Thursday, 26 May 2016

Hereford 1 v 4 Morpeth Town

Sunday 22nd May 2016
FA Vase Final
Wembley Stadium, London
Admission: £25.00 (Combined ticket with FA Trophy Final)
Programme: £5.00
Attendance: 46,781 (total combined with FA Trophy Final)
Match Rating: 4

Today I decided to support the so-called Non-League Finals Day when, for the first time, the FA Vase and FA Trophy finals would be played on the same day, and spectators could watch both games for the one ticket price. It would be interesting to see how the experiment worked, as particularly with the FA Vase final, attendances previously barely reached 10,000, and so there was growing appetite to take the final away from Wembley, which would be a shame indeed, given the massive incentive for clubs at steps 5 and 6 to have a big day out at the home of English football.

The programme today was not the usual glossy publication produced for big days at Wembley, instead seeming to be of the recycled variety. It consisted of 78 pages in total, with exactly half devoted to each final, and it contained plenty of interesting reading material, interviews, club presentations, penpics and the roads to Wembley.

Although teams from the Northern League have dominated FA Vase finals over recent years, providing the winners on six of the last seven seasons, their representative today, Morpeth Town, were the underdogs today. Hereford have had a dream reincarnation in their debut season, after former League club Hereford United were wound up last season. They won the Midland Premier League at a canter, racking up 108 points and 138 goals from their 42 League games, losing only four in the process, and now look forward to Southern League Football next season. They overcame eight clubs to reach today’s game, most recently a battle of the large phoenix clubs, against Salisbury, narrowly winning both legs to progress 3-2 on aggregate. Incredibly, almost 20,000 tickets were sold to Hereford supporters, compared to just 4,000 in the Morpeth section, understandably considering the very long distance and lunch time kick off. Morpeth Town finished in fourth place in the Northern League, and defeated holders North Shields 2-0 on their way through nine ties to reach today’s final.

On a bright and fairly warm afternoon, with this match kicking off at 12.15, the game had an electric start, with Hereford opening the scoring with barely over a minute on the clock. Rob Purdie, who made over a century of Football League appearances for Hereford United, ran towards the edge of the area before firing a low shot past the keeper’s dive and just inside the post. It looked more and more like it would be a long afternoon for Morpeth as Hereford dominated, Sirdic Grant saw a shot from the edge of the area hit the bar, and a minute later, the ball was laid on a plate for Pablo Heysham to tuck the ball home from six yards, but he lost his footing and the chance went begging. Morpeth were edging back into the game though, and scored an equaliser on 32 minutes. The keeper failed to get his hands on the ball as it was whipped in following a corner, and the ball cannoned off the chest of 45 year old Chris Swailes, and the ball found its way into the net. Five minutes later and it was Morpeth’s turn to miss a sitter, this time Michael Chilton mishitting hit shot from a few yards out, but the scoreline remained level at the break.

Just as the first half had, the second half also got off to an explosive start, but this time it was Morpeth who took the lead. Some patient passing in and around the box ended with Luke Carr guiding the ball delicately low beyond the keeper’s reach and into the net. Hereford looked less threatening than they had before the break, and Morpeth scored their third on 59 minutes. The ball was threaded through the defence and Sean Taylor cooly tucked the ball inside the near post. Although one thought Hereford would have the quality to mean this game was far from over even being two goals behind, they rarely threatened to replicate their good attacking play of the first half as Morpeth kept on forcing the pace rather than sitting back on their lead. Hereford did have a shot cleared off the line on 90 minutes, but midway through the four minutes added on time, Morpeth scored their fourth. A slide rule pass through the defence enabled Shaun Bell to run onto the ball and fire home with the aid of a deflection off a defender’s legs.

So yet again a Northern League team lifted the FA Vase, and in the end they deserved their win with a solid, bold and attack minded performance, and showed great team spirit to react so positively to going behind so early on against a team who were massive favourites to win today. For Hereford it was a case of what might have been, had they converted their superior first half play into more goals

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