Match Report: Stourbridge 3-0 Crusaders

They love an FA Cup run at Stourbridge.  The men have made it to the First Round six times since 2009, and the Third Round in 2017, and now – for the first time – it’s the Ladies’ turn!

The Glassgirls Women’s FA Cup record up until this season has been unspectacular to say the least – just two ties won since first entering the competition in 2015.  The ledger looks a touch healthier now, after a journey through five rounds culminating (or maybe not…!) in Sunday’s pulsating 3-0 win against higher-ranked Crusaders FC. 

With just 28 teams remaining in the First Round draw (24 once postponed ties are resolved), Stourbridge are the only survivors from tier six, and their reward is a real humdinger of a local derby away to Wolves – a repeat of the County Cup meeting between the two earlier this year, more on which later.

Stour’s Cup run began with an 8-0 home win against Port Vale back at the beginning of September, followed by defeats of Wyrley (8-1) and Knowle (6-0).  An anticipated tougher challenge from tier five Worcester City didn’t quite turn out that way, as the Glassgirls ran out 5-0 winners to set up Sunday’s game.

Crusaders, though, were expected to be stronger opposition, an established and experienced side in the West Midlands League Premier Division they boasted a 100% League record and had won through three ties themselves to reach this stage. 

And so it proved.  A cagey opening saw plenty of probing but few serious chances at either end, until the 20-minute mark when a flowing move down Stourbridge’s left ended with a stinging shot from Courteney Murphy palmed over the bar by Justine Lewis in the visitors’ goal.  The reprieve was short-lived however, as Amber Lawrence’s in-swinging corner, helped on at the near post, was forced over the line by Ruby Meeson to put the home side ahead.

Crusaders reacted well with a decent spell of pressure, but it was Stourbridge who looked more likely to add to the scoreline.  Carly Aldred was proving a constant threat with her pace, and only her finish let her down as she broke clear, and there were shouts for a penalty too, unheeded by referee Ashley Davenport, as Aldred went down under a challenge shortly before the break.

The second half followed a similar pattern, Crusaders edging the possession and territory but unable to unlock a home defence in which centre-backs Sophie Heaselgrave and Macey Turvey in particular excelled.  Their best chance fell to Alice Lilley on the edge of the area but as Stour keeper Amie Preston advanced the striker could only lift her shot over both keeper and crossbar. 

Meanwhile, Lewis was called into action at the other end to deny both Hollie Somers and twice Aldred, the second time in some style with a flying save, whilst the striker clipped another chance narrowly wide.

The cushion of a second goal finally came with four minutes remaining.  Substitute Alex Nicklin’s slide rule pass slipped Somers down the inside right channel and her pinpoint low cross allowed Lawrence to tuck the ball home at the near post and give the Glassgirls some breathing space.  And a third goal added some gloss in stoppage time, as Murphy picked out the top corner with her left foot from 20 yards to kick-start the celebrations.

The scoreline was harsh on Crusaders.  Up until those last five minutes they had been pressing for the equaliser, and their contribution to an excellent match should not go unacknowledged.  Most notably, 19-year old Ella Thompson-Moulding was outstanding in central defence, winning just about everything on the ground and in the air, and frequently driving forward into midfield to prompt attacks.  Pound-for-pound (to use an analogy from another sport) as good a defensive display as I’ve seen in 40 years of watching football at this ground.  

But it is Stourbridge who progress, and manager Andy Fisher couldn’t hide his delight afterwards.

“It was everything we wanted it to be.  The performance, the occasion, everything.  Two good sides, giving their all.

“In the end I felt our quality was just a bit too much for them, and I always felt we would score again.  It’s something I said to the players at half time.  We will score.  We had to weather a bit of a storm at times, but we showed our defensive mettle.

“The celebrations will live with me for a long time.  Seeing the Vice Chairman’s face was the icing on the cake.  It’s a reward for all the hard work and commitment to the Ladies and Girls section at this club.”

Off the field, a healthy crowd of 252 watched on, and the match had the feel of a “proper” Cup tie throughout – certainly in the latter stages until those late goals quelled any jitters.  For the first time this season, with interest growing in the Ladies team, the club is charging admission for all home games played at the War Memorial Ground.  The move has not deterred spectators, and over 1,000 people have seen the five Cup games in the Cup run – yet more evidence of the old “build it and they will come” adage.

So, Wolves…

The teams drew that County Cup tie back in January, with Wolves edging it on penalties.  Then, as now, Dan McNamara’s team were flying in tier four.  Then, as now, Stourbridge were sweeping all before them in tier six.  In truth, as you would expect, Wolves dominated large parts of that game, with Stour defending resolutely on the back foot.  The chances are that this one – whenever it is played – will follow a similar pattern, but will it produce a different outcome?  Wolves will unquestionably be firm favourites, but don’t tell anybody at Stourbridge that.

Photo: Paul Rose