Do not bet on Wayne Rooney and Derby County reaching the fifth round of the FA Cup. Their replay against the lowest ranked team left in this competition will be mighty awkward if this laboured draw is anything to go by. Keith Curle’s men, sixth in League Two, gave as good as they got against the Championship side.
Northampton kicked off their Cup campaign with a win at Chippenham Town in November and then beat Notts County and Burton Albion, so they had worked hard to earn a glamour tie against the club that has practically been rebranded as “Wayne Rooney’s Derby County”.
Up for grabs was a place in the fifth round, a stage Northampton had not reached since 1970. Their progress back then met an unforgettable end, George Best waltzing around muddied and befuddled defenders to score six goals in an 8-2 win for Manchester United. Apparently that memory did not deter locals from wanting to see another former Old Trafford great in action: the stadium was full and a pulse of excitement fizzed through the crowd when Rooney strolled on to the pitch among the starters.
The Derby manager, Phillip Cocu, made eight changes to the lineup that began their last Championship game but retained the services of Rooney, who was stationed in central midfield on a mission to control the game. But he might as well have been among the spectators as play bypassed the 34-year-old in a hurly-burly first half. Unsettling the visitors was Northampton’s plan and they applied it with gusto.
A corner by Nicky Adams triggered pandemonium in the Derby box in the fifth minute, with Derby grateful to clear after Jordan Turnbull scuffed a volley. Moments later Vadaine Oliver headed just wide after beating the goalkeeper to an Adams cross from open play.
The hosts got lucky in the 13th minute when Charlie Goode pulled down Jack Marriott on the edge of the area as the striker ran through on goal. Even Northampton players looked amazed when the referee waved play on. None of the locals complained about the lack of VAR.
Meanwhile, zippy Northampton continued to fluster the visitors, Andy Williams firing into the side netting after a good move. That was as close as anyone came in the first half.
Rooney got time on the ball only when standing over set pieces. Curtis Davies headed one of his corners over in the 51st minute. Davies missed with another header six minutes later as Derby began to get the upper hand.
But Northampton wrested it back and looked as likely as the team captained by England’s record goalscorer to nick a late winner. Which, despite admirable intentions, was not very likely.