FA Trophy: Stourbridge 3-2 AFC Telford United - Report

An FA Trophy exit at the hands of local rivals from Step 3 wouldn’t have been on Paul Carden’s Christmas list; however, a collapse as dramatic and dismal as anything the England cricket team have produced in recent days saw them caught out by Reece Styche’s late winner. It also left manager Paul Carden stumped at how his team hadn’t seen the game through, having led as the game entered the 88th minute.

Kai Williams being tackled (pic Kieren Griffin)
Kai Williams being tackled (pic Kieren Griffin)

The Bucks led twice in this third-round tie, but on each occasion were pegged back by goals from Montel Gibson, understood to have been on the Bucks radar earlier this season. His goal propelled Halesowen Town to the FA Trophy semi-finals two seasons ago, earning him a move into the professional ranks with Grimsby Town. Unable to command a regular starting berth, Gibson joined the Glassboys on loan in the summer, returning to his native Black Country, and in this game, he showed the Bucks what they may have missed out on.

Gibson is an instinctive finisher, and in the position the Bucks find themselves, a natural goal-scorer to complement Jason Oswell would help hugely. However, even if the Bucks were finding the net more, they simply have to stop conceding goals, Carden admitting that his team “need to keep the back door shut”.

A sub-plot to the Bucks’ defeat was the absence of attacking midfielder Elliott Durrell. Carden has been assessing the Bucks’ resources since his arrival; it would be seasonal, albeit simplistic, to suggest that he’s made a list of who’s naughty and nice, but Durrell appears to have crossed a line with Carden, who omitted him from the squad and said after the game that Durrell’s time at the club was as good as over.

With all of those factors, the best place to start with the events of the ninety minutes is the beginning. Carden made five changes to the Bucks starting eleven that stuttered and stumbled before finally coming to life last weekend against Kettering Town. Durrell’s omission aside, the biggest news was the return of Brendon Daniels; the left-sided player has suffered numerous injury setbacks, last starting a game one year and one week ago, when he limped out of action at Kettering Town with a hamstring injury.

AFC Telford United players celebrating Theo Streetes (pic Kieren Griffin)

The Glassboys included three former Bucks in captain Lee Vaughan, Ben O’Hanlon and James McQuilkin, with two more on the substitutes bench. With the teams only 25 miles or so apart and each similarly under new management, both sets of players had no reason not to be motivated for this tie.

Neither side found it easy to play much football in the opening stages, indeed the same could be said for the opening 45 minutes. The pitch at Amblecote was heavy, with a huge pile of sand deposited near one corner flag, in readiness should the surface have to deal with more rainfall. As a minimum the Bucks were going to have to be ready to compete physically, and they did so; play was scrappy, and the first clear shot on target didn’t arrive until the 17th minute, when the hosts’ Jak Hickman saw Ted Cann equal to his low, skidding effort.

The recalled Cameron Antwi replied with an effort that was blocked by a Glassboys defender. The Bucks’ Kai Williams went close, his pace taking him wide as goalkeeper Charlie Price came off his line; however, Williams’ finish lacked aplomb, and he put his effort wide of Price, and the far post.

Gibson took aim but fired the ball over the crossbar from 20 yards, and Daniels also cleared the crossbar from slightly closer to goal, swivelling to strike a rising effort over Price and the goal from 15 yards out.

Defender Theo Streete bore the brunt of a heavy challenge a few minutes later; the repairs to Streete from physio Adam Paget saw him reinstated, and the battle for physical supremacy resumed. Vaughan gave former teammate Daniels a reminder of his committed style, snapping into a challenge and then giving Daniels a playful rub on the back of his head as they got to their feet. Daniels initially reacted fractiously, but then laughed off the incident with his ex-colleague.

The floodlights remained resolutely off at this stage, although a Stourbridge official later hinted at an electrical fault that may have been responsible. Brad Bood shot through the gloom cleared Price’s crossbar, but then the Bucks almost saw daylight; Jason Oswell’s run onto a ball over the defence took him clear, albeit wide of goal, and his connection as Price raced from his line was hurried, beating Price but going the wrong side of his near post.

The lights came on in time to illuminate another off-target effort from Gibson, but in the 40th minute the Bucks took the lead; a free-kick awarded for a foul on Daniels earned a corner on the left, and when Daniels’ delivery cleared two defenders it was Streete, plunging in at the far post, who headed the Bucks in front from close range.

Stourbridge FC player trying to block Arlen Birch cross (pic Kieren Griffin)

The Bucks saw out the remainder of the half, and all appeared to be going well, substance winning over style. In the early stages of the second half, Zak Lilly steered a header wide from a free-kick, but the Glassboys were about to apply some polish. A ball played into the Bucks 18-yard box from the right had their defence caught adrift, and Gibson needed little invitation, firing a rising shot over and almost through Cann to level the tie.

The goal gave the Southern Premier League Central side a boost, and their passes started to find their targets with more precision and regularity. The Bucks steadied themselves and made a change; Jed Abbey, who had been restored to the side, had not made the impact he might have hoped, and he was replaced by the more attacking Dom McHale.

The positive approach paid off in the 66th minute, when Daniels capped his return with the goal that restored the lead. Given space on the edge of the penalty area, Daniels made no mistake with a precision shot that beat Price and nestled in the far corner.

Game over? It should have been, and indeed as the minutes ticked down it didn’t appear that the Bucks were in too much trouble. The Glassboys looked to be more direct, and although the threat of Gibson remained, Carden’s team were handling it well enough. A lengthy stoppage as keeper Cann received treatment helped stall any Stourbridge momentum, and although ten minutes or so remained, the Bucks looked reasonably assured. However, an inspired substitution, combined with the kind of anxiety-stricken play that is often exhibited by struggling teams, was to be their undoing.

In the 88th minute, lively left-sided player Ethan Moran, fresh into the game, chased a ball played into space behind right-back Birch; Streete was pulled wide to the threat, but was beaten by Moran, who raced into the space left by Streete. As the Bucks panicked and responded to the danger, Moran picked out Gibson, and his low finish from 12 yards beneath Cann’s dive sparked delirium for the hosts, and dread for the visitors.

AFCTelford players celebrating Brendon Daniels goal (pic Kieren Griffin)

A penalty shoot-out loomed, but the Bucks would have taken that over what followed. The Bucks looked to try and snatch back the lead, and earned an attacking free-kick on the left when Williams was fouled. The delivery of the kick was straight into Price’s arms; the huge keeper ran a few yards forward with the ball and quickly bowled it out to spring a counter-attack. The Bucks back-pedalled, the hosts charged forward, and when a shot struck a Bucks defender it rebounded into the path of Stourbridge no.9 Reece Styche. The Gibraltar international had barely had an effort on goal all afternoon, spending most of it protesting to the officials for free-kicks, but he was never going to spurn such an opportunity, and he didn’t; Styche prodded the ball past Cann, and the goal, two minutes into added time, saw the Glassboys bench empty as their entire staff ran onto the field to join the celebrations.

After such a blow the Bucks were unlikely to recover, and although a late heave-ho into the box almost snuck into the far corner, the moment passed. The Bucks were shattered, and the Glassboys had claimed a memorable victory, one that had barely seemed conceivable even fifteen minutes earlier.

Carden and his side now face a huge test of their resilience and character in what already appears to be a real ‘six-pointer’ against Guiseley on Tuesday evening.

Referee: Ben Wyatt.

Assistants: Jonathan Wyatt, Sam Wesson.

Attendance: 795.

Teams

Telford (4-4-2): Cann; Birch, Bood, Lilly, Streete, Walker (c), Abbey (McHale 60), Antwi, Daniels (Bennett 71), Oswell, Williams.

Subs not used: White, Shotton.

Scorers: Streete (41), Daniels (66).

Cautioned: Birch.

Stourbridge: Price, Vaughan (c), O’Hanlon, Hull, Willock, King, Gibson, McQuilkin, Styche, Hickman (Knights 71), Brown (Moran 77).

Subs not used: Wilson, Solly, Burton, Smith, Gyasi.

Scorer: Gibson (53, 88), Styche (90+2).

Cautioned: King.

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