United and Tranmere will have to do it all over again after a 2-2 draw in the FA Cup at the Kassam Stadium. Trailing at the break, Tyrone Barnett scored two quick goals to give them a 2-1 lead before Jason Koumas netted a spectacular equaliser to force a replay on the Wirral a week on Tuesday.
Perhaps the fact the two sides had met here in the league only a few weeks earlier influenced a cagey opening 20 minutes as United struggled to break down the new-look three centre-half formation that Micky Adams has employed since taking over at Rovers. It was a case of probing for openings rather than either side roaring forward in traditional FA Cup style, although United then saw efforts from Danny Rose, Michael Collins and Danny Hylton go close to the Tranmere goal as half chances started to come their way.
Tranmere had defended well and were neat on the ball but had hardly threatened Ryan Clarke’s goal when they suddenly took the lead with a moment of magic from Stockton. Shamir Fenelon crossed low to the near post from the left and Stockton, tightly marked, showed great presence of mind to backheel it unerringly into the bottom corner of the net beyond the surprised Clarke to make it 1-0. If, on replay, it turns out to have been a fluke then so be it, but the fact remains that United were a goal down and it might have been worse before half time when Mullins was out-muscled by Fenelon, who had the goal at his mercy but scattered startled supporters in the East Stand rather than taking the easier option of slotting the ball into the net.
United had been far from at their best but a few words from Michael Appleton will have warmed their ears on a cold December afternoon and United responded with a much-improved second half as we were all reminded what makes the FA cup so special.
United took the game to Tranmere. Callum O’Dowda sliced wide from ten yards, Danny Rose skewed his shot from similar distance, Hylton went close and with the fantastic supporters willing them on United were far more threatening.
It took until the 59th minute for the equaliser to come. Rose swung in a well-flighted corner and Barnett rose highest to power his header past the helpless Owain Fon-Williams for his fourth goal in United colours and second in successive games.
It only took him five minutes to bag his second of the day. The excellent Joe Riley played the ball in to the on-loan striker who somehow worked the space to get his shot away and into the bottom corner to seal the comeback and make it 2-1.
Surely United were going into the hat for the third round? Enter Jason Koumas, all experience and calmness. On for two minutes, Koumas picked up the ball in space and made the most of it to look up and bend a terrific effort past the flying Clarke and into the far corner for a fine goal that made it 2-2 and ensured a frantic finale as the game went from end to end.
Both sets of fans did all they could to lift their team for a winner. O'Dowda came close with a shot from the edge of the box that Fon Williams spectacularly saved, Barnett powered a last-minute effort just wide then saw Fon Williams make an injury time block. There were close shaves and scares at both ends, but there was to be no late winner and so both names go into the hat for Monday's draw.
Att: 4,681 Away: 725
Report by Chris Williams, Pictures Steve Daniels, Stats by OPTA
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