Deeping Rangers play at the Haydon Whitham Stadium which is situated just to the North East of the village of Market Deeping, Lincolnshire. It's not an area that I have explored too much in the past but, after driving through both Market Deeping and Stamford during the day, its certainly an area that I need to take a closer look at and maybe open up a whole new batch of grounds to visit, Spalding, Stamford, Bourne, Holbeach to name just a few.
The Haydon Whitham stadium is part of the Market Deeping Sports and Social Club where there are facilities for tennis and cricket as well as football. Parking, of which there is ample, and the social club are separate to the football stadium, although only a very short walk away. The stadium itself is accessed through one of two turnstiles which formerly adorned no lesser stadium than Wembley. First impressions when you enter the ground is that it is of a very high standard. I see a lot of Step 5 grounds and this one is definitely up there with the best at this level. The facilities are all immediately in front of you when you enter the ground, running down one side. There is a fairly large stand with over 150 seats, a snack bar and separate lounge for local and visiting officials. Behind the car park end goal there is also a covered standing area with two further, smaller, sheltered standing areas either side of the dugouts, opposite the main stand. For any ground-hoppers that haven't been to Deeping, I suggest you take a visit. It's a really good place to watch football.
This was the furthest that either club had been in the competition before so, regardless of the result, there was going to be some history made when either one - or both in the event of a draw - was in the hat for the last sixteen draw. Eastwood, who only formed in 2014 after Eastwood Town folded, were only taking part in the Vase for the fourth time, although Town did make the Quarter-Final in the 2003-04 season. Rangers had been to the 3rd Round on three occasions previously, last season being the latest, but had never progressed this far before. Averaging almost 4 goals per game in the competition and quite nicely placed in the league, they could feel fairly confident about taking on one of the two remaining Step 6 sides. However Eastwood, who only gained promotion into Step 6 last season, are more than holding their own in the East Midlands Counties Premier and had already put out two Step 5 sides in the FA Vase this season. The last of these being a superb 2-1 win at local rivals and Midland Premier leaders, Ilkeston Town. All in all, we were set for a really good, competitive game and that's exactly what we got.
Deeping started the game slightly more brightly than Eastwood but, to be fair, both sides looked a little nervous for the first few minutes. Probably not surprising given the gravity of the match for both teams. However, it wasn't too long before both teams started to get themselves settled, bolstered by great backing from both home and away support. There was a good atmosphere in the ground from very early on with plenty of support arriving from Nottinghamshire and the snack bar doing a roaring trade way before kick-off.
The first real goalmouth action came after 10 minutes. Deeping won a free-kick some 25 yards out and slight;y to the left of the penalty area. Midfielder Dan Schiavi put in a great delivery, curling in towards the goal and, with players from both sides challenging, the ball came off an Eastwood defender, beat the keeper but cannoned off the bar and to safety. A little bit of a let-off for Eastwood but it actually seemed to rally the team and from this point they started to put some good passages of play together, forcing a series of corners and, if anything, forcing the slightly better chances.
In what was becoming a highly entertaining game, both sides were clearly intent on making a breakthrough although we went into the break all square. I think it is only fair to mention the way that the referee controlled the game too. Fairly early in the half when rash challenges had been made he had called over the offending player and their captain. This happened once on each side. At the time I wondered why he saw fit to do this but it occurred to me that this was extremely good officiating. He appreciated that both sides were probably quite wound up for the game and clearly wanted to try to give each side, and their respective captains, the opportunity to calm themselves down before brandishing cards. It was, in fact, 30 minutes in before he issued the first caution.
HT Deeping Rangers 0 Eastwood CFC 0. A fairly even half overall. Both sides created some chances. It really could go either way at this point.
Just after the hour mark Deeping broke the deadlock. A raid down their left flank saw the ball played across the Eastwood box, it was helped on to substitute Cameron Johnson who took a tough and then lashed the ball across Pearson into the roof of the net. A very tidy finish. 1-0.
To be fair to Eastwood, no heads dropped after the goal went in. They were straight back into the action and doing their best to find an equaliser. However, it was Deeping who, ten minutes after taking the lead, extended their advantage with a really good goal. Scott Mooney took the ball down with his back to goal, swivelled sharply and smashed the ball past Pearson. A superb strike which gave the keeper no chance at all. 2-0.
Again, Eastwood didn't cave in and were still contributing to the game as a whole. Even at 2-0 with less than 20 minutes remaining, they certainly weren't throwing the towel in.
Then, after 88 minutes, a brilliant through ball found Dan Schiavi bursting into the box. He rounded the keeper and, despite the best efforts of two Eastwood defenders, slotted the ball home for 3-0. Both sides knew it was game over at this point but, just to rub salt into the wounds, there was still time for Johnson to stab home his second goal for 4-0.
FT Deeping Rangers 4 Eastwood CFC 0. Rangers were just too hot for Eastwood in the second-half. Great credit to the East Midlands Premier side though (big fan of that change kit too). They made Rangers work very hard for the win and the final scoreline does not reflect the amount of effort that they put into the game. Good luck to both sides for the remainder of the season.
Deeping Rangers: Elsom, Flack, Andersen, Burton-Jones (c), Hunnings, Jarvis, Dunn, Coulson, Mooney, Schiavi, Lockie. Subs: Carter, Simpson, Johnson, Marsden, Bircham
Eastwood CFC: Pearson, Conn, Meakin, Wrenn, Mitchell, Hayes (c), Butler, James, Knight, Webb, Bettridge. Subs: Smith, Whithurst, Short, Allen, Walker
Ground Number: 176