I love the FA Vase, so much so that I gave up a fairly rare opportunity to watch my home town side Stourbridge play in favour of a trip to Walshes Meadow, current home of West Midland Regional League Division 1 side Droitwich Spa, as the locals took on Step 5 outfit Whitchurch Alport.
It was good to read in the programme that there are plans afoot for The Saltmen to move back into Droitwich. However, for the time being, they are playing their games at Stourport Swifts' Walshes Meadow ground on the banks of the River Severn.
The ground is hemmed in the the river side by a dense row of tall trees from which stray balls often have to be retrieved with the aid of a long pole. The dugouts are also situated on this side of the ground as too is the snack bar. There is a single covered seating stand on the opposite side of the pitch.
Whatever happened in this game, some club history was already being made. Neither Droitwich nor Whitchurch had ever made it into the First Round of the competition before, so this was a big day for both sides.
Plenty of Whitchurch supporters had made the trip down from Shropshire and were already in good voice as the teams appeared. Their chants being countered by a smaller, but equally vocal, group of local supporters.
A feisty start to the game. The Alport goalkeeper and defence seem to have some kind of feud brewing with Spa number 10 James Lemon. The game was only a few minutes old when the referee had to intervene as a spot of wrestling between Lemon and David Parton in the Alport goal. There followed a few meaty challenges on the Droitwich striker, a theme that continued throughout the first half.
There were chances at both ends in the opening ten minutes, Matt Oliver twice made good stops to keep out Alport whilst Lemon and Collins were making life difficult at the other end for the Alport defence. Whitchurch occasionally showed signs of their higher league ranking, once or twice cutting through the Spa midfield and mounting what looked like dangerous attacks. Each time, though, Droitwich held firm, defending stoutly and countering with raids of their own. Matt Oliver was then called upon to make a brilliant save, getting a fingertip to Joe Cuff's rasping effort.
From a neutral's point of view the game was fascinating. The lower ranked side were working incredibly hard and were undoubtedly the better side. Whitchurch were hanging in there but there was always the thought that they would step it up a gear and begin to take control. For a small time midway through the first-half, this appeared to be the case. Maybe Droitwich couldn't keep the pace up for the 90 minutes, or maybe Alport were beginning to recover from the initial onslaught? Whatever the case the Step 5 side looked as if they were beginning to assert themselves. Credit again to The Saltmen though, after a short breather, back they came, stunting Alport's revival and finishing the half the stronger team again.
HT Droitwich Spa 0 Whitchurch Alport 0. Great work-rate from Droitwich. They clearly have a game plan to play a high intensity style and it certainly worked for the first 45 minutes. Can they possibly keep up the pace for another 45?
The start of the second-half seemed to answer yes to my half-time question. Straight from the whistle Spa were back on the offensive. Twice, within 3 minutes of the restart, Parton was forced to go full length to prevent Collins from opening the scoring. The Saltmen continued to knock on the door with no sign of a let up in their energy levels.
Whitchurch were then quite lucky to keep their captain on the pitch. After picking up a yellow in the first half, Darren Campion committed what looked like a second bookable offence only for the referee to show leniency and let him off with a talking to, much to the annoyance of the noisy Spa contingent in the main stand.
Just past the hour mark came the inevitable breakthrough. Another period of pressure from the home side culminated in the ball dropping to the feet of Jordan Cox whose right-footed shot beat Parton to make it 1-0.
The reprieve for Alport was short-lived though. Seven minutes later it was two and it was Jordan Cox again, this time latching on to hesitancy from the Alport keeper to rob him of the ball and drift an effort into the far corner for 2-0. Cue wild celebrations from the home support.
Try as they might there was no way back for Alport now and even after going two up, Droitwich were not letting up. There was no hint of sitting deep and hanging on for the whistle. If anything they looked hungry for a third goal.
FT Droitwich Spa 2 Whitchurch Alport 0. A thoroughly deserved win for The Saltmen. They were the better side from the first minute until the last. Having not seen either side play before, I don't know if Whitchurch had an off day, if Droitwich played out of their skin or if it was a combination of the two. What I can say is that Droitwich's work-rate was too much for Alport on the day. Thanks to both sides for playing their part in providing great entertainment and best of luck to them both for the remainder of the season.
Droitwich Spa: Oliver, Phillips, Brookes, Dugmore, Hunt(c), Rudd, Davis, Tilbury, Collins, Lemon, Cox. Subs: Morris, Burgess, Tilley, Crowther
Whitchurch Alport: Parton, Minshall, Pickerill, O'Neill, Dickin, Campion(c), Jones, Griffiths, Hughes, Robinson, Cuff. Subs: Johns, Burzynski, Bath, Dunne, Skelton, Ellis
Ground Number: 217