Stourbridge left shattered as dream is ended by Akinfenwa
Just as they were dreaming of pulling one of the big clubs from the hat in tomorrow’s fourth-round draw, Stourbridge had their FA Cup hopes shattered. A thumping header in the 82nd minute from the four-square figure of Wycombe’s Adebayo Akinfenwa, less a centre-forward, more a walking wardrobe, dispatched the lowestranked team left from the competition they relish. So much for the romance of the Cup.
But the Northern Premier League side were not disgraced. Far from it. For much of the game they belied the gap of 74 places between them and their hosts from League Two, playing bright, ambitious football that could never be mistaken as agricultural. And, when Dan Scarr equalised Sam Wood’s opening goal deep into the second half, it threatened to leave a permanent mark on the competition.
According to the two club nicknames, this match was billed as the Chairboys taking on the Glassboys. Which made the tie sound like a danceoff between two troupes of male strippers. But there was nothing effete about the visitors. Driven by a noisy contingent of fans who had come in their throaty thousands down the M40, from the kick-off Stourbridge attacked with purpose. No wonder Wycombe manager Gareth Ainsworth stayed behind on the pitch to applaud the parttimers off the field at the final whistle: he appreciated how close they had come to achieving a proper upset.
“I will not take anything from Stourbridge, I’ve been a non-league player myself, they were fantastic,” he said. Wycombe came into this tie on the back of 10 wins in their last 11 matches, victories based on the soundness of their defence. An accomplished centre-back pairing of Anthony Stewart and Aaron Pierre have been strolling latterly against League Two attacks. Not here. Stourbridge pressed high and hard. Their left-winger Chris Lait – an engineer by profession – was an effervescent presence, quick and skilful, bristling with confidence, driving up the blood pressure of the Wycombe stoppers.
Several times in the first half, the home side were indebted to Jamal Blackman, the huge goalkeeper on loan from Chelsea. He saved smartly from Luke Benbow, Kayleden Brown and Lait. Then he was required to pull out a brilliant diving save from a Scarr shot that seemed to be cutting its way to the top corner of the net.
Wycombe were largely restricted to the breakaway; balls were aimed at the huge target of Akinfenwa’s chest. But apart from a shot from Dominic Gape, who in truth should have done better than firing wide from 10 yards, Wycombe had little to show from the first half.
After what Akinfenwa described as “words” from Ainsworth in the dressing room, the home side began the second in much more aggressive mood. Matt Gould pulled off a terrific save from Luke O’Nien, then moments later was obliged to save again from the same player. This time the ball bobbled from his grasp and, after a mighty scramble, Wood, the Wycombe substitute, drilled the ball home.
Stourbridge responded with real fortitude. The side who have already played more FA Cup ties this season than will the eventual winners, pushed forward, winning a flurry of corners. After a foul by Joe Jacobson on Lait, a good free-kick by Darryl Westlake was hoofed over the bar. Matt Dodd then fired wide. Then, on 70 minutes, a Leon Broadhurst free-kick into the box, found Scarr in space. The defender who makes a living as a personal trainer shot past Blackman. Behind the goal, Stourbridge fans erupted as he ran into them to celebrate, a moment of FA Cup bonding for which he was booked.
“We’re going to Wembley,” chanted the visiting supporters, who were pushed momentarily into dreamland when Tom Tonks’s cross-shot crashed against the underside of the bar. But then came Akinfenwa’s intervention, heading home Jacobson’s precise cross, to break Black Country hearts.
“Stourbridge in the fourth round would have been a huge story,” said Ainsworth. “But it’s only the second time we’ve been in the fourth round. So it’s a huge story Wycombe Wanderers have made it.”
Jubilant: Dan Scarr celebrates his equaliser for non-league outfit Stourbridge