Congleton Town’s dream of playing at Wembley Stadium in the final of the Buildbase FA Vase are over for another season as they crashed out of the competition at the hands of old North West Counites league rivals Whitchurch Alport by two goals to one.
Alport spent three years in the North West Counties Football League Premier Division alongside the Bears, before their lateral move into the Midlands Football League Premier Division alongside Hanley Town at the start of the season.
Congleton’s 1st choice goalkeeper Dave Parton is currently out injured and with last week’s stand-in goalkeeper Danny Roberts back in action for Leek Town, player-manager Richard Duffy was left looking for a different shot-stopper. He elected to bring in former Bears keeper Craig Ellison. Ellison also counts Crewe Alexandra, Curzon Ashton, FC Halifax Town and Altrincham as just some of his former clubs, meaning that Congleton had an experienced man between the sticks for this important cup tie.
It was a match that started at a frantic pace with both teams looking to impress early on and, they each had great chances to open the scoring in the first 15 minutes of the tie. For Whitchurch, their top scorer Alex Hughes crashed a shot against the post after just five minutes of play.
While at the other end, Port Vale legend Tom Pope beat the offside trap to get in behind the Alport defence. He squared the ball across the face of the goal to winger Aaron Johns but, before the former Whitchurch man could get an effort on goal it was cleared away for a corner.
One time Leek Town man Ollie Putnam was at the heart of all of Congleton’s attacks down the right hand side as he consistently had the beating of Whitchurch fullback George Carpenter. However, most of Putnam’s crosses were cleared out for corners, which captain Gary Roberts kept swinging in on top of Ellis Allen and, the Whitchurch goalkeeper was able to clear them or pick up easy fouls against him.
Hughes almost caught Ellison out on 33 minutes when his long-range effort slipped through the hands of the goalkeeper and, out for a corner. From that set-piece, Alport took the lead when Hughes swung in the Deadball and captain Dan Skelton was able to outjump everyone else to head home.
One-nil became two just five minutes later when another corner from Hughes was spilt by Ellison. The ball fell kindly to Jack Griffiths, who made no mistake in rifling the ball into the net.
Hughes is Whitchurch’s top scorer with 16 goals in all competitions this season and, he will be left wondering how he didn’t get his 17th of the season on 53 minutes when he struck a ferocious shot against Ellison’s crossbar. It left Ellison rooted to the spot but, luckily for him and Congleton it bounced away to safety.
Three minutes later and Congleton did finally have the ball in the back of the Whitchurch net as Johns finished off a game of head tennis but, unfortunately for the bears, it was chalked off as the assistant referee’s flag was raised for offside.
Another former Leek Town player in Jordan Johnson came on for Johns for the last 20 minutes and, he almost got on the scoresheet when he burst through on goal but, Allen was able to race out and smother the ball snuffing out any danger.
Congleton did get their goal on 78 minutes when some neat work down the wing from Mackenzie Faulkner saw the ball played into Ethan Hartshorn who guided the ball past Allen to give the Bears hope that they can snatch an equaliser and take the game to penalties.
Despite applying the pressure and, Darren Chadwick going up front alongside Pope, the Bears couldn’t find a way to get that equaliser and, they exit the competition at the fourth-round stage. A disappointing day for Congleton who would have been hoping for a much better performance. Take nothing away from Whitchurch however, they were superb at both ends of the pitch and deserve their place in the last 16 of the competition.
After the game, I spoke to Congleton Town player-manager Richard Duffy who was disappointed with the result.
Whitchurch Alport: Allen, Carpenter, Campbell, Skelton, Simms, Griffiths, Urvantev (Berman,82), Bath, Mwasile (Huxley, 62), Garlick and Hughes.
Unused subs: Farleigh, Hall, Minshall, Lazenby and Annikey.
Congleton: Ellison, Faulkner, Nsaka, Williams, Duffy, Chadwick, Putnam, Roberts (Hartshorn,73), Pope, Graves (Needham, 68) and Johns (Johnson, 72).
Unused subs: Jepson, Cooke, Bott and Diskin.