Kettering Town 1 Leeds United 1
Report of match 29th November 2009
Reporter Richard Rae at Kettering
As a farewell concert, this performance almost brought the house down, an irony that will not be lost on Kettering Town.
Emerging from the steam and noise of a Kettering Town dressing room still celebrating after the third-round draw raised the prospect of a trip to Old Trafford, the player-manager Lee Harper pointed out that when it comes to playing Manchester United, he does have previous experience. Harper was in goal when Northampton Town played United in the fourth round five years ago, and saved a penalty from Diego Forlán before the Cobblers subsided to a 4-0 defeat.
Whether he will get the chance to repeat his heroics, however, remains an unlikely prospect because when he reviews the video of this match, he will know just how fortunate his team were to get a draw.
Not that Harper was worrying about that. He and the club made full use of their television exposure to highlight the club's plight regarding the continued non-development of their decrepit stadium, a situation which the chairman, Imraan Ladak, claims could mean the club either moving out of the area - a merger with nearby Rushden and Diamonds has been mooted - or even going out of business altogether.
They will do so again at Elland Road, and if they get there, Old Trafford. "What better stage could there be?" said Harper, who moved into the manager's seat after Mark Cooper replaced Darren Ferguson at Peterborough two weeks ago. "I said to the lads before the game, this cup is worldwide, there are people watching all over the place, and this is our opportunity to make an impact."
That they did, with a fair bit of luck and a rearguard performance of extraordinary tenacity. Some of the defending in the second half was remarkable, most notably a flying header off the line by Sol Davis, and two saves by Harper which belied his 38 years, and the fact he came into the game with a back condition so painful he admitted he would have retired had the match not been so important.
They even led, after their captain Ian Roper had taken advantage of a mistake by the Leeds goalkeeper Casper Ankergren to head in off the underside of the bar. It was a goal which the Leeds manager Simon Grayson admitted made him begin to think they were destined to repeat their elimination at this stage of the competition last year, when beaten 1-0 by Histon United.
Grayson has rebuilt Leeds since then though, and his players remained patient, picking their way through Kettering's massed ranks until Jermaine Beckford diverted a Robert Snodgrass cross-shot past Harper with 13 minutes remaining.
"It'll be a huge task at Leeds, but I was thinking five minutes before the end that we actually have a better away record this season than we have at home," said Harper.
"At times it felt like they had four forwards against our four at the back - with their movement, the way they push on, the way they were happy to go two at the back, they're a good side.
"It will be really hard, but we will give it our best shot. We will try to have a great time and see where it gets us. We'll try to work out a way of stopping them from playing and maybe getting a result up there. I'm so proud of every single one of our players, giving their all. I can't ask for any more from them.
"We won at Hartlepool in the last round, and we haven't lost to a league club in the FA Cup since I've been here - only to Premier League club, Fulham.
"But I'll be out there, even if it means using crutches, or a wheelchair, because the prize at the end is so massive."
Man of the Match Lee Harper (Kettering)
Kettering Town (4-4-2): Harper; Taylor, Dempster, Roper, Davis; Noubissie, Heslop, Boucaud, Partridge (Marna 82); Ashikodi (Thomas 58), Elding.
Subs: Bussey (g), Wrack, Bain, Fowler, Thomas.
Booked: Dempster, Davis.
Leeds United (4-4-2): Ankergren; Crowe, Michalik, Bronby, Capaldi; Howson, Kilkenny, Doyle, Snodgrass; Grella (Becchio 71), Beckford.
Subs: Martin (g), Marques, Prutton, Robinson, Showunmi, White.
Referee: A D' Urso (Essex).