to lash Worcester into dreamland, but his rushed shot carried no real conviction.

At the other end, Schofield was harshly booked for taking a quick free-kick, but his second set-piece caused havoc in the City area and striker Gary Taylor-Fletcher should have buried the ball from eight yards, only for McDonnell to smother at point-blank range.

More yellow cards followed, first to Webster for a late boot on Rachubka and deservedly to skippers Jon Worthington and Graham Hyde, although it was hardly a nasty game.

Chances developed as both sides served up end-to-end fair, Hyde going close for City with a fierce 15-yard drive diverted wide by Nathan Clarke.

Town created the better though as Worcester took the pedal off prior to half-time. Brandon's glanced header sailed wide, while a combination of Des Lyttle and McDonnell was required to block Schofield's close-range shot.

Schofield's presence was becoming a handful, but that ended with his dramatic dismissal for diving in the box following Tom Warmer's challenge.

Inspired to carry the fight with a man advantage, Worcester did so and threatened again on 52 minutes.

Kelly, a constant chaser in the channels, latched on to Warner's long ball and after slipping by David Mirfin, his goal-bound flick was superbly diverted wide by Clarke's desperate lunge.

Ironically, it was following a confident spell of pressure that Worcester fell to the sucker punch goal on 62 minutes when Brandon fired the ball past McDonnell from 20 yards.

Worcester went for the quick riposte, but Kelly was again thwarted by Rachubka following the goalkeeper's poor clearance and Mirfin cleared Warmer's follow-up off the line.

With 10 minutes left, Webster spurned City's best equaliser hope. Lyttle's raking pass found this season's FA Cup hero, but top dog Rachubka beat away Webster's 12-yard volley.

Attendance: 4,163.