JON MCCARTHY hailed the ‘two pieces of quality’ which helped Chester snatch victory from the jaws of defeat in the FA Trophy.
The Blues looked to be heading for an embarrassing first round exit at the hands of minnows Witton Albion, trailing 1-0 until the 86th minute in Tuesday night’s replay at the Deva.
However, with the both teams down to 10-men and the match becoming extremely stretched, Chester salvaged an equaliser after Tom Shaw was bundled over in the penalty area, James Alabi thumping home the spot-kick via a combination of bar and post, and there was more last-gasp drama as Elliott Durrell rounded goalkeeper Danny Roberts and calmly slotted home to book a second round tie against Forest Green in January.
“There’s some strength and ability in that group, you look back to Saturday and Witton put us under all sorts of pressure, but we coped with it,” boss McCarthy said, who will be without Blaine Hudson for Saturday’s home clash with Aldershot Town through suspension.
“When we were under pressure, we manage to stay in the tie.
“We’ve got some younger lads out there, who have been given an opportunity, and 10 seconds into the game we give away a penalty and it changes the whole emphasis of the game. I can’t create an experience like that.
“We needed some width against 10 men so we’ve brought Durrell on for Will Marsh, he’s a bit unlucky but Chappy was doing well in the hole. With Waters and Durrell out wide, it allows us to play a wider game and that was needed. They sat deep and we didn’t need as many at the back so we put Sam Hughes up there. Possibly we could’ve gone more direct to Sam as it would have caused more chaos and disrupted them.
“There’s two bits of quality in there. James Alabi’s ability to put his foot through the ball like that, it’s right in the corner.
“Then you’ve got Durrell’s composure to finish at the end, there’s a couple of real pieces of quality and once I get my head straight and a bit clearer, I’ll look back on those good moments and see how we’ve done.
“The players didn’t stop running for me, then Chappy and Tom Shaw have been making runs to create space and that’s led to us getting level.”
Hudson was booked in the first minute after conceding a penalty when bringing down Tolani Omotola, and McCarthy admitted referee Joseph Johnson was right to point to the spot.
Johnson brandished 12 cards in total and both clubs are set to face an FA fine as a result of their lack of discipline, with McCarthy accepting the game was ‘out of control’ at times.
“I think it was a penalty, Blaine controls it but slips on the surface, my first instinct was it was outside but I think there was contact,” he continued.
“We’ve had the referee before and he’s alright but it was like the game was out of control at times. The referee, the managers, the players need to take responsibility for that.
“There’s an early yellow on Will Marsh which was soft, it’s difficult after that as he has to be consistent. I’m not one to criticise referees, but it wasn't too bad and it wasn’t on Saturday. It wasn’t a dirty game and I find it hard to explain it.”
For Blues striker Alabi, it was an eighth goal of a productive season so far, and the forward was delighted with his spot-kick.
“It was a dramatic night but we’re delighted to get through to the next round,” he said.
"I thought with so many missed chances, things weren’t going to go our way, but thankfully we’ve dug in and we got our rewards right at the death with two late goals.
“For myself, it was important to keep concentrating and just wait for the chances to come my way. I didn’t get many opportunities but then when the penalty came my way I made sure I took in and struck it nicely.
“It’s good to be scoring penalties and I was delighted with the way I hit it.
“Forest Green will be more difficult given their league position,” he added. “Witton made it really difficult for us over the two games, they probably feel like they deserve to go through. Forest Green are right near the top of our league but we treat every game like we treat every other.”