There would be no fine ladies making music in Banbury on Saturday night after the Rams secured their berth in the first round proper of the FA Trophy and closer to Wembley than they have ever been in their 48 year history, courtesy of an impressive 3-0 win in Oxfordshire.
They rode into town, completely outplayed their hosts and left with all the jewelry and horses to leave Banbury cross.
It only took the most cursory of glances at the form and league tables of the two teams playing at the same level of the football pyramid to put the Rams in to the most optimistic state of mind as to their prospects, despite the management’s understandable efforts to dampen any over-confidence. It was obvious from the first moments that the gulf was so wide as to offer the Rams the most comfortable of afternoons.
After just five minutes, Scott Burton’s crunching tackle sent Tom Williams clear and his low cross found Banbury keeper Leigh Bedwell hesitant at the near post. Jon Robinson did not need an invitation to force the ball home to give the Rams the early advantage.
At some risk of accusation of partisan hyperbole, it has to be said that Banbury had no understanding of the level of sophistication displayed by the Rams. Jordan Hulme’s hold up play was outstanding. Time and again Banbury were ripped apart by clever short diagonal balls to his feet to the corner of the box and his return passes to release Williams and Phil Dean. Banbury’s only response was to lump the ball forward, which found little impact on a Rams defence even on one of their more fragile days but on Saturday, Cedric Krou was all imperious French sophistication and his partner Steve Howson an indomitable barrier.
Having been at least partly culpable for the first goal, Bedwell in the Banbury net prevented the Rams from being out of sight by half-time with any number of close range saves. Such was the time, space and options afforded to them in the box, the Rams were able to be preoccupied with either trying to walk the ball or set up a colleague with an even more glaring and inviting opening than that provided to the man on the ball.
At 0-1, there was always the risk of a slip that might offer an equaliser and for 5 minutes after the break, they were able to press forward and it took a smart save from Grant Shenton and a scrambled clearance to deny Josh Shama, apparently on loan from Oxford. After that, though, normal service was resumed and Bedwell continued with his heroics but could do nothing with Krou’s header from around the penalty spot just short of the hour.
Whatever remote prospect there might be that Banbury could mount a revival disappeared a couple of minutes later with Tom Ryan’s dismissal for a second yellow card which was quickly followed by a Rams third as Phil Dean driving in from the edge of the area after an effort from Robinson rebounded to him.
After that, any sense of urgency disappeared. The travelling entourage, which now extends to members as far flung as Cheltenham, cavorted and paraded around, worried only by a descending mist which challenged the effectiveness of the floodlights, which were about as dim as the home team’s performance but nowhere near as dim as the unnecessary and reckless challenge by Lee Pugh with only a couple of minutes left, which earned him a red card.
RAMSBOTTOM UNITED team: Grant Shenton, Dominic Smalley, Lee Pugh, Gary Stopforth, Steve Howson, Cedric Krou, Tom Williams, Scott Burton, Jordan Hulme, Jon Robinson, Phil Dean. Subs: Osebi Abadaki (for Stopforth 63mins), George Grayson, David Kuba-Kuba (for Williams 70mins), Malachi Slaven (for Burton 70mins), Alex Piacentile.
GOALS: Jon Robinson (5 mins), Cedric Krou (56 mins), Phil Dean (62 mins)
BOOKINGS: Grant Shenton (yellow), Lee Pugh (red)
REFEREE: Ben Cooke (Atherstone)