by Connor O’Reilly
Shaun Derry’s United squad followed a quite ironic pattern every year, starting the season weak before deciding to go on a promotion winning run between October and January, before inconsistently hobbling over the finish line. We’re going to go back to 2016 where (as per usual) The U’s had a shaky start before finally discovering some relevance of form to welcome Accrington Stanley to the Abbey
It’s the 1st of October 2016, the iPhone 7 had just been released, there had been a fiasco with Big Sam and the England job, and, well that’s about it. Genuinely looked around and couldn’t find much news at all. Anyway United came into the game off a good week, having beat Newport and Yeovil on the Saturday and Tuesday respectively. Before then they hadn’t grabbed a win all season, grabbing only 3 draws in the process. Safe to say, before the week just gone, it had been a pretty horrid start for the U’s with that Mark Roberts winner in midweek finally ensuring that they would move from the foot of the table. Accrington Stanley on the other hand (known outside the UK as the team with the milk advert) were on the back of a 5-game winning streak only two points from Luton in second position. Impressive for a team that was sitting in 11th position at the time.
The game was expected to be a deadbeat, but like most League Two games, what happened next was genuinely phenomenal…
The NRE was in good voice, and it got louder in the 13th minute when United took an early lead through a Leon Legge header from a free kick by Piero Mingoia. A strong start by a team who had struggled this season, and as usual, Derry’s U’s sat back and let a dangerous Accrington side come at them. Luckily for United, half time came, and they went in 1-0 up. Second half starts again, and the Lancashire outfit started the half the stronger side before grabbing an albeit deserved equaliser by Billy Kee who got the rebound from a strong save from Will Norris. Accrington came remarkably close again, Romauld Boco who struck an incredibly sweet shot from outside the box which beat everyone but struck the foot of the post before cannoning away. Then this happened…
It’s the 81 st minute. Accrington have a corner and United clear to Uche Ikpeazu who starts the counterattack. Instead of making a pass he just ran, it was like watching a live action Forrest Gump.
And it was the last thing anyone expected, the new signing was a massive lump, like Joe Ironside in a way, someone who you played balls to his feat and his brute strength would win him fouls and get him past defenders. But with Uche he had pace and skill, he ran as if he was a prime Cristiano Ronaldo running at the best defences in word football. He sprinted past Scott Brow and cut back on his right foot and put in a beautiful ball into the box. Piero Mingoia, formerly of Accrington Stanley ran into a perfect position and volleyed into the roof of the net ensuring the Abbey to erupt. It was genuinely beautiful, and the players ran to celebrate with the fans. Mingoia was known for a
screamer or two, mind you he made national news with an absolutely stunning effort for Accrington Stanley in the previous years playoffs against Wimbledon and then introduced himself to the United faithful with a wondergoal against Sheffield Wednesday in the League Cup. But, against all odds the game got even crazier with a run into the box by Terry Gornell who was dragged down by Leon Legge who received his second yellow card and given his marching orders. United down to 10, and Accrington have a penalty. Chris Eagles stepped forward to take the penalty and sent it to the left- hand side. Will Norris, the local lad, the new number 1, dived to his left and saved the penalty brilliantly to ensure the U’s still had three points.
Bedlam. The Abbey went crazy. James Dunne was the first to get to the rebound, and headed clear for an Accrington throw in. The ball went to Paddy Lacey who hoofed it (I would have put cross, but it was such a clear hoof, a genuine beautiful thing about lower league football) into the box to Matty Pearson who headed it goal wards. The ball had beaten Norris, but the ball didn’t go in. We hear a whistle and think that Ollie Yates had blown for full time but instead he points to the spot and shows Bradley Halliday a straight red. None of the 3,800 odd knows what’s going on but as the highlights show post game, Halliday straight up channelled his inner Luis Suarez and punched the ball off the line. As you do. The Abbey whistled and shouted as Terry Gornell stepped up to strike his penalty and somehow, Will Norris guessed correctly and saved again. Cue Bedlam once more, the stadium erupted. United finally get the ball clear and the full-time whistle gets blown.
The relief around the stadium was paramount, the whole stadium was in pre shock on what had happened and, well how it happened. If Halliday doesn’t punch off the line, that’s another two points dropped leaving United in quite a perilous position. But luck works on mysterious ways and on that October afternoon, Shaun Derry and his 9-man U’s must have found the biggest four-leaf clover in history. Because that game, arguably those last ten minutes could be played a thousand times and you will never get an ending as emotional or as crazy as that. That day was truly one of those where you just had to be there, a truly iconic game from recent seasons.