MATCH REPORT & GALLERY: FA Cup replay beckons after 1,100 watch March Town United draw with Wisbech Town
FA Cup Preliminary Round: March Town United 1 Wisbech Town 1
AN FA Cup replay beckons after March Town United drew with Wisbech Town in what was a memorable day for football in Fenland.
A staggering 1,100 people flocked to the GER to watch Fenland’s biggest derby in almost 30 years - with one of the oldest stands in football packed and queues to get in stretching down Robingoodfellow’s Lane.
But it was the visitors who took the lead after 25 minutes, when Liam Nimmo turned home a deflected Chris Bacon shot to the delight of the vocal Fenmen faithful.
Hares captain Luke Pepper curled in a sumptuous 20-yard free-kick five minutes later and, although both sides had chances, a nervy second half saw Fenland’s football fans looking forward to a replay at the Elgood’s Fenland Stadium on Tuesday night.
The tone was set inside five seconds at the GER when Lewis Thompson scythed down Pepper for the first free-kick of what promised to be a feisty derby.
But nerves soon began to surface in front of the massive crowd - with few chances in the early exchanges.
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Brett Whaley’s March were the first to settle. Stu Anderson was unable to convert a stunning reverse ball from Marc Welcher before Ricki Goodale breezed past Stacy Cartwright to draw a good save from Ryan Rayner.
Wisbech began to find their feet after 10 minutes as speedy winger Matt Lunn started to make inroads down March’s right side.
Lunn blazed a right-footed effort over the bar before Chris Bacon’s towering back-post header was turned away by Tom Roberts - who impressed in goal after signing on a short-term loan deal from Peterborough Premier League side Pinchbeck United.
Bacon, who caused constant problems to the March defence with his powerful approach, shaved the post minutes later with another header from Stacy Cartwright’s cross.
Wisbech steadily took command and Nimmo showed fantastic pace to put himself through before scuffing a gentle shot straight at Roberts.
The Ridgeons Premier Division outfit finally made their dominance count after 25 minutes when Nimmo did get himself on the scoresheet - thanks mainly to his strike-partner Bacon.
The strong frontman beat two players before his shot deflected nicely into the path of Nimmo, who slotted home from five yards.
March’s reaction was immediate and it was their inspirational captain Pepper - having fought off a virus in order to play - who produced a moment of quality to fire his side level.
Having been felled just outside the box, the midfield ace picked himself up and curled a delightful finish past Ryan Rayner’s outstretched palm to send the GER into raptures.
The equaliser breathed fresh life into March, who began to get stronger across the pitch. Cartwright’s ugly challenge on Goodale earned him a yellow card before Marc Welcher joined him in the referee’s notebook for persistent fouling.
Wisbech struggled to convert attacking positions with match-winner Callum Reed failing to have an impact on the game thanks to the tireless man-marking of March’s Lewis Cook.
But the Fenmen seemed to come out with renewed energy after the break as a flowing move down the right finished with Reed’s volley deflecting wide off his own team-mate Nimmo.
Welcher - who put on a sparkling display at left back for the Hares - had to be alert to nick the ball from Bacon moments before he was about to pull the trigger.
Reed’s frustration showed in the 55th minute as he flew into a rash challenge on Cook to earn himself a booking.
Tempers flared again moments later as Cook returned the favour, clipping Reed’s heels just as the midfielder thought he had some space to work with.
Cook was booked for his challenge and was immediately subsituted for Nathan Smith, who continued to man-mark Wisbech’s dangerman.
As the tension grew at the GER both sides had chances to grab the winner which would secure �1,500, a home-tie in the next round and the valuable bragging rights.
Nimmo nodded a Thompson cross wide before Anderson missed an even better headed chance at the other end. The in-form striker should have scored but he was unable to convert Pepper’s pinpoint pass from eight yards out.
Welcher was almost the unlikely source of a priceless winner as his deep cross had to be tipped over by Rayner.
With 20 minutes to go, Ricki Goodale made way for Ash Brand - the Hares’ two-goal hero in the last round. And it was Brand who was handed a golden chance to steal the headlines.
The tricky forward was picked out by Pepper but failed to get his shot away with Wisbech defenders quick to close him down.
March continued to push and Gavin Cooke’s free-kick cross trickled inches wide of the post after beating everyone in the box.
Wisbech had chances of their own as manager Steve Appleby pushed for a winner. Nimmo’s looping cross was tipped over by a back-pedalling ‘keeper before Welcher threw himself in front of a Bacon shot to keep March level.
And it was Bacon who had the last chance in the dying seconds of a pulsating game. The striker nodded a difficult header over the bar from Nick Davey’s corner - before the referee called time to the relief of a nervous crowd.
Tuesday’s replay - which will go to extra-time and penalties if necessary - will take place at the Elgood’s Fenland Stadium on Tuesday. Kick-off 7.45pm.
• For reaction from both managers, delighted March Town United chairman Phil White and a frustrated Callum Reed visit our website tomorrow.