Wealdstone 2-3 Rotherham United
2 - 3
Wealdstone’s FA Cup adventure may have finally come to an end on remembrance Sunday, but this pulsating tie, played out in the best traditions of the most famous cup competition in the world, will live in the memories of players and fans alike for a long time to come and was reminiscent of the thrilling 3-4 Aldershot Cup defeat of 1975.
This was a classic David v Goliath affair and although Stones young players made key errors that ultimately cost them a replay or even a win, they pushed high flying League Two professionals Rotherham to breaking point in a magnificent second half display. Substitute Danny Spendlove changed the game after half time and provided the skill and impetus for Ryan Ashe to score a brace of superb goals captured by the many cameras present at a packed and excited Vale.
Stones Manager Gordon Bartlett started with Chris Ellerbeck up front partnering Charlie Mpi and Skipper James Gray, recently spared suspension for two more weeks, played alongside Alan Massey in the heart of the defence to combat a big and powerful looking Millers outfit.
The home side were pumped up and took the game to Rotherham from the first whistle and the Millers knew that they were going to be in for a hard battle for midfield supremacy. Kieron Forbes signalled his and his side’s intent with a heavy early challenge that sensibly when uncarded by Referee Andy Penn.
After a hesitant start under pressure, Ronnie Moore’s side gradually began to make progress down the slope and won a couple of corners and free kicks in the danger areas although Alan Massey and James Gray coped well with the aerial threat with Lee Chappell and Marvin McCoy breaking down the flanks. The Millers Adam Le Fondre was becoming a handful and held possession well when found by his midfield.
Mark E’Beyer scuffed his shot when well placed as Stones hit back and then a highly controversial decision by Referee Penn let Rotherham off the hook after 22 minutes. Charlie Mpi, whose electric pace was a thorn in the side of the away side until his replacement in the second half, raced into the box, turned and appeared to be clumsily tripped but as the crowd bayed for a penalty, the officials waved play on to general disbelief.
Le Fondre’s shot was saved by Keeper Sean Thomas as Massey slipped on the greasy surface and Stones breathed a sigh of relief. The Miller’s fifth corner of the half was dealt with comfortably enough as Stones reached the half hour mark on level terms and were good value for it.
But as so often happens in tight FA Cup encounters a moment of indecision and cruel luck dealt Stones a hammer blow – just as they appeared to be gaining real momentum and possession. Sean Thomas who had been his usual assured self took too long to kick clear on his line and this allowed Le Fondre a half second to close him down. Thomas managed to strike the ball but it hit the former Rochdale man’s backside and it rebounded hard into the net and past a distraught Thomas; suddenly Stones were a goal down and in the most unlikely of circumstances.
Stones needed to settle again as half time rapidly approached. Remarkably Stones survived another huge scare as Thomas was adjudged to have collected a back pass in the area but the Millers failed to net from 8 yards out with Stones pushed back to the goal line.
Stones were then rocked to the core when tall midfielder Kevin Ellison seized luckily on a Gray clearance 20 yards out and unleashed a great strike that gave Thomas absolutely no chance one minute before half time and suddenly they faced the proverbial mountain to climb.
If Rotherham thought that the tie was as good as over, Wealdstone clearly had other ideas and the battling spirit within Gordon Bartlett’s side soon started to shine through as they now kicked now down the hill. Forbes went on a great mazy run but his strike was charged down and then Andy Warrington had to push away from a tricky corner kick. Forbes again made for goal but slipped at the point of getting his shot away but Stones were now rolling.
Danny Spendlove came on for Chris Ellerbeck with 25 minutes left and the whole impetus of the game changed immediately as he broke forward with close skill and speed.
On 62 minutes Ryan Ashe got on the end of his pass and hit a great volley past Warrington and suddenly it was game on. Stones self belief came flooding back as Stones turned up the wick and United dropped back under considerable pressure.
Then a glorious chance to equalise was just struck past the upright by Mark E’Beyer following a great move from a rampant Spendlove.
Millers made a rare foray up the park and when James Gray clattered a forward from behind they were presented with a free kick in a decent position. Sickeningly for brave Stones the away side when further head and completely against the run of play as substitute Drew Broughton flicked a good header past Thomas for 3-1.
But Wealdstone soon picked themselves up and again homed in on the Rotherham goal. Charlie Mpi who had worked his socks off as ever was replaced by Ross Lafayette as Stones found space down the flanks.
Ryan Ashe scored a magnificent second goal to huge acclaim from the home crowd as Stones sensed they still had time for an equaliser. Rotherham was reduced to time wasting tactics as their defence creaked and rocked under sustained and urgent attacks.
Ross Lafayette created one final chance for Wealdstone and it was a good one but the forward’s strike was blocked by Warrington and another strike hit a post and went out for one of several frantic late corner kicks.
Stones ran out of time and were out of the Cup but the smiles on an exhilarated crowd bore witness to a great game of football and Gordon Bartlett and his young charges can be proud of a memorable all round team performance exemplifying great their
spirit against a very good side.
Wealdstone: Thomas, McCoy, Chappell, Gray, Massey, Ashe, Forbes, O’Leary, Mpi, Ellerbeck, E’Beyer. Subs used: Spendlove, Lafayette. N/u: Fitzgerald, During. Osborne, Beagle (GK).
MoM: Marvin McCoy