Gulls make the Second Round- whilst Stortford come so close, but lose at the last

By Ian Townsend

Canvey Island and Bishop’s Stortford appeared in fan-free FA Cup First Round ties this afternoon, both against higher ranked sides- and both delivered magnificent performances. A round up of a pulsating afternoon of cup football.

Canvey Island kicked off against Pitching in Southern Premier Banbury United with no fear, having already defeated a Step Three side in the last round and having lost only one match all season. They showed that they were right to have no fear, as they took their chances against their higher ranked opponents, whilst their hosts did not.

Connor Hubble had the first shot in the fourth minute, a free kick which soared over the bar, as the visitors had the best of the opening exchanges. Evans Kouassi was at the centre of all of their early attacking play, the Gulls number eleven giving the United defence a difficult time- although he did blot his copybook in the eleventh minute when he collected an unnecessary booking.

A spell of Banbury pressure followed, but the first real chance came to the Gulls, Tobi Joseph fashioning himself a chance in the nineteenth minute, hammering in a shot which the home keeper, Jack Harding, had to touch over the bar. If that should have been a warning for the hosts, it was one they didn’t heed, and three minutes later Connor Hubble made them pay as the Gulls went ahead. Hubble, for whom this was the sixth goal of the campaign, turned a defender inside out before firing home.

The next chance again came to the visitors. Kouassi used his strength to hold off a defender down the left, and then managed to outmuscle two more and put in a cross which was headed over. At the other end Bobby Mason then had his first action of the afternoon- and it was important, as he charged out and saved at the feet of Ricky Johnson.

A run and shot from Kouassi ended in an easy save for Harding ten minutes before the break, the power of the shot being reduced by a deflection, but almost immediately another deflection at the other end came close to having a rather more destructive effect, the ball striking the woodwork. Giorgio Rasulo was the thwarted forward. This sparked a spell of intense and prolonged home pressure, but the home fans watching on tv would have been disappointed to watch it come to naught. The half time whistle went with Canvey still holding the advantage, and the pa announcer immediately played ‘Thorn in my Side.’ The visitors had certainly resembled one of those in the first half.

The hosts started the second period strongly, earning a corner three minutes in from which Kelvin Langmead should have done better, the defender outjumping the Gulls defence but heading over. Another corner followed soon afterwards, and that caused consternation before a foul was awarded for a challenge on Mason.

Soon afterwards the pressure was at the other end. A misplaced backpass left Jack Harding scrambling to save the ball under pressure from Harrison Chatting, but he handled it and that gave the Gulls a free kick seven yards out. The hosts put seven outfield players on the line, and one of them, Jack Self, was vital, as he deflected a goalbound shot from Hubble around the post for a corner. That was a rare chance for Canvey, who were forced to defend consistently for almost all of the next fifteen minutes- and the pressure produced the desired outcome on sixty eight minutes, when Ricky Johnson turned home a low cross to give Banbury an equaliser.

They were level for three minutes.

Kouassi earned his side a free kick thirty yards out, his hold up play ending as he was pushed over. Hubble sent it into the box, the clearance was poor, and Elliot Ronto was able to fire home and restore the lead. Kouassi then curled a shot just wide as the Gulls looked to extend their lead, then at the other end Mason had to make a full stretch save from substitute Amer Awadh.

As Banbury pressed the visitors made a change, former Maldon & Tiptree cup hero Rob Girdlestone coming on for former Heybridge Swifts cup hero Harrison Chatting, as Canvey added more steel to their defence for the remaining seven minutes.

There were less than ninety seconds on the clock when Canvey conceded a free kick on the edge of their own box. Rasolu cleared the wall, Mason dived to his right, and the keeper pushed the ball clear. Was that it? Not quite. Four minutes were added and Banbury continued to press, Tobi Joseph ploughing a lone furrow at the other end but keeping two defenders back to marshal him. Into the third minute of stoppage time Canvey committed another foul on the edge of their own box, and Rasulo once more lined it up. This time he hit the wall, and although he put the ball back into the box a foul on the keeper once more halted proceedings. Mason took his time over the free kick, and then there were thirty seconds remaining, then none! The whistle went, and the side in yellow celebrated loud and long. Canvey Island will be in the Second Round draw on Monday evening.

Bishop's Stortford went into today’s match at Brackley Town unbeaten in six league games, four cup games and one trophy match, so confidence would have been high- and wouldn’t have been dented too much when Lee Ndlovu but the hosts ahead. The Blues were two down at home to Brentwood Town in the FA trophy in midweek and came back to win, and it soon became apparent that they’d have a similar mountain to climb here, as Matt Lowe made it two on twenty one minutes. Darren Foxley headed against the bar as the Blues tried to respond, but the half ended with the gap no smaller.

Ten minutes after the restart Jack Thomas and Tom Richardson both had efforts saved, and eventually Stortford got the goal their efforts deserved, Foxley taking a one-on-one chance, but the gap was quickly two goals once more as Tre Mitford got onto the scoresheet for the hosts. Once more the Blues charged up the other end, and Richardson fired home after the home keeper spilled a free kick from Correy Davidson. The visitors had eighteen minutes to find another, and with six remaining another free kick from Davidson went narrowly wide as they continued to pile on the pressure. Was that it?

It wasn’t. With three minutes left that man Foxley was once again in the right place at the right time, and it was three-all. Into extra time we went.

Town started extra time strongly, and Ndlovu had a one-on-one chance which he couldn’t take, but the next chance came at the other end as Richardson caused havoc. There may have been a division between the two sides off the pitch but there was nothing between them on it, and we reached one hundred and five minutes with the match still level.

The second period was delayed soon after the restart by a lighting failure, but the football did eventually restart, and towards the end of the match the Blues came close, substitute Louie Johnson hitting the bar from twenty five yards- but we were off to the dreaded penalty shootout.

Sadly that’s where it went wrong for Stortford, with the hosts more clinical from the spot, sealing a three-two win with a penalty left to take. The Blues are out of the cup, but can reflect on a magnificent cup run, and get back to defending their unbeaten run in the league.

Where next?

FA Cup Preview: Maldon and Tiptree v Morecambe Can the Jammers get to the Second Round for the second year in a row? Some Shrimps stand in the way!
FA Cup Preview: Brackley Town v Bishop's Stortford Can the Blues break their First Round hoodoo for the first time since 1982?

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