By Ryan Batty:
A late penalty from Scott Bakkor was enough to separate Evo-Stik Premier Division sides Stalybridge Celtic and Nantwich Town in the First Qualifying Round of the FA Trophy at Bower Fold.
The game was fairly even, with the hosts perhaps the better side, but as the clock wound down towards the end of the second half, a miscommunication between Jamie Morgan and Fabian Spiess allowed forward Chris Sharp in. The trio were tangled up in the area before Morgan pushed the striker to the spot, which gave referee Mr Liam Corrigan with no choice but to point to the spot.
Bakkor stepped up and put it straight down the middle, sending Fabian Spiess to the right and simultaneously putting the Celts into the hat for Monday’s Second Qualifying Round draw.
The Dabbers, however, will be looking ahead to a huge top-of-the-table clash on Tuesday evening, as they host local rivals Warrington Town in a 2nd vs 3rd clash at the Weaver Stadium, with a 7.45pm kick-off.
On a bitterly cold afternoon in Eastern Manchester, it was the Dabbers who got off to the best start, as Jamie Morgan was played in on the left, and the full-back put in a low cross to Joe Malkin, but the young striker was unable to steer it home.
A moment later, it was Stalybridge with the opportunity, as a shot hit towards Spiess was only parried into the centre of the box, before Troy Bourne smartly flicked the ball onto the roof of the net.
After twelve minutes, it was Matty Wolfenden with the chance to take the lead for the Celts, as a ball over the top for the striker saw him put the shot just across the face of goal and out for a goal-kick.
Soon after, Nantwich had a free-kick twenty-five yards from goal, but Cooke’s effort took a nick off the wall, and went straight into the arms of Winterbottom.
With twenty-seven minutes gone, Callum Saunders put an effort into the air, and the ball looked to be coming down with snow. It challenged Winterbottom, as the keeper could only punch it away with the sun blinding into his eyes.
The Dabbers’ best chance to take the lead of the first half came ten minutes before the break, as Cooke was played through well, and the midfielder pulled it back for Jimmy Lawrie. Lawrie hit it low and hard, but it went inches past the post.
That would be the last action of the half as the sides went in level.
Seven minutes after the interval, Cooke’s pull-back couldn’t reach Lindfield in the area, and the hosts were able to clear away. At the other end, Morgan was put in the book as he made the foul twenty-two yards from goal.
The free-kick was curled over the wall, but Spiess was able to punch it down and save.
A moment later, Lindfield had the opportunity to put a header in, but it slammed off the bar and the scores were kept level.
Soon after, Malkin put the ball into Cooke in the box, but the midfielder couldn’t quite get there. Matt Bell almost put the ball in, but Winterbottom’s superb save kept the ball out.
With twenty minutes remaining, Spiess made a great save with his legs, keeping the scores level. Moments later, Cooke hit it from distance that was just over the top-right corner.
However, after seventy-seven minutes, the biggest talking point of the afternoon arose, as Morgan passed it back to Spiess, but the keeper was a tad too late to rush out of his box, and it allowed Sharp to rush forward. Morgan and Sharp went to ground under pressure, and it looked as though the referee could award a Nantwich free-kick for obstruction, but Morgan’s push on Sharp gave the referee no choice but to award the hosts a penalty. Scott Bakkor stepped up and sent Spiess to the right, with Bakkor slamming home down the middle to take the lead.
That was to be the last major chance of the afternoon as Nantwich bowed out of the FA Trophy at the First Round Qualifying stage for the second consecutive season.
Stalybridge: Winterbottom, Tongue, Wilson, Dent, Brady (C), Smalley, Bakkor, Rule, Sharp, Wolfenden, Caton (Kengni 62′)
Subs not used: Hughes, Brown, Wilkinson
Nantwich: Spiess, Bourne (Glover 84′), Morgan, Stair, Mullarkey, Bell, Saunders (Mwasile 62′), Lawrie, Malkin, Cooke, Lindfield (Jones 75′)
Subs not used: Phillips, Ilchenko (GK)
Ref: Mr. L Corrigan