Stevenage’s never-say-die attitude evident in shootout victory after two last minute levellers at Vale Park…
Steve Evans made four changes from the starting eleven that were victorious in Burton on Saturday, with Alex MacDonald, Jordan Roberts, Aaron Pressley and Ben Thompson returning to the starting line-up.
Having played each other twice already this season, the two sides knew that a trip to Maidstone United awaited whoever came out on top tonight in the FA Cup Third Round.
Port Vale threatened early on as Stevenage looked to settle into the game. Gavin Massey looked an outlet for the hosts and showed it almost immediately when Terence Vancooten had to stretch to clear a dangerous cross to safety
A minute later, it would be that same outlet to cause the first goal of the game. Gavin Massey found space down the right, before a low drilled cross found Ben Garrity to convert from six yards.
Stevenage then seemed to turn it on having gone a goal down and were inches away from being level five minutes later. Alex MacDonald’s corner originally found its way back to him following a wayward Jordan Roberts effort, whose second ball into the box found Carl Piergianni. The Skipper’s headed effort beat Connor Ripley in goal, but not the Vale defender on the line who would clear from off the line.
In the following Stevenage attack, Ben Thompson then went close when firing from twenty yards but dragged it wide of the near post.
Stevenage pushed on with the aim of getting back into this cup tie, but with a number of set piece threats and half chances, the visitors would go in behind at the internal.
Knowing something needed to change, the Gaffer brought on brothers Nathan and Louis Thompson in place of Harrison Neal and Aaron Pressley for the second half.
Stevenage started the brighter as the game got underway again, with Jordan Roberts moving higher to partner Jamie Reid up top. The away dugout and supporters behind the goal had legitimate claims for a spot kick five minutes after the restart, when Roberts seemed to be brought down inside the area during an aerial challenge, with nothing given.
Against the run of play, Port Vale doubled their lead just before the hour mark as Ben Garrity doubled his and the hosts’ tally after converted a by-line cutback from ten yards.
Jamie Reid and Ben Thompson had efforts blocked from inside the area soon after, as Stevenage looked to get back into this FA Cup Second Round tie with as much time to spare.
Kane Hemmings and Nick Freeman were introduced for Roberts and MacDonald on the hour, before Harvey White replaced Ben Thompson a few minutes later.
Stevenage continued to be the most positive of the two sides despite the two-goal deficit, working hard to find a way through the Port Vale defence.
Hemmings and Reid now formed the strike partnership, and the latter had a golden chance with a quarter of an hour to play but headed straight at Ripley from Dan Butler’s cross.
With just under ten minutes to play, Steve Evans’ men found a glimmer of light. As in the original fixture, it would be Harvey White to provide a moment of magic. Picking up the ball in the middle of the Port Vale half, the former-Tottenham man drove forward before taking aim from twenty yards out. Much to the silence of Vale Park, apart from the proud 77 travelling supporters, this FA Cup tie was very much back on.
The fourth official signalled for six minutes of added time and the clock hit ninety. Luther James-Wildin would have hoped to have done better from a tight angle six yards out when the ball fell to him at the back post, but Vale survived the scare.
But, as we have discovered over the last eighteen months or so, this Stevenage side doesn’t not give up.
Into the final minute of the additional, Stevenage continued to push and press in search of the leveller.
A ball over from the left-hand found Kane Hemmings in a rare area of space, who then turned into the coolest man in Staffordshire by calmly dinking his effort over Ripley. It seemed to take an age to hit the back of the net, before sending the away end into raptures as Stevenage found their way level in this now traditional cup tie.
The first half of extra-time started with Port Vale on the front foot again, with Jesse Debrah firing over from distance and Ben Garrity’s effort being well taken by Taye Ashby-Hammond.
Dan Butler tried his luck from 25 yards but hit it straight at Ripley, before Kane Hemmings’ header glanced just wide of the far post after some excellent work from Nick Freeman to get the cross in.
We headed into the final fifteen level.
Ben Garrity picked up a yellow card for simulation after going down despite a lack of challenge from Nathan Thompson in the Boro box.
Down the other end, Dan Butler’s cross provided a golden opportunity for Luther James-Wildin to head Stevenage into the lead but managed to head wide from inside the six yard box.
Port Vale had the ball in the net with just under ten to play, but thankfully referee Tom Nield whistled for a foul on Taye Ashby-Hammond in the goal mouth scramble.
With just over five minutes of extra-time to play, former Boro loanee Ryan Loft’s effort from inside the area regained Port Vale’s lead, and Stevenage had to do it all over again to keep themselves in the competition.
Despite the setback, and despite going behind for the second time. This Stevenage team would carry on looking for a way through to goal. Bodies bundled forward in the dying seconds of the game, and after Port Vale failed to clear convincingly, Luther James-Wildin found himself with the ball at his feet and in a dangerous position. A low drive across the face of goal found the unlikely Nathan Thompson, who finished expertly past Ripley in the 119th minute.
Celebrated again in front of the Stevenage supporters, as penalties loomed in Staffordshire.
After 120 minutes of football, the two sides could not be split. Carl Piergianni won the toss to take the spot kicks in front of the away end, with Jamie Reid up first.
Like he does so often, Reid made no mistake from the spot. Vale’s Ojo then converted, and Kane Hemmings did the same. Taye Ashby-Hammond reached well to deny Ben Garrity before Harvey White stood up to give Boro the lead.
Jason Lowe, Nathan Thompson and Tom Sang scored respectively, but Luther James-Wildin’s effort over the bar denied the defender the winner.
Goal scorer Ryan Loft was up next for the hosts and had to score to keep the shootout going. However, Taye Ashby-Hammond had other ideas. Despite some dark arts from the opposing goalkeeper, the former Fulham stopper managed to guess the correct way each time. For Loft’s kick it was no different, diving low to his right to make the save.
On a night that didn’t want to end, Stevenage fought right until the last kick and reap their rewards with a trip to Maidstone United in the Third Round in January.
An FA Cup classic. Onto Exeter on Saturday. borotickets.co.uk.
2,073 inc. 77 away.