Stafford Town 1 Brocton 2

Saturday 19th November 2011
Stafford Town 1 Brocton 2
FA Carlsberg Vase Second Round
At: Evans Park
Kick-off: 3-00 pm
Admission: £4; Programme: £1 (36 pages)
Weather: mild, dry, became a bit misty
Attendance: 231
Duration: first-half: 46:14; second-half: 49:41

If I sit down in six or so weeks' time and think about my football-watching highlights of 2011, I’m certain this Vase derby between two clubs less than a mile apart in different leagues will be up there with 1FC Köln and Ascot United as a real occasion to remember.

Goalless at the interval in front of a big crowd at Evans Park, both Reds through Sam Agar and the Badgers through Dan Lomas found the net after the break to send the tie towards what looked like extra time. That was until David Berks, once of Aston Villa and Stafford Rangers, sent a stunning free-kick into the net in stoppage time to put Brocton into Monday’s Third Round draw.

That goal wasn’t the full story of the final five minutes which certainly provoked many talking points and I’m sure that opinions of the Reds and Badgers on the game’s two or three key issues will be vastly different.

With the 90 minutes just about up and stoppage time looming, Stafford’s Jordan Bloor pulled back Mick Fox just outside the area. Foul ‘yes’, booking ‘yes’, straight red card ‘not sure or even no’. But there was no debate about Berks’ free-kick.

Time, of course, was running out so Town threw everything forward in search of an equaliser. Down went Sam Agar inside the area under Matt Skinner’s challenge. Clear-cut penalty in my opinion – referee said ‘no’ and sent off Craig Hulme with a second yellow card for protesting which reduced Stafford to nine men. Was he actually showed a first yellow card? More on that in a bit.

An interesting article in the programme pointed out that Stafford Town and Brocton have rarely met over the years – just seven competitive games and two friendlies. The last competitive meeting was 11 years ago in the Staffs FA Vase Final. Their current grounds are less than a mile apart as the crow flies.

Stafford (20 points from 14 games) went into the tie in 13th position in the West Midlands (Regional) League Premier Division table with an unbeaten record in cup competitions this season.

Like the Old Police Sports Ground on Tuesday, I won’t describe Evans Park again. Providing company this afternoon was the Newsletter’s Dave McLean and also at the game was Rocester Secretary Barry Smith.

Stafford Town (in familiar all red with black trim) got the game underway attacking the cricket/rugby end in the first half. A quickly-taken throw by Sam Agar set up Craig Hulme who hooked a shot over the bar.

Chances were scare during the opening 20 minutes of cagy football with neither side wanting to concede an early goal.

Brocton (also in familiar colours of green shirts, white shorts and green shorts) almost took the lead in the 28th minute. Sam Hollinsworth put Andy Bourne clear and keeper Paul Burn did well to keep out the resulting low shot with his boot.

The Badgers lost defender Sam Fleming to shoulder injury, pulled when he delivered one of his long throw-ins.

As the interval approached, Hulme ran towards goal down the left and hit a low shot which keeper Adam Whitehouse blocked at the near post at the expense of a corner.

Into the second half and nine minutes after the restart, Agar, tightly man-marked by Andy Chandler until Fleming went off, got free into the area, rounded Whitehouse and fired towards goal. Chandler got back to clear the ball off the line.

It was Agar who broke the deadlock three minutes later with his 28th goal of the season. Morgan Hurley crossed from the left for Agar to head home at close range. Town had their tails up and Hulme fired straight at Whitehouse.

At the time that Brocton made one of their substitutions in the 62nd or 69th minute, I recall noticing the referee writing something down in his book. I assumed it was this substitution but was it a first booking for Hulme? Saying that, no one I spoke to could remember a yellow card being flashed in front of anyone until the very end.

Brocton levelled things up in the 72nd minute. An initial corner from Berks was flicked on and cleared off the line by a Town defender. The resulting corner, on the left, was again delivered by Berks and this time powered into the back of the net from the head of Dan Lomas.

Hulme sent a dipping shot skimming the roof of the Brocton net and an effort by Hurley from an acute angle on the left was saved at the near post by Whitehouse – Agar headed wide from the corner.

I sensed several pairs of tiring legs and Skinner needed treatment for what looked like cramp. Neither side, though, had settled for extra time as Jack Milgate shot not too far wide of the Brocton goal and substitute Chris Beeston narrowly missed at the other end.

Personally, I think it is a shame that the final five minutes may well be remembered for a couple of crucial and debatable referering decisions I mentioned earlier.

In the 89th minute, Town left back Jordan Bloor impeded substitute Mick Fox and received a straight red card. Berks took the free-kick and thumped it low past the wall and into the bottom-left corner.

Up field went Stafford and Agar was brought down inside the area by Skinner but the referee waived away the strong penalty appeals. Hulme, supposedly already booked, was sent off with a second yellow, reducing Town to nine men.

There was time for one last Town chance. Mat Dockerty delivered a free-kick on the right to the far post where Agar headed wide.

Full-time, celebrations from the ‘Green Army’ and Brocton must wait to see who they will face in the Third Round. Full credit to Stafford Town for a gutsy performance that I think deserved a crack at extra time.

No replay but there will be ‘derby day part two’ as Brocton will host Stafford Town in the Staffs FA Vase Quarter Finals on Saturday 11th February.

1-0 Sam Agar (56)
1-1 Dan Lomas (72)
1-2 David Berks (90)

Stafford: Jordan Bloor (RC, 89), Craig Hulme (YC/RC, 90+2)

PS. This wasn't an easy blog to write, a game between two clubs less than three miles from home based at the grounds I'll probably visit the most this season.