MATCH REPORT | West 2-3 Stalybridge Celtic

Tuesday 3rd September 2019, FA Cup preliminary round replay

West 2 (Boland 10, Grimshaw 43, Eckersley sent off 89)
Stalybridge Celtic 3 (Hobson 19, 26, 57)
Att: 553

West bowed out of the FA Cup as Stalybridge Celtic edged a classic replay under the Brookburn Road lights.

This dramatic, rain-swept clash could not have been further removed from the sweltering stalement on Tameside ten days previous, with Matty Boland threatening what would have been a huge upset inside ten minutes. But Stalybridge’s powerful forward Craig Hobson grabbed a quickfire double as the visitors asserted their authority, and though Lee Grimshaw levelled just before the break, Hobson completed his treble in the second half to ensure it is the Celts who will host Marine in the first qualifying round.

Though the first game at Bower Fold will go down in West folklore for many reasons, it was an unedifying spectacle for the neutral as the visitors failed to have a single shot on target. But with West backed by a huge midweek crowd in M21, this replay was a different animal and Boland provided the tie’s first goal in the opening stages. West had started quickly and when Grimshaw’s cross found its way to the far post, Boland was on hand to place his shot beyond Celtic keeper Alex Fojitek and send Brookburn Road into delirium.

It was easy to forget that three divisions separated the sides, but Stalybridge provided a ruthless reminder of this gulf as they hit back with interest. Left winger Neil Kengi was proving a menace and after he had forced a corner off Matt Cook, the towering Hobson used his height to full effect as he converted the set-piece scraps.

Kengi then flashed an effort across Andrew Jones but it wasn’t long before the visitors took the lead – a long ball split the West defence and Hobson, who had been sent off in Stalybridge’s draw at Buxton at the weekend, took out his frustrations with a powerful shot past Jones.

The visitors were threatening to run away with the tie and things got worse for West when Jamie Forbes, who had been injured against Barnton, was again forced off and was replaced by Chris Middleton. But the home side refused to be swept away and got their reward two minutes before the break – this time, Boland turned provider as Grimshaw got across his marker to head a cross low past Fojitek.

The next goal of the tie was likely to be pivotal and it arrived, just before the hour mark, in contentious circumstances. Hobson prodded a cross past Jones, but the visitors’ celebrations were cut short by the assistant referee’s flag – only to restart when the referee ruled that a West defender had made a decisive touch.

Again Stalybridge looked to put the result beyond doubt – Hobson almost snaffling a fourth when his header rattled the crossbar – but again West refused to go quietly and the result remained in the balance until the very last second. Matt Eckersley’s late dismissal, for denying a clear goalscoring opportunity, looked to have finally drawn a line under proceedings. But West rallied for a final push and substitute Callum Jones saw his fierce drive agonisingly tipped over by Fojitek in the final minute of stoppage time.

A first defeat of the season meant that the preliminary round curse continues – this was the fifth time in seven seasons that West had fallen at this hurdle – but the ovation afforded to the team as they left the field told its own story of a monumental effort over 180 minutes.

West: A. Jones, Cook, Cooper, Tinker (C. Jones 59), Forbes (Middleton 34), Eckersley, Grimshaw, Gavin, Cottee, Moloney (B. Woods 82), Boland. Not used: Horner, McLaughlin, Steer, Holt.

West media man of the match: Lee Grimshaw.