Durham Challenge Cup 1st Round
Goalscorers: SRCA: Wray, Charlton, Brown; Stockton Town: Stockton;
Stockton, unbeaten in 22 games thus far this season and running away with the Wearside league, were looking to pit their skills against a Sunderland RCA side, who under new manager Martin Swales, looked to be improving rapidly. Since Martin’s appointment RCA have played 10, won six, drawn two and lost two; unfortunately the majority of the won games have been in cup competions like tonight.
The RCA team looked a little experimental with Austin-Wilson in at left back, Brown pushed into midfield/forward role, Armstrong sitting in a holding role, Stanger wide right and Hughes recalled to play as the solitary front man. Both Gary and Lewis Wood were suffering from knocks picked up on Saturday and on the bench we saw the welcome return of Barton after a lengthy period out with an ankle injury and John Jury after missing Saturday’s match due to the birth of his son Joel.
As has become customary lately the opposition elect to take advantage of the slope and the match kicked off on an autumnal evening with Stockton forcing the pace in the early stages.
RCA looked capable of withstanding the early pressure exerted by Stockton and responded with effective use of the wide men in building counter attacks. Neither keeper was forced into action in the opening 10 minutes as the teams worked out each others tactics.
In the 12th minute, Stockton’s captain, Roberts played a great ball to Stockton, who curled a beautiful shot towards the top corner and Carmichael had to be at his supreme best to tip over the bar at full stretch. The low driven corner caused panic in the home defence but was scrambled clear by Preston.
The game, as on Saturday, seemed to get bogged down in a midfield war of attrition with both teams limited to long range efforts. It is fair to say that Stockton seemed to have more possession and shots than RCA at this stage in tha game.
However, the best chance of the half to date fell to RCA on the half hour, Armstrong picked up a loose ball in the centre circle and sent a great forward ball into the path of Brown who slipped past the final defender before bearing down on goal, Arthur produced a stunning save from Brown’s first shot and then reacted superbly to the follow up shot, which was driven low by Brown, to divert it for a corner.
This had the effect of opening the game up and Stockton picked up the pace, a surging run by Craggs ended with a terrific effort, which the RCA players were happy to see sail over the bar.
In the 44th minute RCA were awarded a freekick on the right wing which Armstrong took, drifting a lovely flighted ball onto the head of Wray, who was unmarked in the six yard area, and he powered a header into the net past the helpless Arthur.
Its easy to see why Stockton haven’t lost in 22 games, their passing and commitment in the first half was excellent and it took some great defending by RCA to keep them at bay.
The second half saw the introduction of Barton for the injured Hughes and he was immediately in the action holding up the ball before setting up Brown for a shot which was blocked.
In the 50th minute a slack ball out of defence was picked up by Stockton and he fired in a shot which brought a brilliant save from Carmichael and Austin-Wilson cleared up under pressure from Garbutt.
Stockton continued to press forward looking for an equaliser and a cross into the box by Stockton was headed over the bar by Roberts and a minute later Roberts brought another great save by Carmichael this time from point blank range.
Having withstood this pressure RCA started to build up there own spell of pressure and this resulted in their second goal of the game, a quick passing movement between Barton and Stanger sent Charlton clear of the Stockton defence and he somehow managed to squeeze a shot inside the near post past Arthur.
Then came two moments of madness, in the 63rd minute Hannah fouled Richardson and was shown a Yellow Card, from the freekick the ball was played to the opposite wing where the same player put in a late challenge on Preston and was shown his second Yellow and dismissed.
This dismissal had the effect of spurring Stockton on and they were chasing everything and making it difficult for RCA to get possession of the ball. Preston, injured in the earlier challenge left the field and was replaced by Henderson.
It was no surprise that Stockton got back into the game in the 80th minute when Stockton slammed home a close range shot during a goalmouth scramble, after the RCA defence couldn’t clear the danger.
This set up a grandstand finish as Stockton piled bodies forward against RCA’s makeshift defence and it took two terrific saves from Carmichael to deny the visitors an equaliser and extra time.
RCA were reduced to humping the ball forward and it was coming straight back at them. Stockton in the final mnute of normal time had a great chance to level the scores but Cossavella couldn’t get his shot on target.
Deep into injury time a long clearance from Richardson fell to Brown who skipped past a very tired Stockton defence before somehow evading two dives by Athur before clipping the ball into the empty net.
3-1 flattered RCA who for long periods looked to be outclassed by their opponents. However they showed the difference in the leagues is in the finishing, RCA took their chances well and Stockton found Carmichael in superb form tonight.