MATCH REPORT: Brand’s brace puts March Town United in FA Cup dreamland
FA Cup Extra Preliminary Round: March Town United 2 Kirkley & Pakefield 1
A SECOND-HALF brace from Ash Brand sent underdogs March Town United through to the next round of the FA Cup - AND a dream tie with rivals Wisbech Town.
Brett Whaley’s brave side, missing a host of key players, came from behind to dump premier division Kirkley & Pakefield out of the world’s most famous cup competition.
Supporters of the Suffolk side were quick to point out that their team was also under strength. However, few can argue that the character shown by March - who went in 1-0 behind at the break - was enough to see them deserve their battling victory.
Whaley’s plans were dealt a massive blow before kick-off with Ben Hepworth (illness) joining Stu Anderson, Gavin Cooke, Dan Jenkins and Kyle Nolan on the sidelines.
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Inspirational captain Luke Pepper - who missed Wednesday’s 3-0 win at Godmanchester Rovers - was only fit enough for a place on the bench as he struggled to overcome his own bout of illness.
The game kicked off at a frenetic pace as both sides poured men forward making for an open and exciting encounter.
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Neither side, however, for all of their promising build up play, fashioned a decent goalscoring opportunity.
James McDonough - on the stretch - skied Ricki Goodale’s vicious free-kick over the bar before Royals’ centre-back Jack Herbert half-volleyed just wide from the edge of March’s box.
Goodale’s influence continued to grow as did Kirkley’s Alex Holmes - easily the visitors best player on the day - with both looking likely to play a serious part in the outcome of the afternoon’s result.
Holmes and Kirkley looked dangerous on the break but March - led superbly by heroic centre-back Adam Sutton who barely put a foot wrong all game - didn’t look like conceding.
The Hares looked the likeliest to break the deadlock, especially when Goodale sped past Lewis Flower only to over-hit his final ball. The incident sort of summed up the first half - a lot of promise, but not much end product.
Tricky winger McDonough fashioned the half’s best chance as he bamboozled Danny Tacon with a classy dragback on the touchline. His fizzing cross was met by Adam Rothery but his effort - on the run - was pulled just wide.
And just as the rush for half-time refreshments began, with the score seemingly destined to be deadlocked at the break, left-back Joe Bell scored a wonder goal to put the visitors in front.
Bell picked the ball up around 35 yards from March’s goal and strode forward before unleashing an absolute belter which gave the Hares’ keeper Lea Jordan no chance.
The 30-yarder drew a round of applause from all inside the GER. Kirkley quickly almost doubled their lead in first-half injury time as Daniel Scriven’s cross caused Jordan problems.
His centre hit Jordan’s far post, cannoned back off the March ‘keeper to the impressive Holmes, whose rebound was saved by the shot-stopper’s legs.
March had more than held their own and going into the break you could sense there were still more goals in the game - and there were.
Dominic Smith went close for Kirkley, lone striker Andy Wayte hit the sidenetting for March before Ash Brand spurned two glorious opportunities to draw March level.
His first effort, in the 56th minute, owed much to outstanding build-up play from Goodale, whose influenced waned after the break, and Wayte - who toiled tirelessly up front all game.
The ball eventually found its way to Brand, who blazed over the bar on his left foot, and the pint-sized striker was back in the thick of things two minutes later as he struck the upright with a right-foot drive from the edge of the box.
March’s belief grew, but Kirkley continued to look dangerous on the break, especially with dangerman Holmes being given acres of space in his new role on the left-hand side of the Royals’ midfield.
A last-ditch block from Lewis Cook and a save from Jordan kept the score at 1-0, and it was a good job for March as that man Brand finally found the back of the net with his third chance of the half to make it 1-1.
Wayte’s intelligent sliderule throughball was collected by the speedy wideman and Brand slotted home confidently. With 68 minutes on the clock the game was poised on a knife-edge.
A sea of substitutions disrupted the flow of proceedings, with both sides - and the crowd - growing visibly nervous.
But those nerves - for the March fans at least - were settled when Brand, in the 84th minute, gambled on Jordan’s mammoth clearance to score from close range to bag his second of the afternoon and put March in front.
As expected, Kirkley laid siege to March’s goal in the dying stages but Whaley’s heroic backline continued to put their bodies on the line to secure the victory and a mouth-watering derby against the Fenmen on September 3.
Kirkley & Pakefield: Hills, D. Tacon, Bell, Flower (Cole, 59), Herbert, De Coteau, Holmes, Allen (Kerslake, 84), Baker, Smith, Scriven (M. Tacon, 73)
• For more on Wisbech’s win today - and previous stories about both clubs this season, click on the related links on the right-hand side of this page.
• Visit our website later today to read the after-match interview with delighted March boss Brett Whaley.