Having followed Staveley Miners Welfare in the opening two rounds, it was time to change tack after their 1st Qualifying Round exit to Mickleover Sports. A draw for Sheffield FC away at Warrington Town on Saturday allowed me to take in more familiar surroundings for the 2nd qualifying round replay on Tuesday night.
Sheffield’s Coach & Horses Ground was the location to kick-start my recent foray into football outside of the Football League having attended Non League Day there last year. There has been some criticism of NLD being too much of a novelty or a one-off, but my personal experience is that it has served as a gateway into more of the stuff; non-league is for life, not just for Non League Day, or something to that effect anyway.
Arriving at the self-appointed ‘Home of Football’ I managed to snag one of the last parking spots in the car park, although it was a task made more difficult than it could have been thanks to some questionable parking from the Warrington team coach and a lack of lighting. Yes, upon walking towards the turnstiles it quickly became apparent the floodlights weren’t on and with only five minutes to kick-off, this was likely to be problematic. As I joined the back of the decent-sized queue though, the Sheffield FC power generator gods stirred from their slumber and declared “let there be light!” – game on.
With kick-off delayed by 20 minutes to allow both sides to warm up in something other than pitch black, the crowd began to swell and when the match finally got underway, it was the hosts who looked to begin on the front foot. It was six minutes before the Yellows managed to get outside of their own half, but a slick counter attack saw Warrington take a surprise lead, much to the delight of Warrington’s suited-and-booted Steve Evans-wannabe manager, albeit the comparison is more apt for his touchline antics as opposed to the girth of his trousers.
Sheffield looked to bounce back and within minutes had hit the post and despite piling more pressure on the visitors, soon found themselves two down. A soft-looking penalty was given for a shoulder-to-shoulder challenge inside the box and the spot-kick was duly dispatched. Sheffield dominated most of the opening 45 minutes, yet somehow were 2-0 down going in at the break. Warrington’s visiting supporters were clearly enjoying themselves and with tin foil FA cup in tow, a chorus of “Wires, Wires, Wires” rang around the stands.
Half-time presented the opportunity to pay a swift visit to the adjoining Coach & Horses pub, for which the ground is named. The establishment is run by local brewery Thornbridge, something of a Sheffield staple and a club sponsor, their own beers have quickly gained a regional and even national reputation and not without good reason. Being familiar with their range however, I opted for the intriguing-sounding camomile-infused Atom Beer guest ale – and very nice it was too.
Perhaps savouring the flavour a little too much, the second half was already a few minutes old by the time I emerged out onto the terraces. Sheffield were doing all the running in a desperate bid to find their way back into the tie, and their perseverance paid off when the impressive number 9 (Ashley Longstaff) laid off for a teammate to volley home and halve the deficit. The home side began to push on in search of a precious equaliser and nearly got it when centre back Tim Whittaker tried his luck from 30 yards but saw his deflected strike cannon off the inside of the post.
Sheffield were now committing bodies forward at will and their high defensive line was exposed when the Wires’ Steve Foster sealed a place in the 3rd Qualifying Round and a trip to Colwyn Bay with a curled finish. The home side had so much of the possession on the night, but Warrington were ruthless when they broke and after restoring their two goal advantage, the game proceeded to get a little niggly. Two quick bookings in succession for Sheffield had the home fans chirping in with some useful feedback for the unfortunate referee: “Tha havin’ a blinder, ref!”.
With the hosts running out of ideas, time started to quickly tick down, although not nearly quickly enough for the Yellows’ defence who asked the linesman in their half for a time check at least five times in the closing moments, eager to confirm their progression to the next round. When their success was finally confirmed, the home supporters managed to find some levity in defeat: “Another Wembley shattered,” muttered one rueful Club fan. “Tha were hoping, weren’t tha?” came the response. In the end it was the noisy away supporters of the famous Warrington Town who were dreaming of going to Wembley, and their tin foil FA Cup will get another outing on the North Wales coast in a couple of weeks’ time.