We won at West Ham and then Carlisle came to visit us and we beat them. Tonight it was Rochdale. Instead of Sonam and Miquel, tonight we had birthday boy (tomorrow) James with us.
Given the previous two games of the Carling Cup, the crowd was very big. Queues stretching down the street as fans sensed a famous victory. Aldershot has never progressed to the 4th round of anything before so it would be one to savour. It also guarantees first dibs on tickets to the next round if you hang on to your ticket.
From the beginning we dominated them, sending shot after shot at their goal. We had everything except the one thing we needed: a goal. 3,300+ fans cheered the Shots on but it just wasn’t happening and then, with one minute to go in the first half, a mistake by one of our players put Rochdale through. With some deadly accurate passing, they moved down to the box and scored. It was heartbreaking.
Half-time was spent wondering, hope having taken a bit of a back seat. Although we dominated, they had looked very dangerous on the break. We had come from behind before; could we do it again? During the half-time team talk, manager Dean Holdsworth said “Have you got the ability to play the best 45 minutes of your lives, to write history for the football club?.” and then sent them back out to a rapturous and screaming crowd of supporters.
Rochdale kicked off and suddenly we had possession. We ran the ball down to the goal, players scrambling in the box. The ball went high and, in the middle of the crowd, Aldershot striker Michael Rankine flew into a bit of acrobatics and sent the ball into the back of the net.
He ran down to the corner flag and tried a back flip, landing on his back on the grass. The rest of the Aldershot team piled on top of him. The crowd was going insane – it was Upton Park all over again. The joy was immense, high fives and cheers were rampant.
The rest of the game was heart stoppingly exciting. Rochdale wanted the win as much as we did and they tried to beat through our defence but we managed to hold them back. There were a few scares but our back line held firm. When not defending, our attacks were full on, each looking promising only to end in nothing.
And then, with 12 minutes to go, another mad scramble in the box, the ball ricocheting in and out and Danny Hylton raised his boot and fired a wonderful volley into the back of the net. We were standing in the perfect position to watch the strike and flight of the ball. Nicktor claims he knew it was in before Danny touched it. It was a truly wonderful goal.
Shortly after the goal, we had another very good chance to make it 3-1 but it didn’t go in. Meanwhile Rochdale started attacking in earnest, pushing us back. It was desperation football. Had we been sitting down, we’d have been on the edge of our seats. What am I saying? If we’d been sitting, we’d have been standing up by now. Victory was so close.
The fourth official finally raised the board indicating there was an extra three minutes to play. We were counting the seconds as Rochdale continued fighting, cheering each time we regained possession and took the ball up the other end.
To give them their due, Rochdale didn’t stop playing. They looked like they could get the draw if the game went on much longer. Even tired legs couldn’t stop them as players fell over after kicking the ball too hard.
It was a terrifying three minutes but then, finally, the whistle blew. Aldershot had won. The crowd went crazy. It was unbelievable. It was historic. It was magnificent. This is what football is all about.
And so, Aldershot, for the first time in their history are in the fourth round. The guy on the radio as we drove home read out some of the teams for the last 16: “Arsenal, Man Utd, Stoke, Newcastle and Aldershot.” Unbelievable indeed.