Nolan brace ensures safe FA Cup progress for Lowestoft Town
Lowestoft Town 3, Hemel Hempstead 0: Lowestoft Town striker Matt Nolan was at his mercurial best as the Blues strolled into the third qualifying round of the FA Cup after seeing off Hemel Hempstead at Crown Meadow on Saturday.
Joe Francis put the Trawlerboys in front from the penalty spot after Nolan had been fouled and the former King's Lynn man got in on the act himself before half-time with a firm header and a wonderful right-footed finish from 20 yards.
But it was his all round display that really caught the eye as the Hemel back four struggled to come to terms with the technical ability he possesses and Lowestoft director of football Craig Fleming believes the forward is getting back to his best after an injury ravaged campaign last season.
'I've said all along that he has got something different – he is technically very, very good,' said Fleming, who has set his side a minimum target of reaching the first round proper of the FA Cup this season. 'He missed a bit of football last season and it takes a little while to get back to full fitness but he is looking very sharp now.
'He is a little bit languid at times so he can frustrate people but I played against him a long time ago when he was at King's Lynn and I was with Norwich in a pre-season friendly and he caused me a lot of problems that day.'
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This tie was over as soon as Hemel striker Scott Fitzgerald bundled over Nolan inside the penalty area after just 11 minutes. Francis coolly despatched the penalty and the body blow of conceding early was enough to destroy Hemel's fragile confidence coming into the tie after a start to the season which has seen them slip to the bottom of the Southern Premier Division.
Six minutes later and Nolan deservedly got on the scoresheet himself when he found space inside the Hemel penalty area to plunge a header into the bottom corner after Adam Smith's pinpoint free-kick.
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The striker certainly looks to be benefiting from having a full pre-season behind him having endured an injury-plagued campaign last season six minutes before the break he grabbed his second of the afternoon.
Michael Frew cleverly played his strike partner in on the right hand side of the penalty area and, under pressure from a defender, Nolan lashed home a right-footed shot into the top corner which almost burst the net.
The second half was a non-event as Lowestoft struggled to hit the heights they reached in the first period while the management took the opportunity to rest a couple of their big guns ahead of tomorrow's league clash against fellow high fliers Canvey Island.
Blues goalkeeper Andy Reynolds was kept honest in making a couple of decent saves, notably tipping a David Pearce effort over the bar while Jamie Forshaw sliced wide when well placed after being teed up by Russell Stock.
But with the Blues' thoughts already turning to emulating the class of 2009 when they reached the first round proper of the FA Cup before going out to Wrexham, Fleming is in doubt what he wants from today's draw – another home tie.
'The home draw is massive in the FA Cup, particularly with the geography of this place,' he added. 'When we made the first round a couple of years ago we ended up trapsing all the way to Gloucester and places like that. But a home draw would be fantastic.'
• Lowestoft Town (4-4-2): Reynolds, Cave-Brown, Crane, Gaughran, A Smith, Henderson, Fisk, Ainsley, Francis (Forshaw, 64), Frew (Forbes, 60), Nolan (Stock, 80). Subs not used: Godbold.
• Hemel Hempstead (4-4-2): Bussey, May, Morgan, Goodhind, Pearce, Gorman (Blake, 64), Malone (Rydeheard, 73) Gilbert, Pearce, Toomey, Fitzgerald. Subs not used: Alexis, Owen-Edwards, McEntegart.
• Attendance: 669