As an avowed fan of cup football there was really only one place for me to be on Friday night and that was at Sholing FC’s Universal Stadium as they entertained Wessex League rivals Alresford Town in the FA Cup’s extra preliminary round.
As it turns out I wasn’t alone and quite a good crowd turned out for the Friday evening fixture between two of the Wessex Leagues strongest sides. I estimated it to be at least 300 strong. Of interest to cup aficionados is that among that number was Paul Doswell, manager of last seasons giant-killing sensations Sutton United, there to watch his nephew Sam playing for Alresford.
Sholing themselves are no strangers to cup success having won both the Southampton Senior Cup and the Wessex League Cup last season and in the not too distant past claiming the FA Vase at Wembley. Undoubtedly they would like to add a blistering FA Cup run to their list of achievements, not least because as Sholing manager Dave Diaper points out in his programme notes the cup “helps provide a lifeline for grassroots football with the prize money at stake invaluable to clubs at our level of the pyramid”
Sholing rarely disappoint when it comes to delivering a meaty, competitive game and this is just what was served up on the night. They had an early chance to take the lead from the spot, the referee awarding a penalty after a Sholing player, through on goal, was brought down in a slide tackle. Dan Mason however, saw his spot kick saved by Daniel Kempson in the Alresford goal, who smothered the resultant loose ball to kill off any chance of Sholing scoring on the rebound. The view from the crowd – and the Alresford bench – was that the referee had made the wrong call as the player had clearly got the ball so in its way justice appeared to have been done.
Another point of controversy erupted after a foul on the Alresford number 10 Aaron Blaxall by Byron Mason resulted in an injury which forced the Alresford players substitution. Blaxall in fact the second Alresford player to have to leave the game through injury and the manager was clearly unhappy with Mason’s challenge, protesting for some time and earning himself a talking-to from the ref.
He did though have reason to be happier not long after as he watched his side break the deadlock when a neat succession of one touch passes was topped off with a fine finish by Steve Hall who fired in a low shot into the corner beyond the dive of Ryan Gosney.
The lead was then extended early in the second half as Alresford number 9 Tom Sands beat Gosney at his near post. Gosney who was rooted to the spot had seemingly being caught off guard and demonstrated his frustration by booting the ball in the back of the net as the Alresford players celebrated.
Tempers then flared when Sholing’s Alex Sawyer made the sort of tackle which can be heard on the far side of the ground. This resulted in a melee as the incensed Alresford players reacted to the challenge. Sawyer was sent off whilst Alresford’s Lukas McCartney received his marching orders presumably for his role in the follow-up. Most unfortunate though was the player on the receiving end of the foul who was stretchered off and required an ambulance to be called to the ground.
Alresford needed to contain the Sholing attack. This was no mean feat as in Dan Mason and Lee Wort Sholing possess two of the best forwards in the league who only need a glimmer of a chance to score whilst right back T.J Cuthbertson was also proving effective in pushing forward. If Sholing had managed to claw a goal back then it would have been hard to rule them out of getting at least a draw from the game, if not a win. In this respect the fine save Alresford ‘keeper Kempson made to keep out a well hit Wort strike may well have been one of the crucial moments in the game.
At no point did Alresford look comfortable and they did eventually succumb to Sholing’s pressure. Giving away a free kick in a dangerous position on the edge of the box Alresford failed to deal with the incoming ball and Dan Mason got one back for Sholing to set up a tense few minutes. It was though to prove to be too little and too late as despite one hairy moment when a cross flashed past the Alresford goal the visitors managed to hang on for victory and with it progression to the next round of the cup.