"We want to be a [Football] league club,” Russell Penn, the Kidderminster Harriers manager, said, “and that’s our overall objective but these are the days that will never leave the memories of these players.”
He’s not wrong. For teams and players away from the glitz and glamour of the top flight, the FA Cup can be the pinnacle of careers and club histories. There’s no need to tell Kidderminster that. Currently fifth in the National League North, English football’s sixth tier, the Harriers have bellied expectation by reaching the fourth round of the cup for only the third time in their 136-year history.
Of course, the aim for clubs like Kidderminster is to win promotion to the football league and scale the pyramid to as high a position as possible. Yet, it is often in the cup when the really good days come. And those at Aggborough on Saturday afternoon witnessed — and took part — in wild scenes.
Kidderminster were good value for their comeback 2-1 victory over Reading, who were 79 places below their hosts in the football pyramid but sub-par for much of the game. Even in the first half, when the team from Berkshire took the lead in stoppage time through George Puscas, Penn’s men held their own and even created the best chance when Omari Sterling brought a spectacular save from Reading ‘keeper Rafael Cabral who turned the 30-yard strike on to the crossbar.
There was an argument that the Harriers showed too much respect to their visitors, who had won only twice in their last nine games and sunk from Championship promotion hopefuls to relegation worriers — although a six-point deduction for breaching EFL rules hardly helped. After the interval, and with nothing to lose, Kidderminster took charge and turned the tie around thanks to Sam Austin’s shot which squirmed under Cabral and then Amari Morgan-White forcing the ball over the line after an almighty scramble in the 82nd minute.
“At half-time we said it’s about staying in the game and when we got the equaliser it felt like there was only going to be one winner,” Penn said. “We’ve got plenty of heart. We had our objectives for this season and this was one of them.”
Kidderminster, the lowest ranked team left in the 150th FA Cup, take on Championship strugglers Reading on 3rd round weekend. Upset incoming?@khfcofficial @ReadingFC @EmiratesFACup pic.twitter.com/EVEPVVhkJz— Oliver Miller (@oliver_miller) January 8, 2022
“It’s absolutely amazing,” goalscorer, and captain, Austin eulogised. “To get the win first was a great feeling but to get a goal as well was something special. I’ve been here six years now and to lead the boys out tonight was just brilliant.”
The prospect of facing a Premier League team in the next round quickly dropped into Kidderminster minds. “I’m a Wolves fan but never played there,” Penn added. “So selfishly I’d love to play there but they’ve got a tough game tomorrow. Wolves, Manchester United, Arsenal, Chelsea – it’s mad to even be talking about these clubs.”
Injuries add to Reading's worries
Meanwhile, Reading’s worries were deepened by luckless defender Felipe Araruna being stretched off with a dislocated knee just five minutes after coming off the bench and in just his second appearance following 464 days out injured with a knee injury. The monumental celebrations which followed the final whistle, which involved sections of the home support invading the pitch, also left a sour taste for Royals manager Veljko Paunovic.
“I was very worried for their safety because it was too close and aggressive,” he said. “The safety of all of us was put in jeopardy and even worse things could have happened. It was challenging, it wasn’t safe and it wasn’t very nice to hear what people were saying to our players and the rest of our staff. I don’t want to make a case of it but I don’t think this is how it should be.”
Amidst the red flares and boisterous crowd, however, was Penn who had the final say on what his club had achieved. “I’m stuck for words,” the overwhelmed manager said. “I’m so proud of the players and the football club. We know it’s a one-off, up against a Championship side and we’ve exceeded expectations.”