The arrival of former league player Glen Little 15 minutes from time saw hosts Grays Athletic bang in four quick fire goals to send the Magic of the Cup disappearing in a puff of smoke for Biggleswade United on Saturday.
The high-flying Essex side duly ran out 5-0 winners in the FA Cup First Qualifying Round tie.
With wedding duties and holidays still in full swing, United had only Ollie Peters available to take up the central defender role and reluctantly had to call upon James Cooper who was only just back from injury to partner Peters. And for the opening 15 minutes the pair certainly earned their stripes as the Ryman Premier Division leaders threw everything at them with the impressive pacey Roman Michale-Percil making hay down the left flank and he was twice denied by United ‘keeper Joachin Martos in the first ten minutes.
Both sides seemed to struggle with an unpredictable playing surface and for the most part play was scrappy with the bounce making control of the ball a lottery. However, Grays seemed to be the quicker to adapt thus keeping United camped out in their own half.
Following a quick throw Lamar Reynolds tested Martos with a rasping shot and it was tormentor in chief Percil who got the breakthrough on 16 minutes. Another weaving run found him on the edge of the United box moving the ball onto his right foot he struck the ball past Martos to put the Blues one up.
With strike partner, Cooper, battling it out in defense Tom Cookman was a lonely soul in the Biggleswade United forward department and had to wait until the 25th minute for his first real chance to come. A rare move down the left flank saw Adam Drakulic cross to Cookman but a strong tackle from Sean Cronin stopped him in his tracks before he could get a shot away.
In the 35th minute United almost levelled when from a corner Drakulic got on the end of a loose ball and volleyed goalward only for home keeper, Lamar Joseph-Johnson to palm away to safety to maintain the Blues lead at the break.
With still plenty to play for it was hoped that United would come out all guns blazing but their higher League opponents were determined not to allow a David v Goliath scenario to play out. The hosts returned to the pitch even stronger after clearly having the riot act read to them by manager, Mark Bentley, and slowly the United legs started to tire under the constant pressure.
Frustrated by United’s stubborn defense manager Bentley threw on a trio of substitutes including the vastly experienced 39 year old Little, formerly of Burnley, Crystal Palace and Sheffield United, and it was the veteran who made an immediate impact, orchestrating proceedings throughout the pitch.
On 76 minute using all his guile and experience he played in Reynolds whose last contribution to the game was to play a low cross into the box which took a cruel bounce deceiving Martos and striking the hapless Andy Standyk and into the net to put the Blues two up.
Barely a minute later it was that man Little again finding space on the edge of the visitors box he fed Kenny Beaney who produced a deft cross to the unmarked Cronin who headed Grays third via the post.
Portugese import Joao Carlos added his name to the scoresheet on 79 minutes picking up the ball just inside the Biggleswade half he set off on a mazy run beating defenders at will and finally crashing an unstoppable shot past the wrong footed Martos.
And it was substitute Carlos again that tucked away Grays’ final goal. His initial shot rebounded off Martos into his path again and he made no mistake to record his second and Grays’ fifth of the day.
Grays were the first to admit that the scoreline flattered the Blues who for 75 minutes failed to produce the sparkling free flowing football so far this season although mention must be made of the playing surface which proved difficult in the extreme. Biggleswade made Grays work hard for their victory and it was tired legs and the indomitable Little that cost them eventually.
Biggleswade United now host Hadley on Saturday before visiting Harpenden on Tuesday.