Congleton Town overcame Hellenic League Division One West opponents Malvern Town in a tight game to set up a meeting with Northern League side Hebburn Town in Round Five on April 24th.
With Covid restrictions in force no crowd was allowed at Booth Street to see a solitary Aaron Johns goal give Congleton Town the victory against an opponent who had previously only lost one league game during the season and had overcome Sporting Khalsa in the previous round.
For the Bears, ex Kidsgrove Athletic left back Alex Morris came in to make his competitive debut for Town at left back and Dan Cope replace Aaron Bott up front.
On a bright sunny afternoon, with perfect conditions for football, Congleton got off to the perfect start in the first minute. A hopeful ball forward evaded the Malvern centre backs and Johns used his pace to race clear. He struggled to control the bouncing ball and the chance seemed lost but as Blackburn came out of the Malvern goal, Johns managed to toe poke the ball past him into the empty Malvern net.
The rest of the first half largely belonged to Congleton without them creating too many clear cut chances. A long range effort from Billy Buckley on 37 minutes was the nearest that Congleton came to doubling their lead but Blackburn made a good save to tip the ball round the post.
At the other end the much vaunted Malvern strikers, Turner and Clark were making very little impression on the Congleton defence with Duffy commanding at the back, well assisted by youngster Josh Ryder. In fact, in the first half Malvern failed to have a direct shot on goal with just a cross cum shot for Parton to deal with easily
Ryan Austin in the Congleton would have been well satisfied with his team’s first half work, with Billy Buckley and Aaron Johns giving the Malvern defence much to think about.
The Malvern management duo of Dene Whittal-Williams and Lee Hooper had obviously had a strong word with their team at half time and they were quickly on the attack and forcing a number of corners. However, Duffy and the Congleton defence dealt with the pressure very well and again Parton was rarely troubled. Indeed, it was the Bears who came closest to scoring when a Buckley free kick from the edge of the Malvern penalty area missed the far post by a yard with no Congleton player able to get a final touch.
All in all Malvern were huffing and puffing without creating too much but Congleton had the more incisive play and only the final poor passes was preventing them from adding to their lead. The closest that Malvern were to come were a couple of headers from Clark and Febery from set pieces which went past Parton’s post.
John’s pace was causing the Malvern defence problems and so it was surprise when he was taken off on 67 minutes to be replaced by Anthony Griffith. This was bold move by Ryan Austin but it did enable Congleton to control the final twenty minutes of the game much more easily as Griffith showed his vast experience. In fact it was Congleton who should have wrapped up the game in the final minutes.
Max McCarthy came on as a substitute in the 82nd minute for Dan Cope and almost immediately was put through on goal. However, the young striker hesitated and a last-ditch Malvern tackle cleared the danger. Then in the next minute a scramble in the Malvern area left Jon Beaumont with a free header from five yards which he put inexplicably wide.
Malvern became increasingly frustrated as the game went on with a number of optimistic appeals for penalties for hand ball and a literal wrestling match in midfield between Griffith and a Malvern player which none of the officials seemed to spot.
However, Congleton saw out the final four minutes of injury time in relative comfort to book their place in Round Five and the prize money of £1,9750, a useful sum in the current circumstances.
Final Score: Congleton Town 1 (Johns 1) Malvern Town 0
Parton, Baker, Morris, Graves © Duffy, Ryder, Buckley, Beaumont, Cope, Johns, Johnson
Subs: Tatters (for Johnson, 54) Griffith (for Johns, 67) McCarthy (for Cope,82)
Blackburn, Hayes, Harris, A Sauntson, J Sauntson, Febery, Billingham, Bullock, Turner© Clark, Platt.
Subs: Chowns-Higgs (for Turner, 71) Bates (for Billingham , 71)