Milton Keynes Irish’s FA Cup dream lives on after an enthralling 4-3 victory away to Real Bedford.
Irish got off to a flyer and had themselves two goals up in the first half thanks to George Shrieves and Mason Spence, but the home side fought back to level things up before the break.
After the break the visitors rallied and regained their two goal advantage through Spence and Ryan Smith, however Bedford weren’t finished and again worked back into the game, setting up a dramatic finish by making it 4-3 with five to go.
And with 94 minutes on the clock they had a golden chance to force a replay as they were awarded a penalty, which was saved excellently by Owusu Kyeremateng in the Irish goal to send Irish through to the next round.
Irish had fallen to a 1-0 loss in this same fixture in their first game of the season despite dominating the game, so it was important they got off to a quick start and took their chances this time around.
And after ten minutes they did exactly that.
Receiving the ball on the left and beating his man, Andre Olukanmi made the space to whip a low ball right across the face of goal where George Shrieves was darting in to apply the finishing touch.
Real Bedford’s early threats were coming from long throw ins into to the box and they almost equalised immediately after conceding, after a throw was missed by Kyeremateng and needed clearing from Shaheim Ward on the line.
Olukanmi has a good chance to double the lead after 15, running through onto Callum Hirst’s pass, but under pressure from a Bedford defender he couldn’t get a clean shot away and it was saved.
After almost assisting Olukanmi it was some typical industrial work from Hirst in midfield that played a major role in Irish’s second of the afternoon.
Winning it back in the middle of the park, the entire Bedford backline froze, seemingly expecting a whistle that never came. Hovering in a pocket space around the penalty spot was Mason Spence, who received the ball unchallenged, turned and finished easily to make it 2-0.
With Irish appearing to be cruising towards the break and in command, the game suddenly turned on its head.
Kyeremateng came out to try and claim a through ball, being beaten to it by the Bedford forward, catching him as he touched it round and giving a penalty away, which was dispatched for 2-1.
Then with a minute to go before half-time and Real Bedford pressing hard, the equaliser came as a cross in was converted from close range.
It was a disappointing end to the half for the visitors, who has started so strongly and would now have to pick themselves up and go again in the second half.
But pick themselves up they did, as just a few minutes after the restart they took the lead back.
Shrieves’ good work down the right had found him at the byline but the chance looked to be gone after a challenge. Capitalising on the loose ball was Ryan Smith, he crossed it in to the back post and Spence nodded home for his second of the game to make it 3-2.
Irish had come out firing and in stark contrast to the end of the first, looked the much better team again.
The pressure continued to build as Irish looked to restore their two goal cushion, and five minutes after the third it came.
A corner in from the left went through the penalty spot after a couple of deflections, dropping to Ryan Smith who made it 4-2.
Shrieves had a great chance to all but wrap things up with with 25 left, burning past a Bedford defender but shooting just wide of the top corner.
The latter stages of the match took a worryingly similar turn to the end of the first half, as Irish started to fall back under the increasing Real Bedford pressure.
With five minutes left, the home side ensured the game was set up for a nail biting finish after cutting the Irish lead back down to one with a good strike from the edge of the box.
Irish really should’ve wrapped it up once and for all with just a couple of minutes left in normal time, as Olukanmi ran through with Davis and Gardner in support, but he delayed the pass to Davis and offside was called.
An exhilarating game would culminate in the maddest of closing stages.
A cross in from the right fell on the edge of the six yard box, Kyeremateng came to meet it at the same time as a Bedford attacker and after a tangle that looked a fair 50/50, the ref pointed to the spot again.
Four minutes into added time, seconds remaining, Real Bedford had the chance to save the tie and send it to a replay.
The ground fell silent. Bedford’s number 9 took two steps back.
The shot came in, struck with towards the bottom right corner. Flying down to make an unbelievable save was Kyeremateng, sparkling wild scenes of Irish celebration which continued on into the changing room after the final whistle.