Plymouth Argyle’s season goes from bad to worse, as they were knocked out of the FA Cup First Round by Southern League Premier Division side Stourbridge. Goals from Paul McCone and Sean Evans gave the Glassboys a well deserved victory, and the chance to face League One Stevenage in eleven days time.

Unlike the game at Home Park ten days ago, the replay was a much quieter affair, with the first twenty minutes being an exercise in both teams finding their feet. The Pilgrims controlled most of the possession, with player-manager Carl Fletcher and Onismor Bhasera being Plymouth’s standout players, however, they created little. However, when Stourbridge had possession, playmaker Sean Geddes used the time and space he was given by Argyle to find his range with left-winger Sean Evans and centre-forward Ryan Rowe his favoured targets – and it would be these three players that have the Argyle defence the most problems. However, in the 21st minute saw the game’s first chance, with a centre from Evans finding Rowe who forced an excellent save from Plymouth keeper Jake Cole. Twelve minutes later came the biggest talking point, and possibly the most pivotal moment of the game. Plymouth right-back Paul Bignot had his right leg kicked from under him by Evans, and with Bignot on the ground, Evans stood over the Pilgrim, and Bignot lashed out weakly with his feet. While Bignot made little to no contact, he had given referee Scott Mathieson no option but to make him the third Plymouth player to be sent off in the tie (following Robbie Williams and Conor Hourihane in the first game), and what was a tricky night for the League Two’s basement club suddenly became a lot tougher. Stourbridge did not take full advantage straight away, choosing to stay with their initial tactics until half time. Ben Billingham’s attempt to curl a shot past Cole in the Plymouth goal being a relatively easy one for the netminder to stop, and was the last meaningful action of the first half.

The second half continued in the same vein as the first. Billingham having the first real attempt of the second half, with a free kick that went wide of the post, with Cole seemingly having it covered. However, within seven minutes of the restart, the home side were in the lead. Play had ended back with the Glassboys defence, with goalkeeper Lewis Solly inexplicably – presumably out of boredom, given the lack of Plymouth atatcks – coming out of his area to collect a ball his defence were already dealing with. The resulting mixup, almost gifted Warren Feeney a chance, he clearance ended up with the Stourbridge forward Ryan Rowe. Rowe’s hard work won Stourbridge’s second corner of the game. Paul McCone managed to break free of marker Simon Walton, and headed Geddis’ inswinging corner into the net. Stourbridge 1 Plymouth Argyle 0.

Plymouth’s best two chances came within five minutes of the goal, but Berry’s tame shot was straight at Solly, and Hourihane dragged a weak shot wide, but this only concentrated Stourbridge’s attention onto the subject at hand, with a Geddes piledriver being blocked in the area, the lively Leon Broadhurst heading wide, and Paul Lloyd landing a cross onto the crossbar, with Broadhurst’s headed rebound also hitting the woodwork. However, with seventeen minutes left, the home side put the tie beyond doubt. Geddes provided another excellent centre in , who forces a save from Cole, the rebound just evaded Broadhurst, but Evans made no mistake, driving the ball into a small gap between the post and a Pilgrim defender. Stourbridge 2 Plymouth Argyle 0.

From there, it was just a case of Stourbridge ensuring they did not let Plymouth back into the game, as they had done at Home Park. Billingham’s rasping shot that went wide of the post, and a weak Rowe header were the final attempts to the lead, while Berry’s 90th minute shot was comfortably saved by Solly, saving Stourbridge a close finish that would have flattered the visitors. With the four minutes of injury time completed, referee Mathieson ended the game, with Stourbridge the deserved winners. It was clear to see why Plymouth are in so much trouble on the pitch, ending the game with three teenage defenders and two teenage forwards, and Bignot’s sending off an example of the ill-discipline that has seen seven players sent off this season However, nothing should take away from what is one of the biggest days in Stourbridge’s history, with their appearance in the 1974 Welsh Cup final the only real challenger). The star players were Rowe, Geddes and Evans, but every player in red and white striped played their part.

Extra credit must go to Gary Hackett, and his assistant Jon Ford. Hackett enjoyed a good professional career as a player, despite being a relatively late arrival to the game, signing for Shrewsbury Town from Bromsgrove Rovers at the age of twenty. Whilst at Gay Meadow he experienced his first taste of an FA Cup shock by scoring against then First Division Ipswich Town in a 2-0 win in 1984 (the goal eventually featuring on the intro to Grandstand alongside Seve Ballesteros and John McEnroe). He left the Shrews in 1987, having spells at Aberdeen, Stoke, West Bromwich Albion, Peterborough United and Chester City. Whilst at The Hawthorns, he suffered the experience of being on the wrong end of a giank-killing as the club lost 4-2 at home to Woking, although Hackett didn’t play on the day.

Since arriving at his hometown club as manager, Hackett has slowly built a side.up from the Midland Alliance. After two seasons as co-manager with Ford (who had playing spells with Swansea City, Bradford City, Gillingham and Barnet in the 1990), Hackett was promoted to sole manager in 2005, gaining promotion to the Southern League Midland Divison at the first attempt. Within two years, the Glassboys were promoted to the Southern League Premier Division (winning the playoff final at the expense of Leamington), and have finished higher up the table each season Hackett has managed the club, with the club finishing eighth in the Premier Division last season – a position they currently occupy, seven points behind leaders AFC Totton, with three games in hand, and at least two games in hand on every other team in the division. The side has slowly evolved, with Solly, Sam Rock and Nathan Bennett all having made over 300 appearances for the club, and a number of other players topping the 100 games mark. On the face of it, these are the best days in the club’s history – the club had only spent four seasons in the Southern League Premier Division before Hackett’s arrival (before the creation of the Conference Regions, and two before the creation of the Conference itself), but none of these ended up with the club in the top half of the division. Stourbridge should be a club with a great deal of potential, but whether the club can realize this or not, may be out of their hands.

As those that watched the game tonight on ESPN, the War Memorial Ground is not the most orthodox of grounds. The ground is owned by Stourbridge Cricket Club, and the football club has only been allowed to use temporary seating for the Plymouth game (as it was when Walsall played at Stourbridge in the FA Cup First Round in 2009), and means the club can only use three sides of the ground, so as not to damage the cricket square. The usual capacity for the ground is only 1250, while Conference North entry requirements demand a minimum of 3000. Similar restrictions cost the club the opportunity to take their place in the Southern Premier after they won the Midland Division in 1991. Even with the temporary stands , this evening’s attendance was only 2519. However, in an interview with the BBC earlier last week, Glassboys chairman Ian Pilkington stated that the money generated from the tie (which now includes £33,750 in TV broadcast money, and another £18,500 in prize money, on top of any extra gate receipts) would be used “to make plans for the future … for the next level”.

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