REACTION, PICTURES & REPORT as Stowmarket Town miss out on Wembley day out after away loss to divisional rivals Wroxham
Internally, Stowmarket Town were well aware that there was plenty of work to be done. Yet, outside of the Greens Meadow walls, the belief was growing that the Suffolk side were going to be the first Eastern Counties team in 26 years to lift the Buildbase FA Vase.
After all, the Old Gold & Blacks headed to league rivals Wroxham in the fifth round on Saturday without a defeat in their last 35 games against Step 5 opposition.
The bookmakers certainly liked what they saw, and installed Stowmarket – with their squad packed full of higher-league experience – as the favourites to triumph at Wembley come May.
And yet, just when everything appeared to be slotting neatly into place, football once again unceremoniously ripped up the script.
Rick Andrews’ men, who had already gone further in the Vase than ever before in the club’s history, were beaten 2-0 in front of 1,041-strong crowd at Trafford Park, where former Norwich City frontman Grant Holt played a leading role for the hosts.
Now 38, the combative forward opened the scoring from the penalty spot – an incident which saw Stowmarket lose defender Tom Bullard to a red card – before setting up the clincher deep into stoppage time.
Ironically, Holt’s spot kick was scored at a time when the visitors – following a below par first-half showing – were enjoying their best spell of the tie. It seemed a matter of when, not if, Stowmarket were going to break the deadlock.
But having dusted themselves down and regrouped after Bullard’s exit, Stowmarket’s afternoon was best summed up during the latter stages. Substitutes Matt Blake and Dom Doherty both saw efforts cannon back off the same upright – sometimes, it is just not mean to be.
“We were massively disappointed with the first half, but I also do not like saying we were not at it because that is disrespectful to Wroxham,” said Andrews. “Wroxham played well. They dominated the second ball during the first half, which is quite unusual for us.
“The defeat hurts even more because I thought we dominated the second half. Had we come in 1-0 down at half-time and gone on to lose it, you could take it on the chin a bit more.
“Then you can say that maybe the occasion has got to us, but after that second-half performance, that is simply not the case.
“With 10 men it was always going to be difficult, but if anything I felt that we pushed on again.
“But that is football. Teams raise their games and cup football is often decided on certain moments – a set piece, a red card – that sort of thing.
“It is disappointing – as a group we wanted to go all the way but football is never that simple.”
The opening 45 minutes on the Norfolk Broads were largely forgettable.
While Wroxham had more attempts at goal, most of what they tested Stowmarket goalkeeper James Bradbrook with came from distance.
In contrast – and uncharacteristically – Stowmarket struggled to fashion out anything of note, with their only opportunity coming from a Christy Finch free-kick that drifted over.
Whatever message Andrews and his coaching staff tried to convey during the break, it certainly sank in.
In the 54th minute, Robbie Sweeney shot just wide from the edge of the box (when passing to Seb Dunbar on the overlap may have been the better option) then Mayhew headed straight at Ollie Sutton from six yards out.
Ex-Ipswich Town attacker Dean Bowditch’s influence on the match was also growing and it was he who had Stowmarket’s next attempt in the 61st minute. Mayhew was the creator, cutting a ball back from the byline which Bowditch controlled and then powered goalwards, only for Sutton to make a superb instinct stop.
But then, just when Stowmarket appeared to be in control, they were undone. A ball over the top sent the lively Charlie Clarke on his way and as he looked to check back on to his left foot he was upended by Bullard.
The centre-back was handed a second yellow card – having been cautioned for fouling the same player during the first half – and Holt made no mistake from the spot.
Holt almost wrapped it up in the 79th minute with a trademark powerful header from a few yards out, but Bradbrook stuck out a leg to keep the ball out and Stowmarket survived the subsequent scramble.
If Stowmarket had been a little lucky to escape there, that was nothing compared to the good fortune Wroxham received on two occasions as the clock ticked down.
Firstly, in the 83rd minute substitute Blake latched onto Bowditch’s perfectly-flighted throughball, only for his shot to cannon against the upright. And then, in the first minute of stoppage time Doherty saw his stabbed effort turned against the same post.
And to rub salt into the Stowmarket wound, in the first minute of stoppage time they were hit by a second Wroxham goal. Holt played in Shaun Taylor, who ran clear and then slotted calmly beyond Bradbrook.
Stowmarket: Bradbrook, Brown, Dunbar, Ainsley, Bullard, Jefford, Read (Williams 69’), Sweeney (Doherty 83’), Finch (Blake 74’), Mayhew, Bowditch
Free Press Man of the Match – Dean Bowditch
More by this authorLiam Apicella