Arriving a good 30 minutes before kick off, it was already apparent that this was going to be well above the average gate and that there were plenty that had already made the short journey from Halesowen (ironically, not on the Number 9 though which was running a Sunday service). Despite some historical issues between the supporters, no segregation was deemed necessary, so everyone was free to mingle. Just the way it should be. Having said that, the majority of the Yeltz support gravitated towards the Shed End which, as it happened, was the end that they would be attacking in the first half. Some of the more vociferous of the Red Army also headed to the Shed which made for some good banter throughout the first half. This was a feature of the game as a whole, both sets of supporters, standing side by side around the ground, were a credit to themselves, their clubs and non-league football in general.
As we approached kick off time the rain was getting worse and the now bumper crowd was wedged tightly into the two main stands. Some of the more prepared had brought umbrellas and stood outside, some just braved the elements. All of the covered areas were bulging at the seams, unsurprisingly, when we heard later that the attendance was over 1600.
Halesowen were coming into this game on a good run and their confidence showed straight from the first whistle as they took the game to their hosts. Within a few minutes home keeper Dean Coleman had to be alert to just about keep out Ben Haseley when clean through. Shortly after that Geohaghon tangled with Christie in the box, ending with the striker going down a little too easily and the referee waving play on. Despite the away side's good start, it was Stourbridge who took the lead when a Benbow break and cross was turned into his own net by Bragoli.
The goal seemed to spur on Halesowen and it was they who pretty much controlled the rest of the first half, posing much more threat to Coleman's goal than the home side offered at the other end. Just before half-time came the first of two incidents that probably had decisive effects on the game when, following a heavy challenge, Glassboys defender Chris Knight had to leave the field forcing a re-shuffle of the home defence.
At half time though, Stourbridge held the lead at 1-0. This, despite not having managed a shot on target in the first 45 minutes.
During the break the weather took another turn as we were treated to a sudden snow storm which turned into sleet and then heavy rain before the second half started.
It was Stourbridge who had the first chance in the second half with Benbow shooting well wide but then, 5 minutes in, came the second match changing incident. Will Richards appeared to lunge two-footed at Tom Tonks in the centre of the park. Richards immediately apologised but he knew, as did the entire ground, that a red card was about to be shown. To be fair to Richards, after seeing the video, I think he did make an attempt to prevent the collision but it did look bad and the red was the right decision.
Having not mustered a shot on target in 51 minutes, it seemed unlikely that Stourbridge would offer much now they were down to ten. Sure enough, Halesowen stepped up their efforts and the game was played predominantly in the Stourbridge half of the pitch. The Glassboys, however, defended stoutly for another 25 minutes before they were finally undone by an outstanding Halesowen equaliser. Another Yeltz attack had been repelled and the ball cleared to the halfway line. It was nodded sideways by a defender into the path of Curtis Tilt. He took a couple of strides forward, looked up to see Coleman a few yards off his line, and unleashed the perfect shot-cum-lob over the surprised keeper and into the net. I tweeted 40 yard miskick at the time but, believe me, that was entirely tongue in cheek. This was no miskick but a tremendous piece of awareness combined with the skill to execute the shot.
A am sure that, like me, many in the crowd expected Halesowen to make the most of their man advantage and go on to win from this point. Strangely though, it was the ten men that had the two best chances of the remaining 15 minutes. First a Drew Canavan free kick drew a good save from Sargeant on 82 minutes. This was, by my reckoning, the Galssboy's first shot on target. Then, with just a minute or two remaining, Luke Benbow wasted a golden opportunity to win it, shooting wide when clean through.
All in all a draw was probably the right result although I am sure that Halesowen will feel aggrieved that they didn't make their greater possession count. What I am sure of is that the 1642 present will be looking forward to Easter for the return match at The Grove.
Stourbridge FC - @sfcofficial
Halesowen Town - @halesowentownfc