STOCKPORT COUNTY 5, BOLTON WANDERERS 3
Non-league Stockport County wowed the nation as they produced a remarkable Emirates FA Cup giantkilling, knocking out League One side Bolton Wanderers.
The pulsating first-round replay, screened live on BBC2, was described as a cup classic and it will be hard to find another tie in this year’s competition that will be as enthralling as Bolton were beaten by a non-league side in the cup for the first time in 110 years.
As former Stockport player Ashley Williams, now a television pundit, declared “scenes like this is why you play football”.
Yet, a cup upset looked highly unlikely after Bolton established a two-goal lead inside six minutes and were still 3-1 ahead on the stroke of half time after County had been punished for some slapstick defending as it looked destined not to be their night.
County, with a crowd of 10,084 which was their largest since 2008 when Leeds United visited, showed a never-say-die spirit as they made it 3-3 with five minutes left when central defender Ash Palmer, who had scored an own goal in the opening minutes, netted at the right end.
And they sealed the most amazing comeback in extra time with further goals from Scott Quigley and Ollie Crankshaw on another amazing night as they booked a second-round tie at League One club Rotherham United.
County last season also knocked out a League One side after winning at Rochdale before bowing out to Premier League West Ham 1-0 at home in a game when fans weren’t allowed because of Covid.
New County manager Dave Challinor called up Macauley Southam-Hales and Will Collar but John Rooney missed out with an ankle injury.
Antoni Sarcevic also started against his old club who he only recently left while there was a place on the bench for Connor Jennings who returned having completed treatment against a rare type of cancer which had been diagnosed in March.
Bolton made two changes from the side that started against Crewe on Friday as George Johnston and George Thomason replaced Will Aimson and the unwell MJ Williams.
Eoin Doyle, who scored against County in the first game a week last Sunday, was still absent through injury.
County’s hopes of causing a cup upset were dealt an immediate blow as Bolton took the lead after only 70 seconds following their first attack.
Elias Kachunga, the former Huddersfield Town player, made an electrifying burst forward from deep inside his own half and saw his low shot take a deflection off Mark Kitching as it flew low past goalkeeper Ethan Ross.
The restart was delayed after flares were thrown into the goalmouth by celebrating visiting fans.
And Bolton had even more to cheer when they doubled their lead in the sixth minute when Josh Sheehan’s low cross was turned into his own net by Palmer as he tried to avert danger.
County had a great chance to halve the deficit inside the opening 10 minutes when Sarcevic burst through on goal, but goalkeeper Joel Dixon blocked his effort.
But they found the net in the 24th minute through a Paddy Madden penalty after Ryan Rydel was tripped by Lloyd Isgrove just inside the box.
Bolton restored a two-goal advantage within four minutes following a horrendous defensive error.
Kitching headed a long clearance by Dixon back to his own goalkeeper but failed to find him enabling Bakayoko to walk the ball into an empty net for his fifth goal of the season and he will never score an easier one.
County reduced the deficit to 3-2 just as the fourth official was about to signal six minutes of added time.
Rydel floated a cross from the left and Quigley glanced a header to the left of Dixon, his fifth goal in nine appearances since his big-money summer move from Barrow.
The second half began at the same frenetic pace of the opening period as Bakayoko had the chance of a fourth goal for Bolton while County’s Southam-Hales had a shot deflected as it rippled into the side netting.
After that early burst, Bolton took the sting out of the game and managed to fairly comfortably repel everything County threw at them.
But with five minutes left, the visitors’ defence cracked again as Palmer found the net with a bullet header from inside the six-yard box as Rydel swung in a corner from the right.
Kachunga was booked in the 88th minute by referee Sam Barrott as he dived looking for a penalty as the game went into extra time, remarkable as County looked dead and buried after only six minutes.
And the amazing comeback was completed when County went ahead for the first time in the 95th minute when Quigley scored again.
Madden provided the assist with a delightful through pass to release Quigley who got goal side of George Johnston before lobbing Dixon for his sixth of the season and fourth in the FA Cup.
Bolton nearly made it 4-4 at the start of the second period of extra time. Lloyd Isgrove’s effort was superbly saved by Ethan Ross and from the subsequent corner Kachunga’s header was cleared off the line by substitute Ben Barclay.
County sealed victory in the 119th minute when substitute Crankshaw was put through by Arjan Raikhy and he slotted a shot low past Dixon.
It sparked a pitch invasion and pandemonium as Cranshaw lost his shirt and the referee would not resume play until a stolen corner flag was returned.
And there was another pitch invasion at the final whistle as County celebrated another cup giantkilling on a night which will live long in the memory.