FA VASE: Ely City’s remarkable Vase run ended by superior Sporting Khalsa side
BUILDBASE FA VASE FIFTH ROUND
Ely City 0-3 Sporting Khalsa
The Unwin Ground, Ely
The scene was set - a crisp January afternoon, a record number of 646 punters through the Unwin Ground gate, and a place in the quarter-finals of the FA Vase at stake.
But there was to be no fairytale result for Ely City on Saturday afternoon after three second-half Sporting Khalsa goals brought the Robins’ remarkable cup run to an abrupt halt.
Ely boss Brady Stone had said before the match that he’d tell his men to go out and enjoy the occasion, but, simply put, Khalsa didn’t allow them to.
The Midlands Football League outfit turned in a disciplined and determined display from defence to attack and restricted the hosts – who had scored at least three goals every other of their Vase matches – to only a handful of real chances.
Ely matched Khalsa for the opening 15 minutes, but as the game progressed, the visitors grew into the tie and took control.
Robins ‘keeper Harry Reynolds was first called into action after 20 minutes, smartly turning a bouncing header around the post, before a Khalsa corner was nearly turned into his own net by Daniel Jeffrey.
Then came the most controversial decision of the afternoon.
Some neat play on the left resulted in Ely’s George Darling surging into the box, only for the former Soham man to be hacked down. On another day the referee would have pointed to the spot, but official Ian Rathbone deemed the tackle to be legal and waved play on.
And it was from this point that the Khalsa took full control, and Reynolds was again forced to make a fine save after half an hour, this time from Dave Meese’s 12-yard drive.
Reynolds then watched a Craig Bannister curler whistle just wide of a his post a few minutes later, before clawing Michael Perks’ cross over as Khalsa really began to turn the screw.
But the Ely back four of Jeffrey, Tom Williams, Ollie Brookes and Jamie Alsop did well to keep the visitors at bay and keep it goalless as the sides went into the break.
Ely had to wait until the 56th minute for their first real chance – but it was one they really should have made the most of.
A defence-splitting pass from Darling saw Matty Simpson race through, but the ball bobbled up just before the winger was due to pull the trigger and Sporting stopper Tom Turner collected at his feet.
And Simpson’s spurned opportunity was punished just three minutes later when the deadlock was broken in emphatic style.
Midfielder Bannister found himself in space on the right, before cutting inside and curling in an excellent shot into the far post.
The visitors only had to wait five more minutes to double their lead, with Meese slamming a spot-kick in off the crossbar after Luke Shearer was hauled down in the box by Williams.
Sensing that his side’s hopes were fading fast, Stone threw on top-scorer Alex Theobald and attacker Ashley Shipp – who netted a brace in the fourth round – but the nail was put in the Robins’ coffin nine minutes from time with a goal that came following a rare defensive mistake.
Brookes was robbed of possession near the corner flag by the lively Yussef Ceesay, who then picked out the onrushing Marvin Nisbett to slot home.
All good things must come to an end, and despite Saturday being that end for Stone and his players, Ely should hold their heads up high for their efforts which caught the attentions of football fans across Cambridgeshire.
Ely City: Harry Reynolds, Daniel Jeffrey, Jamie Alsop, Liam Griffin (Ashley Shipp 73), Tom Williams, Ollie Brookes, Kelvin Enaro (Craig Neal 73), Ash Walter, Tom Reed, George Darling, Danny Simpson (Alex Theobald 65)
Unused substitutes: Nathan Littlefair, Dominic Hunt
Man of the match: Tom Williams. Although he gave away the penalty which led to the second goal, the centre-back was solid against a very physical Khalsa side. Won the majority of aerial challenges and his no-nonsense approach helped keep the visitors at arms-length in the first half.