Stockton Town FC v Bootle FC
Michael Dunwell named an unchanged side for this FA Vase 2nd round tie. Chris Stockton failed a fitness test and Fred Woodhouse was still on Paternity Leave. The biggest Saturday crowd of the season crammed into Bishopton Road and respectfully observed the minutes silence on 11/11.
A good atmosphere ensued as the game kicked off so it was a surprise to see Stockton start slowly and Milne had an early shot for Bootle saved by Jordan but as both sides were feeling their way into it the Anchors took the lead after 10 minutes when Kev Hayes tricked his way along the bye line around 2 players somehow in a tight area and crossed to Carter, coming late into the box, to finish. Bootle's formation seemed to be causing problems for Stockton and the lively Milne was getting in behind the Anchors defence. Bootle were soon level through skipper Loughlin who curled a nice effort into the far corner from 20 yards to leave Jordan no chance then just 5 minutes later Carter clumsily pushed Milne in the box as he ran in behind again and he got up and stroked it home to make it 2-1to the visitors. Apart from a neat save from an Owens turn and shot from an inch perfect Coulthard ball, Bootle were on top of this first half and with Loughlin and Woolcott bossing the midfield they created a couple of great chances with Milne being guilty of a glaring miss right on half time which was to prove very costly for the merseysiders.
The second half saw the tide turn a little and Stockton come more into the game but not before Jordan pulled off a wonderful one handed fingertip save on 54mins to deny Cox's curling shot which was bound for the top corner. Stockton finally got to grips with this game and the introduction of Nathan Mulligan for the injured Sonni Coleman proved crucial in that, the extra man in midfield being key to winning back the ball as the Anchors were building a head of steam. Craggs rattled the left hand post from a 20yd free kick on 63 with Jones stranded, then Jones pulled off terrific saves from Hayes and then pushed an Owens piledriver wide and when Nathan Mulligan headed Craggs cross against the bar on 74mins it looked like the Anchors luck was out. Up stepped Max Craggs a minute later to curl a 20yd free kick over the wall to make it 2-2. Bootle looked tired now and their efforts and the long trip were taking their toll. Stockton finished the game stronger and looked them most likely in Extra Time too. The Anchors took the lead after just 5 minutes with a little controversy. Carter flew down the right skipped past Rendall and crossed superbly for Owens to head goalwards, Murphy appeared to have cleared it off the line and when Garbutts follow up hit the keeper it seeemd the chance had gone, but the Linesman flagged to confirm Owens effort had actually crossed the line, 3-2 to Stockton. Bootle rallied and the Stockton supporters looked like having a nervy 20 minutes until Rendall fouled Garbutt 25 yards out providing an opportunity for another dangerous free kick. Max Craggs produced an effort of such quality that even the opposition fans applauded it, he fired it over the wall with pace and power the ball flicked the underside of the bar on its way into the net which always makes goals look more spectacular, this didn't really need any help (There is a video on our Twitter feed, watch it). Bootle heads understandably dropped now although they battled right through to the end they just didn't have enough energy left to produce anything to get back into the game. Jamie Owens hit the post again with a stunning effort flicking the ball over Powell and hitting on the volley with Jones rooted it went for a goal kick off the outside of the post, perhaps it would have been unfair on Bootle anyway. But the victory was assured and the Anchors reach the 3rd Round of the FA Vase for the very first time. Great resilience and refusal to lie down added to pure technical quality will take you a long way in any game, Liam Jordan did well again, Owens was a threat throughout but Man of the Match has to be Max Craggs with a special mention for Nathan Mulligan and his influence on the game when he came on.