Image Credit [Cian Fox]
The true essence of cup football. Stourbridge vs. Guiseley AFC started in a cagey manner: the ball did not touch the ground for nearing on 20 seconds after the kick off. And the game continued in that fashion for a while, with neither side able to gain any sort of a foothold before two goals in as many minutes sparked the game into life. The first half ended with both sides trading blows, but it was probably Stourbridge – 2nd in the division below Guiseley – who could be more disappointed going in at the break on level terms. However, after the break the twelve places that separate them in the tiers of English football showed. Guiseley’s managerial combination of Russ O’Neill and Marcus Bignot got their substitutions right; Kaine Felix, in particular, was superb when coming on.
It appeared for the first fifteen or so minutes of this FA Cup 4th round qualifier that both sides seemed intent on not making a mistake, instead of forcing a mistake. The free-flowing football that had taken Stourbridge to third in the Evo Stik Premier Division Central, at almost two goals a game; and Guiseley to a run of ten games unbeaten since August was absent. Perhaps that should be expected of 22 players whom an appearance in the first round proper of the oldest domestic club competition in the world would be the highlight of their careers. However, goals from William Thornton and Luke Benbow gave the game the kick-start it needed.
Thornton’s goal came from a routine that Guiseley clearly recognised would expose Stourbridge. Curtis Morrison was released down the left hand side, allowing him to isolate Stourbridge’s Jordaan Brown. Brown, with no other option, really, cynically tried to halt Morrison in his tracks. He half succeeded, putting the Guiseley number 10 off balance, but Morrison was able to put a cross in, which came to nothing so the referee pulled it back.
Alex Ray Harvey, Guiseley’s best player on the day, delivered a deliciously pacey ball into the six-yard box. It was the kind of ball that the game, thus far, had been lacking. Thornton met it at the near post and Guiseley were ahead. It looked as though Guiseley would from this point press home the divisional advantage, with Ray Harvey picking up the ball more regularly, and Kingsley James – two goals in his last two starts for the Lions – being allowed to run at the troubled Stourbridge full-backs.
Ray Harvey was allowed to pick up the ball too readily in the middle of the park, and Stourbridge’s shape facilitated it. The 442 that they lined up in – later going to a 451 when out of possession – gave Guiseley a free man in midfield. The Lions made sure that that free man was Ray Harvey, who looked the most assured man on the field.
However, Stourbridge did superbly to respond. Russ O’Neill told The Gryphon after the game that he was impressed by how Stourbridge finished the first half, and admitted to his side being under the cosh when the first half drew to a close. Luke Benbow, who worked tirelessly all day for Stourbridge and more than deserved his goal, instigated this. And what a goal it was. Callum Powell delivered the ball in from the left and with seemingly every Guiseley defender hanging off him, Benbow expertly took it down. The Stourbridge number 9 had, up to that point, spent all game holding balls up for his teammates. This time he decided to take matters into his own hands. Within one movement, Benbow took it down and fired it past the motionless Joe Green in the Guiseley net. Cristiano Ronaldo and Gareth Bale, eat your hearts out.
What had started off as a cagey affair blew into life. Both sides began to really start trading punches: Benbow and Mills, the big man-big man combination up front proved extremely difficult for the Guiseley centre-halves to handle. However, up the other end it was Thornton and Purver’s that bothered Stourbridge. Any ball into the box followed the same routine that led to Guiseley’s opener: ball to the near post, looking for a flick on. Stourbridge just seemed to ignore the problem. They were lucky it only brought the one goal for Guiseley.
Stourbridge were beginning to get players nearer to Benbow, who began to a look a bit less isolated. I am sure Stourbridge manager Gary Hackett will be looking at how he can have that from the start in future, rather than from 30 minutes onwards.
The first half ended in some level of controversy, with Stourbridge growing increasingly frustrated at referee Alex Jackson. Jackson had appeared to have had enough by the half time whistle, however; booking Benbow as the players went in to the break. Listening to some Stourbridge supporters it seems that Benbow is very capable of producing magic such as what was shown for his goal, but is equally as able in the petulance department. His booking for dissent really meant that Stourbridge lost something in the second half. Whether that was down to tiredness is another matter; Benbow, for 45 minutes, was unable to put himself about in the same way that was so effective in the first half.
The second half started cagily, with Stourbridge seemingly very happy to let Guiseley have the ball. The away side came out and set up in a very rigid 451 shape when without the ball, of which they spent 75% of the second half without. Their motivations were clear: get Guiseley back to Stourbridge on Monday week.
Aris Chritophorou went into the book for a cynical foul when Curtis Morrison had a free run at a depleted Stourbridge back line. That set the tone for the half. Stourbridge resorted to some relatively nasty tactics. If anything, however, it worked for Guiseley, and in particular their managers, whose changes were inspired.
The game was crying out for an injection of pace. Ray Harvey’s influence in the middle had started to dwindle with nothing ahead of him to aim at, and Hackett had taken off Powell. A decision that, I believe, made it impossible for the Glass Boys to win the game. While some of Powell’s touches were heavy and the ball did not stick, he still looked lively. Guiseley’s full backs, Heaton and Moyo, were, I am sure, delighted to see Powell’s number 7 come up.
O’Neill spoke after the game about how impressed he has been with the comeback of Kaine Felix after a long injury layoff. It is no surprise that the Lions’ co-manager said they will gain something when Felix is back to full strength. His impact here was almost immediate.
And with a home game against struggling league two outfit Cambridge United in the offing, who knows how much further they could go.
Ironically, it came from a long ball up by Green, bypassing the midfield and the Stourbridge deep-block. It was a move that Guiseley seemed wary of using, instead trying to break Stourbridge down in an attritional manner. Kaine Felix, the games new arrival, somehow found himself up against Paul McCone, who misjudged the bounce of the ball. Smith found himself in space, but at an angle. Lifting his head up he spotted Lewis Walters, screaming for the ball. Felix coolly obliged. Walters could not miss. Nethermoor Park exploded. If Guiseley could smell the first round proper after that, they could feel it only moments later. Felix’s seemingly sixth sense of knowing where the centre back is going to make the error confirming Guiseley’s place.
Again, the winger caused havoc at the back for Stourbridge. Captain McCone, who had a horrible day, was again beaten by the bounce and run of the ball. Criminal at any level. Felix, this time in space but not at an angle, was able to get enough on the ball to send it running past Wren. Guiseley had enjoyed some really good possession all day, in various dangerous areas but it was interestingly two long balls that did it for them. For a side such as Stourbridge whose tactic appears to be to pump it long to a big man-big man combination up top, it is surprising that they seemed to be perplexed by long balls themselves.
Russ O’Neill stated after the game how happy he was to be able to take Guiseley to the first round proper of the most prestigious club tournament in the world. And with a home game against struggling league two outfit Cambridge United in the offing, who knows how much further they could go.