March Town 1, Wisbech Town 1
IT was billed as the biggest Fenland derby for 30 years and a massive crowd of 1100 turned up for this preliminary FA Cup tie at the GER.
It was never going to be a spectacle of flowing football with so much local pride at stake and at times the game was poor on a bumpy surface. It also contained the customary spattering of feisty challenges to bring five yellow cards by a referee who could have taken a firmer grip.
But if both club chairman were delighted at the end with the bumper crowd, both managers left the GER on Saturday evening feeling very disappointed men.
Hares boss Brett Whaley felt his side could have won the game in the end after his side had matched their Ridgeons Premier Division opponents all around the park.
Steve Appleby, the Wisbech boss, on the other hand was left frustrated by another poor performance and a lack of passion from his side to follow the midweek home defeat against Dereham.
It was a very even contest with both sides having their moments in front of goal but in the end a draw was undoubtedly a fair result. March had the first sight of goal when Stu Anderson made the most of a ball over the top from Marc Welcher but just failed to hit the target.
Soon after Ricky Goodale showed good skills to get into the box but had a shot blocked by Rayner at the near post .
Slowly and surely though Wisbech began to gain momentum and Tom Roberts, borrowed for the day from Pinchbeck United in goal, was forced into his first save blocking a goalbound header from Chris Bacon.
Anderson had his second chance at the over end as Wisbech were caught square once more but shot wide. This does seem a real problem for the Fenmen defenders.
But Wisbech began to look the team most likely to score first and the breakthrough came after 25 minutes when Bacon, who was always a threat, shot and his the ball cannoned off a defender for Liam Nimmo to score from close range.
It perhaps should have been the signal for Wisbech to go on and show their superior quality, but on this day their passing was too often errant and the man marking of Callum Reed by former Fenman Lewis Cook kept the Wisbech midfielder quiet with little service from out wide.
On 30 minutes a foul by Lewis Thompson on Luke Pepper presented March with a free kick from 20 yards out and Pepper produced an exquisite shot into the far corner of the net for the equaliser but one must question the positioning of Rayner behind his wall.
Without the doubt the first 45 minutes offered the best of the action and the second half was really lacking in too much quality football as the players became frustrated and the yellow cards came out.
Reed tired of Cook’s close marking and was booked for a foul and then Cook snapped at the Wisbech man and also went into the book. Both players were later replaced.
March defenders Adam Sutton and Welcher were outstanding at the back as Wisbech looked for a winner with Welcher making a timely interception to thwart Bacon inside the box and Nimmo just failed to get his head to a Thompson cross in front of goal.
At the other end Anderson had another good chance but failed to head home the every-busy Pepper’s cross and on another day he may have scored a hat-trick.
March brought on Ash Brand after 71 minutes and he had a good opportunity but was unable to get his shot away while Gavin Cooke’s deep cross beat everyone in front of goal and clipped the woodwork.
As the game closed Pepper also had opening in front goal from a Brand pass but shot well wide and Bacon headed over from a Nick Davey corner in the last minute.
It was the lack of quality in the final third that left both teams down and Appleby will also not be happy that his side had 15 corners but rarely managed to get them past the first March defender. They also missed the probing of the injured Steven Reid while his deputy Thompson struggled to make an impact. Reeve was a rock in defence though.
The March dressing room was the happier with Whaley commenting: “I am disappointed really because I felt we could have won the game late on in the second half when we opened up the Wisbech defence. We have defended really well when needed and worked hard around the park.
“I have to be pleased with the performance and am looking forward to Tuesday because we have a good chance.”
Appleby was far from pleased and let his players know in no uncertain manner after the game.
He said: “It was a poor performance and we lacked the passion for what was a FA Cup local derby in front of a big crowd. Our delivery in the final third of the pitch was just not good enough.
“We were flat and never really got going and showed little quality. The consolation is that we are still in the competition but we must play a lot better at our place on Tuesday.”
March: Tom Roberts, Gav Cooke, Marc Welcher, Lewis Cook, Adam Sutton, Chris Lenton, Ricky Goodale, Adam Rothery, Stu Anderson, Luke Pepper, Dan Jenkins. Subs used: Nathan Smith, Ash Brand, Andy Wayte.
Wisbech: Ryan Rayner, Neal Spafford, Stacy Cartwright, Simon Ashton, Anthony Reeve, Callum Reed, Paul Jones, Lewis Thompson, Chris Bacon, Liam Nimmo, Matt Lunn. Subs used: Ollie Gale, Nick Davey, Sam Murphy.