MATCH REPORT: Wisbech Town need extra-time to progress in FA Vase after dour encounter
FA Vase First Round: Wisbech Town 3 Walsham-le-Willows 0 (AET)
WISBECH Town booked their place in the FA Vase Second Round but needed extra-time to beat Walsham-le-Willows in a dour encounter today.
Steve Appleby’s Fenmen eventually got the victory their below-par performance deserved in a game that only came to life after a hopeless 90 minutes.
Callum Reed’s half-volley from the edge of the area put Wisbech in front in the 103rd minute before goals from Ollie Gale and Jon Fairweather in the second half of extra time secured the win.
It was the visitors who started - what was to become a tedious afternoon - the better with giant centre-back Ben Soanes heading just over in the fifth minute.
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But both sides quickly struggled to get control of proceedings with passes going astray to the groans of the few hundred fans who braved the cold weather.
Wisbech lacked tempo and ideas to their play for much of the afternoon but gradually improved as the first half went on.
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Lewis Thompson went close in the 15th minute after skipping by two players before fizzing his left-footed effort wide.
Seven minutes later, Nick Davey headed wide from a corner, as the game continued to be short in quality and genuine goalscoring opportunities.
Striker Chris Bacon was perhaps the only ray of light for quality-starved fans once again lighting up the Elgood’s Fenland Stadium with classy touches and intelligent link-up play.
And it was no surprise that as his influence grew, so did Wisbech’s somewhat limp-wristed stranglehold of the game.
His sublime backheel and one-two with right-back Fairweather, just past the half hour mark, ended with the defender joining in the move again at the edge of the box.
Even though Fairweather fired over it gave some slight hope that Wisbech might be clicking into gear.
But the lacklustre Fenmen barely spluttered out of first with Bacon having an effort saved by the legs of Walsham ‘keeper Duncan McAnally proving to be the home side’s best chance of the half.
The powerful frontman went close twice again - sandwiched between another sublime piece of skill where he turned on a six-pence on the edge of the box - but neither side could go into the interval feeling they’d really done enough to be ahead.
The expected improvement in the second-half never came - from both sides - as Walsham seemed intent on sticking players behind the ball while Wisbech struggled for creative inspiration.
At least the Fenmen’s defence looked rock-solid with the fantastic Neal Spafford and determined Stacy Cartwright winning every tackle and header in sight.
A double substitution from Appleby failed to reinvigorate his troops as a wave of doom and gloom began to circle the Elgood’s Fenland Stadium.
Wisbech had been the better side...but only just.
Striker Liam Nimmo toiled after coming off the bench, Thompson kept surging forward but Wisbech simply didn’t look like scoring.
And just as it seemed the game was heading to extra-time, substitute Ollie Gale ensured Wisbech remained in the tie with a brave last-ditch challenge following a scramble from a corner.
In the dying embers of the half Bacon and the visitors’ Matt Morton were booked for an off-the-ball scuffle. Unfortunately it was the only highlight of a dreadful 45 minutes.
And so extra-time began, with most fans wishing it hadn’t. But suddenly, and thankfully, the game sparked into life, albeit 90 minutes too late.
Walsham, who had showed minimal attacking intent all afternoon, spurned two glorious opportunities with striker Ollie Hughes and midfielder Charlie Robinson missing the game’s two best chances.
It was the first time Spafford had put a foot wrong and Appleby must have breathed a sigh of relief as first Hughes, and then Robinson, missed the target from inside Wisbech’s box.
It was as if the scare shocked the Fenmen into life, with the largely anonymous Reed - who had a frustrating afternoon - smashing home from the edge of the area to put the Wisbech in front.
Fairweather could have made the tie safe two minutes into the second-half of extra-time but headed wide, before Wisbech booked their passage into the next round, picking up �900 as a result, thanks to Gale.
Bacon’s chip was headed against his own post by the outstanding Soanes and there was the teenage wideman to sidefoot into an empty net.
And to put some undeserved gloss on what had been a miserable display Fairweather headed home from close range to make the score 3-0 two minutes before the end.
Wisbech will find out their next opponents on Monday but will surely have to play better if they want to keep their dream of a Wembley final alive.
• For video highlights from today’s game - and reaction from the Fenmen boss Steve Appleby - visit our website on Monday.
• For more on how Ridgeons First Division March Town United got on today click on the related link on the right-hand side of this page.