Cambridge City rounded off the first week of the season with an Emirates FA Cup Preliminary Round victory over Stamford AFC.
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The match paired two teams that have reached the first round in the last five years, and on paper the tie looked like it would be tight with not much separating either side.
City boss Robbie Nightingale started with Ollie Snaith on the bench after the midfielder had not fully recovered from any injury sustained in the midweek victory over Aylesbury. Meanwhile, left back Mason Spence made his debut after signing from Biggleswade.
The match started at a lightning pace with both sides playing at a high tempo. However, it was Stamford who looked the more threatening going forward.
The first real chance came when Joe Burgess was unlucky not to do better when he got on the end of a cross only to see his header go wide of the post.
At the other end, City looked to break quickly and Salim Relizani had a shot saved by Danny Haystead in the visitors goal. The striking options for City though were dealt a blow when Lewis Wilson was forced to leave the field due to a facial injury, and was replaced by Ollie Snaith.
Stamford finished the half the stronger of the two sides and City were relieved to see a goalmouth melee come to nothing. Niall Conroy in the City goal then came for a ball and could only punch it the direction of Jake Duffy and his long range effort was saved on the second attempt.
The visitors started the second half on the front foot and Jordan Smith was unlucky not to hit the target after getting on the end of a cross. Stamford then had another effort which was beaten away by Conroy.
City though were always looking dangerous on the break, and Knowles was unlucky not to pick out a white shirt after he pulled the ball back following an excellent run.
It was Knowles who was involved in the next passage of play that arguably changed the dimension of the game. His pace once again undid the Stamford defence, but this time he was upended by defender Mike Armstrong. The referee deemed the challenge strong enough to give Armstrong his marching orders.
With the visitors down to 10 men, City sensed the all important breakthrough and it duly came with 5 minutes of normal time left. Ben Robinson had the ball, and expertly picked out Relizani who was between defenders, but still managed to get his head on the ball which went over the outstretched hand of Haystead. Cue wild celebrations at Westwood Road.
However, Stamford were not going to give up easily and as the rain started to pour, hearts were in the mouths of the City fans when Jordan Gent conceded a free kick on the edge of the area, but City managed to clear their lines and with it book a place in the next round of the competition.
FROM ROBBIE NIGHTINGALE:
I am delighted with that performance. Stamford are a very good side and I dont think there are many teams at step 4 who are as good as them. All through the team they have great quality so it is very pleasing to get through. I thought we played some good football in periods of the game, we have to give them credit, but obviously it is pleasing to be in the next round.
They played a lot of good football in and around the 18 yard box without finding a way through, so that is testament to our back four and we limited them to chances from distance and set pieces. We are a resilient side and we had to show that at times, but we have got through and it was a superb team effort to get us over the line.
We like to think we are a fit team, and since last Saturday we have played with a lot more energy and showed desire to close teams down, but that was difficult tonight because Stamford played at a high tempo too.
Im delighted for Salim Relizani to get the winner. We dont often see him getting goals with his head, but it was a great ball in from Ben Robinson and Salim has done well to apply the finish and get between two markers.
We will enjoy the weekend now. We have two tough games next weekend against Beaconsfiled and Bedford. We will look forward to the draw, and it will be good to get a home tie against a team where we think we will have a good chance of beating to progress in the competition.