Wisbech Town 2,
Dunston UTS 2 (aet)
THE Fenmen kept their dreams of an FA Vase Wembley appearance alive with a real gutsy performance over 120 minutes in an enthralling cup-tie in front of 548 fans at the Elgood’s Fenland Stadium on Saturday.
They produced two real magical moments to savour from the game with their goals, but at the same time woeful defending at set-pieces cost them two very soft goals.
Once again manager Steve Appleby played his mind games with striker Chris Bacon wearing the number five shirt and defender Anthony Reeve in the number nine. The only surprise in his line-up was Neal Spafford pushed forward into a wide midfield slot in place of the banned Callum Reed.
Wisbech, with the vocal support behind them, started well with Bacon firing over the bar in the first minute. Soon after a Bacon cross was just intercepted by a defender as Nick Davey was about to shoot as the home side started very brightly.
Stacy Cartwright headed clear from the goal-line from a Dunston corner but it was the only effort on target from the visitors in the first 45 minutes.
For a time the game was scrappy with neither side able to string passes together, but then Wisbech produced the best piece of football in the whole game after 25 minutes.
Bacon was fouled just inside the Dunston half and alertly took a quick free kick to send the excellent Steve Reid on a run and his pass out to the right found Spafford. His exquisite low cross fell into the path of Davey, who produced an excellent first time shot into the roof of the net to send the home fans behind the goal into raptures.
Dunston showed their physical side with two poor tackles on Bacon – Michael Robson saw yellow for the first but Kane Young was fortunate to get only a verbal warning from a very good referee Richard Kendall, who was always keen to play the advantage.
Soon after Cartwright had to come off with a broken nose in an aerial challenge and Spafford reverted to defence and Ollie Gale took his place on the flank.
Wisbech continued to defend well and Dunston were just not able to conjure up a decent opening with Ryan Rayner a virtual spectator for the first 45 minutes.
Obviously Dunston manager Billy Irwin fired up his troops at the break when many of their fans were saying they had not seen their team play so poorly.
But it was Wisbech who came closest to scoring at the start of the second half with Bacon firing a free kick wide of the upright but within a minute Dunston were level.
A free kick on 51 minutes from 30 yards out was headed down by Young and Dunston’s ace marksman Andy Bulford reacted quickest to put the loose ball into the net from close range.
Young was then eventually booked for another hefty challenge on Bacon and had the referee not been so lenient earlier this should have been a red card.
But it was Dunston, who reached the last eight in the Vase last year, who now looked in the ascendency and Bulford held his head in shame when he failed to connect with a Galbraith cross with an empty net in front of him. Wisbech were really struggling with the Dunston set pieces, while their own were very poor in contrast.
Davey then set up Matt Lunn with a good pass but the tricky winger’s first touch let him down and the chance was gone.
There was another let off for Wisbech from another set piece with former Posh player Chris Swailes this time heading wide with the goal at his mercy.
But it was really no surprise when Dunston’s second goal came from a free kick out on the left after 75 minutes. Lee McAndrew fired the ball hard and low into the goal area, it sneaked past everyone into the net – and you must question Rayner’s positioning – but what a soft goal to concede.
Lewis Thompson was sent on for the unusually quiet Adam Millson in midfield and it was now all about how Wisbech would react.
To their credit they just kept battling and Lunn, who had not had the best of games, came up with a moment of magic for the equaliser on 83 minutes.
He dribbled his way along the bye-line and just when everyone waited for him to pull the ball back, he fired it into the roof of the net from the tightest of angles.
Dixon headed wide for Dunston and then Lunn, now full of fire, forced a good save with a shot from the edge of the box as the first 90 minutes came to a close.
Dunston had been the better side in the second half, but Wisbech began the extra time brightly and Gale struck the upright with the goal at his mercy after just one minute. Then Bacon set up Lunn only for him to shoot wide.
While at the other end Bulford wasted a good opportunity by shooting wide, but both teams became cagey with not wanting to concede at such a late stage now.
The second half of extra time was played in driving wind. Dunston’s Dixon was sent off for a second yellow, but it seemed both sides were running out of ideas before late substitute Darren Jimson chested down the ball on the edge of the area and produced his trademark turn to fire a shot just wide of the post. What a fairy tale ending to the game that could have been for a player out of action for nine months.
In the end a draw was probably a fair result, but Wisbech will curse those two poor moments when they just lacked the concentration to clear the danger. But they live to fight another day.
Wisbech: Ryan Rayner, Jon Fairweather, Stacy Cartwright, Anthony Reeve, Scott Johnson; Neal Spafford, Steven Reid, Adam Millson, Matt Lunn, Chris Bacon, Nick Davey. Subs used: Ollie Gale, Lewis Thompson, Darren Jimson.