West 2-1 Bury AFC
Saturday 19th September 2020, FA Vase first qualifying round
West 2 (Heathcote 34, Elliott 90+1, Sheridan sent off 60)
Bury AFC 1 (Daniels pen 90+5, Bryant sent off 52)
West secured FA Vase progression against Bury AFC as competitive action returned to Chorltonville, but that only tells a fraction of the story on one of the great days at Brookburn Road.
Some 189 days after West’s last meaningful game, this was an instant reminder of the appeal of live, competitive football. Sam Heathcote opened the scoring just after the half-hour mark before a pulsating second period that saw both sides reduced to ten men, West have a shot cleared off the line and Bury hit the woodwork before an exchange of goals in stoppage time.
Capacity restrictions meant that Brookburn Road was denied what would have been a bumper crowd in an alternate timeline, but vocal support for both sides still ensured a cup-tie atmosphere. The game itself took a while to find a rhythm, though the tone was set early on with a series of robust challenges that kept referee Kieran Chell in constant employment.
Eventually chances began to flow with the visitors having the clearest opportunities – Tony Whitehead prodded wide of Joel Torrance’s goal when well placed before Daniels saw his header cleared off the line. But West were carving out openings of their own – Liam Delaney sending a shot narrowly wide – before Heathcote, continuing to excel in a forward position, broke the deadlock. Billy Matthews’ raking ball from the right channel found the West captain, who peeled off his marker at the far post and guided his header over Ed Wilczynski in the Bury goal.
It was a lead that Chris Rowley’s side took into the break before the game exploded into life in the second period. The half was only seven minutes old when the first flashpoint occurred, with Bury striker Mitch Bryant seeing red for his part in a brawl following a Josh Tinker challenge. The excellent Matthews shot wide as West looked to press home their numerical advantage, but it was an advantage that would only last eight minutes – Harry Sheridan followed Bryant into the dressing rooms as another fracas broke out next to the visitors’ dugout.
With both sides now down to ten, the extra space contributed to an open final half-hour with both sides pushing for the next goal. Tinker had a shot cleared off the line following excellent work from Dontai Gabidon, before Heathcote was unable to force the ball over the line during a scramble in the box. At the other end, the visitors had a header bounce down and then rebound off the crossbar, then Torrance excelled in diving low to his right to tip a drive past the post.
The visitors dominated possession in the closing stages but in truth the West defence, marshalled by Tom Clarke and Marcus Dibble, was looking increasingly comfortable. And when Wilczynski joined the attack for a Bury corner in stoppage time, West took the opportunity to score a decisive second as substitute Ben Elliott took centre stage. As the ball broke clear, Elliott took the ball into the Bury half and despite the Brookburn Road crowd baying for a long-range shot, showed remarkable composure to take two defenders out of the game before rolling the ball into the net from 30 yards.
West were denied what would have been a merited clean sheet when Daniels won and converted a penalty with the final action of the game but it was somewhat fitting that Elliott’s goal, one that will be spoken of in M21 for years to come, proved decisive on a memorable afternoon.
Chris Rowley’s side will now welcome NWCFL Premier Division side Charnock Richard in the second qualifying round, after the Greens saw off Barton Town in West Lancashire.
West: Torrance, Sheridan, Hancock, Delaney, Dibble, Clarke, Matthews, Tinker, Heathcote, Davis, Gabidon. Subs: McLellan, Westall, Elliott, Swift, Dale.