Match Of The Week 2: Stourbridge 0-3 Stevenage
Southern League Premier Division side Stourbridge finally ended their greatest ever FA Cup run at the hands of League One Stevenage at the War Memorial Athletic Ground earlier today, thanks to two goals from Chris Beardsley and a late third from Robin Shroot.
Stourbridge started with the same eleven that defeated Plymouth Argyle in the First Round, with the exception of influential midfielder Sean Geddes who missed the game through suspension – his place taken by Drew Canavan. The game started slowly, with both sides favouring a feeling out process, with the first real chance of the game not arriving until the fifteenth minute. Good work by Stevenage’s Lawrie Wilson down the right hand side, his cross reaching Ben May who cut inside, only for his shot to be cleared off the line by Stourbridge’s Nathan Bennett. Ten minutes later, Stourbridge created their first chance, with Paul McCone delivering a through ball for Ryan Rowe to chase, powering past Jon Ashton, only for Boro keeper Chris Day to collect the ball at the striker’s feet. The only other real chance of the first half saw Arsenal loanee Luke Freeman produce a great save from Stourbridge keeper Lewis Solly, making his 300th appearance for the club. That doesn’t stop Stevenage applying a lot of pressure in the latter moments of the first half, and a mistake from Paul McCone almost allows Chris Beardsley to convert a May cross, and when referee Gavin Ward brings the first half to a close, its at the right time for the home side.
The second half begins in the same manner as the first, with neither side making an impression, however, seven minutes in, comes the big talking point of the game. A Paul Lloyd cross finds Sean Evans, who may have been offside, and he pressurises Scott Laird into conceding a corner. The corner gets held up in the wind, and almost catches Day out, and he appears to take the ball over the goalline. Referee Ward waves play on, and no goal is given – something oddly not shown by the ITV highlights later on. Four minutes later Wilson fouls Rowe around 20 yards from goal, and Canavan’s free-kick rattles the side netting. It proves to be the wake up call Stevenage need, and Stourbridge’s last real chance. A minute later, the lively Freeman forces another save from Solly, and with the introduction of Robin Shroot on the right wing, Boro crank up the pressure, and on 65 minutes, the deadlock is broken. Freeman provides a cross, McCone clears the ball, but only as far as Michael Bostwick, who forces another save from Solly, but he can only parry the ball to Beardsley and the League One side are in front. Stourbridge 0 Stevenage 1.
With the Glassboys defence finally broken, the result seems a formality, with Stevenage keeping possession and forcing the part-timers to expend extra energy in their attempts to come back into the tie, while trying to create an opening for the second, and twelve minutes after the first goal comes the second. Shroot finds Byron Harrison in acres of space on the right hand side, and he provides Chris Beardsley with a chance from the edge of the area, firing past Solly who has no chance. Stourbridge 0 Stevenage 2.
The scoreline is harsh on Stourbridge, who have been Stevenage’s equals for most of the game, and as the Glassboys try and come back into the game, but Stevenage are the only side that look like scoring. With two minutes left Beardsley almost completes his hattrick, only for Bennett to clear off the line for a second time – although it looks again like it may have crossed the line. In the early moments of injury time Stevenage complete the scoring, as Harrison tries a shot, which Solly tries to smother, but Shroot reacts fastest and makes no mistake. Stourbridge 0 Stevenage 3.
Stevenage play out injury time, and four minutes of injury time, to book their place in tomorrow’s Third Round draw, where they will go from being Goliath to wannabe Davids as they look to draw one of the bigger sides in the country, looking to emulate their efforts in beating Newcastle United last season – at the same time looking to make sure they don’t distract themselves from challenging for consecutive promotions, with a seven game unbeaten streak in League One putting them on the edge of the playoffs.
From here, the priority for Stourbridge is the league. The club have entered five cup competitions this season, with the FA Cup the third one they have been eliminated from in eight days, following defeats by Chester in the FA Trophy last Saturday, and Rugby Town in the Southern Leage Cup – admittedly fielding a weakened side against the latter in their 28th game of the season. As it is, only one of last fourteen games the Midlands side have played has been in the League, with the 4-0 victory in the home game against Frome Town on November 19th being the only one since the defeat at Bashley seven weeks ago. Tuesday night sees the first of six planned league games this month, with Cambridge City the visitors, and Stourbridge announcing that there will be reduced prices to thank the fans for their support during the FA Cup run. Next Saturday sees the Glassboys visit league leaders Leamington, with the Brakes just eight points clear, despite playing six games more so far. Stourbridge have at least three games in hand on the rest of the division, even over fellow FA Cup second-rounders Oxford City and AFC Totton, and can overtake all their rivals with their games in hand. Surprisingly, there is no major backlog, as even with three league games still to rearrange, Stourbridge only have three midweek games to play after the turn of the year, and two of those are on traditional Bank Holidays.
When we mentioned the situation concerning the War Memorial Athletic Ground in the first round report, we mistakenly claimed that the ground belonged to Stourbridge Cricket Club. However, I managed to speak to Glassboys chairman Ian Pilkington while buying tickets for the game, and he confirmed that the ground is actually owned by Dudley Borough Council, and that the club shares the lease with the cricket club, with the football club having the lease for eight months of the year. This still poses problems with permanent changes to the ground, as the cricket square prevents the building of a permanent structure alongside one side of the ground, but today’s attendance of 3067 shows that the club can accommodate the minimum requirement of a 3000 capacity for the Blue Square North should promotion be gained – while some of the temporary seating was along the “cricket side” of the pitch, there are clearly areas of the ground, such as the Shed End behind one of the goals, where terracing could be extended on a more permanent basis. That clubs still need to go through such an expense for a level where just a quarter of the teams have so far recorded an attendance of over 1000 and the maximum attendance so far this season is less than 1800 makes as little sense as it did when the rule was first brought in over twenty years ago.
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