The FA Cup is the most famous domestic football competition in the world even if it is the extra preliminary qualifying round it’s still got a magical feel…..
A good following travelled to Newcastle to support the Anchors and for the third straight game the line up was identical.
Stockton started the game sluggishly and never really got going in the first half Benfield who’ve improved their squad markedly this season looked organised and encouraged by Stocktons lethargy. After 10 minutes of feeling each other out Benfield created the first opportunity but Jake Orrell dragged his shot wide. Benfield legendary figure Paul Brayson looked like he was trying to break the record for being offside but as always was a threat however he needed two attempts at a penalty to give the Lions a lead they just about deserved on 23 minutes. Nathan Mulligan unfortunately was the man to concede the spot kick as McEvoy would have surely scored if he hadn’t made the challenge. Anchors keeper Michael Arthur is a Penalty expert, saving them and taking them incidentally and he proved this as he saved Braysons attempt low to his right, but unfortunately the ball looped back up and tamely fell back at BRAYSONS feet and he tucked it away much to Arthur’s annoyance.
Instead of spurring the Anchors on it seemed to have the reverse effect and the next 20 minutes were littered with mistakes and poor passes. The defence were stretched and quite how Benfield didn’t score again when a cross that looked like it was floating out caught the frame of the goal and fell to Orrell who failed to convert from inside the 6 yard box, only the striker will know how he allowed Tom Coulthard to clear his effort off the line. Centre Half Joe Robson was next to have a chance for Benfield as he sent a header goalwards only for Coulthard to clear again in front of goal. Stockton weathered the storm and conjured an equaliser that was as spectacular as it was surprising. Risbrough and Nicholson worked the ball down the left and Nicholsons cross was too long until Bulmer retrieved it and his ball into the box was cleared as far as Nathan MULLIGAN 25 yards out, the uneven surface caused the ball to bounce up and with no one around him he touched the ball into position with his body and sent an unstoppable volley into the top right corner to make it 1-1 on 43 minutes. On the stroke of half time a shell shocked Benfield allowed Risbrough to time to size uo an audacious 30 yard lob and nearly regretted it as with the keeper back pedalling the ball bounced on top of the bar and away to safety.
Second half saw a renewed Stockton with better passing and a lot more purpose. The introduction of Max Craggs just before the hour mark improved things as apart from his other qualities his aerial ability alone helped keep the ball in Benfields half.
The Anchors were much better, Nathan Mulligan played a great reverse pass to Nicholson who’s teasing cross caused panic in the box and from the resulting corner Coulthards flicked header was just past the post. Mikey Roberts had a low crisp shot well saved by Granger after good work by Dale Mulligan and Coleman. That was the last involvement for the unfortunate Mulligan who was forced of with an injury.
The substitution brought a change in formation and Bulmer now playing further forward jinked past two players passed to Risbrough who’s ball into Roberts gave the striker a chance, the challenge looked as much a penalty as Mulligans in the first half but the ref waved it away and with 15 minutes left Stockton were finally on top.
Max Craggs rose at the far post on 82 minutes as Roberts pacey cross found him but he could only fire it inches over. The best opportunity to seal the game came Benfields way in the last minute of normal time when a miscued clearance fell to Dale Pearson completely unmarked 12 yards out but to everyones amazement he struck the post when it was easier to score.
A draw was probably about fair in what was a scrappy game at times, lots of free kicks and injury breaks. Micky Dunwell will be pleased with his players response in the second half and will try and forget the first 42 minutes quickly. On to a replay on Wednesday at the Coverall Stadium. Another difficult choice for man of the match, the defence did well again, but Nathan Mulligan for the spectacular goal and a great second half performance gets the nod.