Connor Ripley impressed this week, as Middlesbrough’s loan contingent kickstarted the New Year.
It wasn’t the start Ripley wanted on New Year’s Day though. Accrington faced up against George Miller’s buoyed Bradford in what was to be a disappointing opening to 2019 for John Coleman’s side.
George Miller started up front in that game, but despite Bradford getting the better of the on-loan Boro keeper on three separate occasions, he didn’t find the back of the net. He was taken off with ten minutes to go.
Ripley started in between the sticks once more but had to pick the ball out of his own net twice in 10 minutes as Lewis O’Brien and Eoin Doyle gave the Bantams a two-goal lead.
Connor Wood then made it three early in the second half to ensure the three points for the home side. That’s now two successive league defeats for Stanley in which seven goals have been conceded.
However their defeat to Bradford was quickly swept under the rug and all attentions turned to Stanley’s FA Cup third round match at home to Championship strugglers Ipswich Town.
John Coleman named a strong side for the tie, which included his trusted number one Ripley, despite rotation with deputy Jonathan Maxted in the Carabao Cup.
His decision to start the 25-year-old paid major dividends for the League One outfit as his stellar display helped them progress into the next round.
Billy Kee netted what proved to be the decisive goal 15 minutes from time but it could have been a completely different outcome had it not been for Ripley.
He made a pivotal save in the dying minutes as Freddie Sears was found in the box after an Ipswich counter attack and swept a shot goalwards for what looked like a certain equaliser.
But Ripley was off his line quickly and got down to smother the ball out for a corner – a stop that was met with a passionate fist pump from the keeper.
One team who won’t be competing in the fourth round of the FA Cup is Sheffield United, who were knocked out by non-league Barnet on Sunday.
Marvin Johnson, who was an unused substitute in the Blades’ last league outing against Wigan Athletic, was handed a rare start by Chris Wilder in the cup this weekend.
He was operating as a wing-back – a position not that unfamiliar to the 28-year-old having played there for Oxford before his move to the Riverside last summer.
He played the full match but found himself on the end of a cup upset as Barnet converted a first half spot kick and held onto the 1-0 victory to progress.
That game was only Johnson’s ninth since joining Sheffield Untited on loan in August. His only start for the Yorkshire side came against Garry Monk’s Birmingham in September.
In the National League, Gateshead are now facing a promotion campaign without their top scorer Luke Armstrong.
The 22-year-old was recalled by Boro this week in order to send him to a League club for further experience.
The Heed were also without their number one goalkeeper Aynsley Pears on New Year’s Day. He found himself out of the squad due to illness again for their short away trip to North East rivals Hartlepool United, which ended in defeat.
He was back for the game against Maidenhead United though, but it was no happy return for the Teessider as the National League strugglers won 1-0.
After a period of Maidenhead dominance, the deadlock was broken just before the half hour mark. Full-back Remy Clerima stuck a volley past Pears for the only goal of the game.
With two defeats in two, it’s clear to see that Gateshead are already missing the impact of the influential Armstrong – and it will be interesting to see how Pears manages at the other end without the goalscoring exploits of his teammate.
Meanwhile, defender Enes Mahmutovic was recalled by Boro this week following a lack of game time at League Two Yeovil Town.
The Luxembourger found games hard to come by on Somerset, rarely being used by Darren Way and often watching matches from the bench.
He put pen-to-paper on a season-long loan deal in August, but departs after just six months having made four appearances in all competitions.
Mahmutovic’s Glovers teammate Alex Pattison remains sidelined due to a back injury, so he wasn’t involved in either of their games this week.
• Aynsley Pears – ill vs. Hartlepool United, 90 mins vs. Maidenhead United
• George Miller – 80 mins vs. Accrington Stanley
• Connor Ripley – 90 mins vs. Bradford City, 90 mins vs. Ipswich Town
• Marvin Johnson – unused sub vs. Wigan Athletic, 90 mins vs. Barnet
Not involved: Marvin Braithwaite
Injured: Joe Fryer, Alex Pattison