It seems fitting that a club which used to have Ronnie Radford on the payroll saves some of its best performances for the FA Cup.
But there was no fairytale ending to this tie for Worcester City as Sheffield United ensured their hopes of another memorable run in the competition ended at the first-round stage.
Attitude and a timely reminder about the perils of taking non-league opposition lightly, Jamal Campbell-Ryce explained afterwards, were the key to success for Nigel Adkins’ side.
“Leading up to the game, you are thinking it should be easy and everyone wants to score a few goals,” the winger said. “But I watched the Salford versus Notts County game on television the night before and it was like an eye-opener. I thought ‘wow, tomorrow is going to be the exact same thing’ and it was very similar.
“Salford were brilliant, and I thought Worcester gave a good account of themselves. Notts County were left embarrassed and we didn’t want that to be us.”
But for the heroics of City goalkeeper Nathan Vaughan, some profligate finishing and referee Simon Bennett’s generosity when Sam Minihan upended Che Adams in the penalty area, United’s margin of victory could well have been greater.
But City, who count Liverpool and their namesakes from Coventry as previous victims, deserved the guard of honour Adkins’ players awarded them at the end. Carl Heeley’s squad, three divisions below United on the footballing pyramid, worked like Trojans to prevent their opponents from putting the result beyond doubt long before Conor Sammon and Kieran Freeman joined Jose Baxter on the scoresheet.
Indeed, had Deon Burton and Tristian Dunkley not allowed Daniel Nti’s cross to roll untouched across the box midway through the second half, then United would have faced an anxious finale. The result, as Adkins reminded afterwards, was deserved. But it was by no means routine.
“I thought Worcester were magnificent,” Campbell-Ryce said. “In years gone by I have played against lower-league teams,. They are at it for 45 minutes and then blow up. I know Deon, we played together for Jamaica, and he only trains one day a week. Some of them don’t even train. So to have that level of fitness is brilliant.”
“It’s unbelievable the standard in the lower leagues now,” Campbell-Ryce added. “There are so many ex-pro’ that drop down reasonably early. I’ve got plenty of friends who have done it. Football is getting much harder to stay in.”
Campbell-Ryce, whose pace and relentless running ensured poor Minihan’s afternoon was one to forget, tormented City throughout. Adams was also a threat before succumbing to injury while Dean Hammond, Baxter and substitute Stefan Scougall impressed in midfield.
City posed some questions of their own, particularly after the interval, but for the most part were kept at arm’s length by a United team whose professionalism was underlined by the fact Adkins, who cut his coaching teeth with Renbad Rovers in Division Five of the Birkenhead Sunday League, had elected to compile a detailed dossier on the threats they posed.
“I’ve seen it from the other side,” he said. “We did our homework and we were aware of what Worcester City can do. It’s been proven time and time again. On any given day, anybody can beat anybody else. So it’s important to show respect.”
United, who last met City in 1959 following the visitors’ third-round triumph over Liverpool, saw George Long deny Connor Gater during the opening skirmishes as Beeley’s men looked to repeat their win at the Ricoh Arena 12 months ago. Baxter converted from the spot when Adams was fouled by Minihan following an incisive move involving Hammond and Paul Coutts before Vaughan, who later denied Freeman and Bob Harris, made the first of three excellent saves to prevent Campbell-Ryce doubling United’s lead.” I was running off, thinking about my dance celebration,” he admitted. “It was a fantastic stop, he pulled off quite a few.”
Baxter also went close before Burton and Dunkley, two survivors from that famous win in Warwickshire, failed to take advantage of Nti’s industry. Vaughan touched Harris’s free-kick on to the post before first Sammon and then Freeman turned home from close range.
“These games are always potential banana skins,” Campbell-Ryce added. They are great for lower -league clubs, but no good for so-called bigger clubs like ourselves. If you win, you expected to. If you lose, the world comes crashing down.
“We had to roll up our sleeves, and that’s what we have done.
“We went about out business in the right way.”
Sheffield United: Long 6, Freeman 6, Harris 6, Basham 6 (McGahey 83), Coutts 6 (Reed 88), Baxter 7, Collins 7, Sammon 6, Campbell-Ryce 8, Adams 7 (Scougall 32, 7), Hammond 7. Not used: Howard, Sharp, Done, K Wallace.
Worcester City: Vaughan 8, Minihan 5 (Weir 51), Gudger 6, Thomas 6, Sharpe 6, Gater 6 (Dunkley 60), Nti 7, Deeney 6, Burton 6, Jackman, Vincent 7 (Harrad 74). Not used: Ross, Smith, Waldron, Brown.
Referee: Simon Bennett.