Saturday, January 14, 2006

NOT too many tears were shed as Worcester City bowed out of the FA Trophy in West Sussex.

The Trophy carries decent financial rewards and City supporters would love to see their side 'doing a Burscough' or 'a Hednesford' and land the silver pot.

But, in the current climate, relegation-threatened Worcester face more pressing concerns and it reflected in Andy Preece's much-changed starting line-up.

Following recent poor results, Preece is desperate to solve his side's worrying Nationwide North form and this second round tie presented the ideal opportunity to experiment.

And tinker he did, making four alterations in a radical 3-4-3 system, the most significant of which saw City's leading goalscorer Adam Webster dropped to make way for much-touted Troy Wood.

Shabir Khan also returned to the left-side of central defence, in his first appearance for three months, while George Clegg came back from a ban.

Preece, who also selected himself and struck a late consolation after Crawley Town booked a safe passage into the last 16, courts freshness from his stale squad.

And he will inject greater spark with a new signing, probably to be announced during the next 48 hours.

"We just need a spark and maybe a new signing will do that," said Preece.

"Hopefully, we will have someone in early this week and there's a possibility of one or two more. It could be a striker, midfielder or defender, we'll just see. It will freshen us up and give competition for places."

Preece added: "I wanted to look at one or two things and I thought it was the ideal opportunity to do that.

"Shabir has been out for a long time and I wanted him back in it. Troy has been waiting patiently for an opportunity and he did well in the game."

Wood's performance was certainly a major plus point for City in a tie wrestled from their grasp when Crawley slammed three goals in little over 25 second-half minutes.

Rubbing shoulders against full-time Conference defenders, the young livewire showed enough to prove he is comfortable in this company.

It can be difficult making an impression in a side low on confidence.

However, under significant pressure, Wood gave a solid account and offered the odd flash of dynamite to excite Worcester's approving fans.

Skilful with the ball, whippet Wood sped out of the traps and rode the tackles of two defenders on three separate occasions.

But an eye-opener for the academy striker will have been the pace of the game. He was given little time to express himself, a luxury he is granted at youth and reserve level.

Khan took advantage of his recall with a strong first-half display, when City were the equal of the Red Devils.

The visitors needed a dream start and Preece almost provided it, hooking over from Clegg's looping ball.

Preece then struck a free-kick through the Crawley wall, which goalkeeper Phil Smith comfortably handled, as the home side looked out of sorts.

But, before the break, Crawley suddenly cranked up the gears. A blistering counter-attack caught City unawares, but Chris Giles side-footed wide of the upright. From a quick free-kick, Steve Burton completely missed his close-range shot.

They soon got it right after the break during a torrid 25-minute spell for City. From another swift set-piece, Giles stood free of marker Leon Kelly to tuck away Tony Scully's pin-point cross.

Then, on 58 minutes, Scully added a second with a great solo goal, twisting and turning both Justin Thompson and Rob Warner before lashing a rocket-shot past Danny McDonnell.

Worcester tried to halt the Crawley juggernaut and Tom Warmer's low effort required a brave Smith stop.

But the home side roared back for a quality third, Burton leaving Des Lyttle and Thompson for dead before firing into the bottom corner.

Giles later struck a post following Thompson's poor clearance but Preece slid home City's injury-time consolation for his first goal as player-boss.

CITY: McDonnell, Warner, Khan, McDonald, Thompson, Lyttle, Clegg, Colley (Warmer 64), Kelly (Webster 64), Wood (Hines 76), Preece. Subs not used: Walker, Hodnett.