Late Rawlings strike sends Louth into cup semi-finals

Louth winger Rocky Rawlings.

Louth winger Rocky Rawlings.

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LOUTH Town need an extra time winner from Rocky Rawlings to earn a semi-final place in the Northern Counties East League Wilkinson Sword Trophy at Park Avenue on Tuesday night.

The hosts put their woeful league form behind them to put in a battling performance, but had to come from behind to earn the 2-1 win. A first half goal from Dean Wharam was cancelled out by Steve Norton’s strike at the death before Rawlings’ heroics.

The visitors had picked up a 3-2 win in the recent league meeting between the sides, and would have fancied their chances against a Louth side with just two wins from their past 15 matches.

Emley looked like continuing their early season form which has led them to 7th place in the league table by beginning the game well. Wharam’s early strike from six yards was parried by Wherry and Armitage’s shot on the rebound struck defender Appleby on the line as they sought an early goal.

The hosts then had their first chance of the game; Archer’s quick free kick fell to Sam Smith who turned quickly before his shot was tipped away by goalkeeper Adam Valente.

Tempers flared on 20 minutes when Brad Dowling lunged two footed at Louth’s Stuart Leafe. The tackle left the defender in a heap and Dowling was booked as a result.

On 32 minutes Emley took the lead. Some clever play from dangerman Wharam found the striker some space. He floated the ball towards Mark Stuart who drilled the ball high into the net past Craig Wherry.

Louth continued to press forward, undeterred by the goal, but clear-cut opportunities were few and far between. Top scorer Andy Willoughby went closest when he shot over from close range.

After an obviously stern half-time team talk from Paul Walden, Louth returned to the pitch with real hunger. Norton almost drew Town level straight away but Valente did enough to block the angle before a brilliantly timed last ditch challenge from Emley defender Reid denied the striker from adding to his season’s tally. Town boss Paul Walden was on his feet appealing for a spot-kick but the referee knew the challenge was a good one.

Willoughby and Norton upfront were linking well, a flick on from the former found Norton but his header was cleared.

Despite the White Wolves’ pressure, Emley continued to look dangerous on the break. Dowling fed Wharam who took the ball deep into the penalty area before chipping the ball towards the six yard box which was just too far behind for Armitage, and immediately after Wdowczyk fired a long range effort inches wide.

Walden made a key double change with 15 minutes to go. Rawlings and Jamie Rowbotham both entered the fray. It was a welcome return for striker Rowbotham, who came back into the side after 15 months on the sidelines due to a horrendous double leg break sustained in August 2010.

Louth finally made their pressure count on 83 minutes when the already influential Rowbotham headed a deep cross into Norton who had time and space at the back post to slip the ball under Valente, sparking wild celebrations from the Louth faithful.

Emley almost grabbed the win in normal time though, Wdowczyk sent in a curler from the edge of the box which looked destined for the top corner. Somehow Wherry managed to tip the ball over the bar and keep the scores level. It was a welcome return to form for the normally steadfast goalkeeper whose error in Saturday’s defeat at Shirebrook made the headlines.

Extra time began and both sides looked for that key goal to take the lead. With five minutes played Rawlings went on a mazy run down the left before firing the ball across Valente and into the bottom corner, it was an unstoppable strike.

Stuart went close for Emley before Rowbotham played in Norton who hit the side netting as the game opened up.

The visitors were becoming more and more frustrated and picked up some late bookings as feelings ran high.

The final chance of the game fell to Norton whose powerful strike was kept out by Valente.

But the final whistle came and Paul Walden’s men celebrated reaching the semi-finals. The other three third round games are due to be played later this month and Louth will wait with baited breath to see who they will face next.

The White Wolves have a home game against 6th placed Pontefract Collieries on Saturday at Park Avenue (3pm), see next Wednesday’s Leader for the full match report.