by Robert Lee · 25/08/2019
Saturday 24th August 2019, FA Cup preliminary round
Stalybridge Celtic 0
West will bring Stalybridge Celtic back to Brookburn Road for a replay after an exceptional display to claim a draw on Tameside.
Three divisions and 58 league places separated the sides at the start of play, but West bridged the gulf with a performance of immense discipline, organisation and no little quality.
Brad Cooke will consider it a job half-done but this was a momentous day for West, and the supporters that provided a unceasing soundtrack at Bower Fold can now look forward to what promises to be a special night in M21 on 3rd September.
Ash Woods dropped out of the side through injury, but Cooke was able to recall James Cottee who returned to the side after missing the last four matches. Matthew Cook also stepped back into the right-back position, and it was Cook who saw more of the ball in the first half as West absorbed Stalybridge pressure.
Craig Hobson brought Andrew Jones into casual employment on a couple of occasions and Ross Dent and Nathan Valentine both went close, but in truth the assistant referee monitoring the West half was the busiest individual in the opening 45 minutes.
Kris Holt and Matty Boland both had quarter-chances at the other end but this was far from the most enthralling opening halves the FA Cup will see this season – from a West perspective this was entirely satisfactory as they reached base camp of the interval on level terms.
West visibly grew in confidence in the second half, even after the enforced withdrawal of captain Holt, who was forced off with injury and replaced by Lee Grimshaw. The likes of Boland and Dylan Moloney found more space and enjoyed more time in the Celtic half, though clear chances were still hard to come by despite Cottee’s tireless efforts. The West number 9 saw his deflected shot spiral into the arms of Celtic keeper Alex Fojticek, before forcing a corner that was headed away from Matt Eckersley.
A sense of jeopardy materialised as the game entered its closing period – West were playing their best football of the match, but a Stalybridge goal at this late stage would be fatal. It wasn’t until the 88th minute that the hosts were able to breach West’s obstinate back four and force Jones into meaningful action, but the West keeper excelled himself to tip Neil Kengni’s low effort round the post.
That save was enough to ensure West’s first goalless draw since another FA Cup stalemate, against AFC Liverpool, in August 2016. On that occasion West progressed after a replay, and West supporters struck down with cup fever can now dream of a similar outcome this year and a first-ever appearance in the first qualifying round.
West: A. Jones, Cook, B. Woods, Tinker, Forbes, Eckersley, Moloney (Cooper 90), C. Jones (Gavin 60), Cottee, Holt (Grimshaw 56), Boland. Not used: Horner, Dale, Middleton, McLaughlin.
West media man of the match: Ben Woods.
Listen to our post-match reaction podcast below: