Rocester 2 Long Eaton United 1

Saturday 8th December 2012
Rocester 2 Long Eaton United 1
FA Carlsberg Vase Third Round
At: Hillsfield
Kick-off: 3-00 pm
Admission: £5; Programme: £1 (28 pages)
Weather: sunny, dry
Attendance: 147
Duration: first-half: 48:19; second-half: 49:00

The Romans continued their march towards Wembley with a hard-fought 2-1 victory over Long Eaton United and now eagerly await Monday’s Fourth Round draw. Before the biggest crowd of the season for a competitive game at Hillsfield, they took the lead though Mensah Kinch just after the half-hour mark but Matt Savage equalised for the Blues in stoppage time. Savage then found the net again (wrong one this time) in the 64th minute and his own goal proved to be Rocester’s winner.

The phrase ‘the biggest game since…’ is often over-used and today it really did apply to Rocester’s biggest game in the FA Vase since the 1986/87 season. Back then, the Romans won six ties in progressing to the last 16 of the competition 25 years ago before bowing out against Garforth Town at Eastwood Hanley’s ground. That was their first season in the competition and since then successive Rocester teams haven’t able been able to emulate Alan Beaman’s side with just the odd highlight along the way.

This season’s Vase run began with a 2-1 win at Sporting Khalsa, with has been followed by victories over Castle Vale JKS (4-0 at Hillsfield), Bewdley Town (also 4-0 at Hillsfield) and Shepshed Dynamo (3-1 away). With potential Third Round opponents being holders Dunston UTS, Vase specialists Whitley Bay and AFC Rushden & Diamonds, Rocester were given a home tie against either Southam United or Long Eaton United. This much-postponed tie was finally settled as recently as Tuesday with Long Eaton winning 1-0 at Coventry Sphinx’s ground.

Visits by me to Hillsfield have been more frequent this season and, as usual, Secretary Barry Smith kindly provided me with a teamsheet and one was also pinned up next to the tea bar hatch. Today’s visit was my 15th to the ground which moves into joint-seventh position on the list of my most-visited alongside Altrincham’s Moss Lane and Sheffield Wednesday’s Hillsborough.

1. Stafford Rangers (Marston Road) 604+
2. Sheffield United (Bramall Lane) 24
3. Stafford Town (Evans Park) 22
4= Aldershot (Recreation Ground) 17
4= Hednesford Town (Cross Keys old ground) 17
4= Port Vale (Vale Park) 17
7= Altrincham (Moss Lane) 15
7= Rocester (Hillsfield) 15
7= Sheffield Wednesday (Hillsborough) 15
10= Bath City (Twerton Park) 14
10= Hednesford Town (Keys Park new ground) 14
10= Wembley Stadium (old twin towers) 14

One day I’ll explain why the Blades, Shots and Owls feature in this ‘top 12’.

While there was a difference in league games played and points gained, the points-per-game-average (1.5 v 1.7) showed a similarity in league fortunes this season between Rocester (13th in the Midland Alliance with 21 points from 14 games) and Long Eaton (10th in the Northern Counties East league Premier Division with 34 points from 20 games).

As Rocester’s last two games were abandoned and a trip to Coventry Sphinx postponed, they were without Darren Bullock and Jack Langston who both had not been able to complete their suspensions in time to feature this afternoon. Craig Holland was at the game today as he begins his recovery from a broken leg while leading scorer Edwin Akenkorah was only fit enough for a place amongst the substitutes.

Rocester (in amber and black) got the game underway attacking the mill end in the first half and had the ball in the back of the net after just 58 seconds. Mensah Kinch flicked the ball into the path of Ryan Grocott who fired home, only to be flagged offside.

Chris Sterling sent a decent chance wide of the target from Ryan Pirrie’s pass before Long Eaton gave the Romans a couple of warning shots. On the quarter hour, Danny Gordon broke down the left into area but Richard Froggatt got down to save the resulting shot. Matt Savage was also given the space to get forward with the ball and he fired wide past the diving Froggatt.

The Romans, however, took the lead in the 33rd minute with a big slice of good fortune. From a move down the left, Sterling on the left side of the area shot towards got and the ball cannoned off Kinch and flew into the left side of the net. This was the first goal that Long Eaton had conceded in this year’s Vase.

Froggatt did well to keep out a low shot from Gordon but Long Eaton equalised in first-half stoppage time. Carl Allen headed a deep left-wing cross from Kial Thurman out for a corner which was delivered into the area by Gordon. The ball was partially cleared to Michael Armstrong who crossed it back into the area for Savage to head home.

Rocester threatened early in the second half and Grocott sent a 25-yarder over the bar.

Just after the hour mark, Kinch on the left hit an angled shot towards the near post where Long Eaton goalkeeper Scott Miles saved at the expense of a corner. Grocott delivered it to the near post where Savage, under pressure from Darren Alexander, could only deflect the ball into his own net.

Sat in the stand during the second half, I couldn’t help being impressed by the encouragement given by three supporters near me: “C’mon Rocester, you can do it, get another goal”. Like them I wanted a third goal to settle the nerves.

That third goal almost came in the 80th minute. Grocott found Nick Ward who drove against the bar from 30 yards out. The ball flew into the area and dropped agonisingly out for a goal kick.

Needing just one goal to send the tie into extra time, Long Eaton forced Rocester to defend during the closing stages. Danny Chambers sent a free header wide of the near post from Gordon’s corner and, as the visitors threw men forward, Jacob Webster hooked a shot over the bar.

Long Eaton had one last opportunity in stoppage time but Froggatt leapt to hold a long throw propelled into a packed area. And that was it.

The win pocketed the Romans £1500 in prize money and they can look forward to exemption to the Second Round of next year’s competition (if it follows the same pattern as this season).

Rocester (amber and black stripes / black / black): 1. Richard Froggatt, 2. Ryan Pirrie, 3. Carl Allen, 4. Joe Rogers, 5. Wayne Johnson (capt), 6. Chris Sterling, 7. Nick Ward, 8. Dean Bromley, 9. Mensah Kinch, 10. Adam Swain, 11. Ryan Grocott. Subs: 12. Darren Alexander (for Bromley, 59), 14. Dan McLeod (for Grocott, 90+3), 15. Robert Perks (not used), 16. Darren Leonard (not used), 17. Edwin Ahenkorah (for Kinch, 74).

Long Eaton United (red/red/red): 1. Scott Miles, 2. Mark Littlewood, 3. Adam Holmes, 4. Michael Armstrong (capt), 5. Kial Thurman, 6. Jacob Webster, 7. Shay Wiggins, 8. Darryl Hawkins, 9. Matt Savage, 10. Kelvin Mushambi, 11. Danny Gordon. Subs: 12. Danny Chambers (for Hawkins, 72), 14. Zak Hilton (for Wiggins, 78), 15. Cameron Martin (for Mushambi, 82).

Referee: J. Hull (Bramhall).
Assistants: D. Deakin (Bramhall) and W. Smith (Stockport).

1-0 Mensah Kinch (33)
1-1 Matt Savage (45+2)
2-1 Matt Savage (64 og)

Rocester: Nick Ward (YC, 61)
Long Eaton: Michael Armstrong (YC, 66), Mark Littlewood (YC, 78), Jacob Webster (YC, 90+2)