Eastbourne United are still well on track for a Wembley final after an excellent 2-2 away draw in an entertaining FA Vase semi-final first-leg at Sholing FC on Saturday.
Boss Simon Rowland admitted he was pleased with the result following goals from Wes Tate and man of the match Ryan McBride.
Rowland said, “If you had given me a 2-2 draw before the match I would have taken it.
“We were a bit nervous at the start but I was pleased with how the players did. I thought we had a better shape about us in the second half and we caused them a few problems.
“The players covered a lot of ground out there today. It was a good match and it’s all to play for now at the Oval. We are hoping for a good crowd so hopefully we can finish the job.”
With the tie being played over two legs it was an understandably cagey opening as the teams sized each other up.
United looked solid enough as Shaun Loft and Sean Ray formed a formidable barrier in defence ahead of Grant Young’s goal.
Striker McBride caused a few early problems for the home defence with his powerful presence. He held the ball up well but early chances were at a premium.
Sholing’s pacey winger Marvin McLean was lively on the left and was a constant menace to full back Peter Featherstone, one mazy run resulted in a booking for the defender.
The first real chance of the match arrived on 15 minutes. Grant Young came way off his line for a long punt into the box. The ball slipped from his grasp and he was stuck in no-man’s-land as the ball ping-ponged around the box.
Lewis Fennimore eventually fired a shot on goal which Young, who was still way off his line, flicked out his right hand and diverted for a corner.
McBride registered United’s first effort on goal on 21 minutes. After good work from Matt McLean, McBride curled an effort towards goal from 18 yards that home ‘keeper Mike Carter pushed around the post.
The opener arrived on 37 minutes from an unlikely source. Sholing’s impressive right back Mike Carter combined with Ashley Jarvis and United defender Ray, under pressure from Byron Mason, headed into his own net from close range.
United refused to be rattled. They remained disciplined and focussed and soon forced their way back on level terms.
Tate forced a super save from Carter with a well-struck half volley from 20 yards.
From the resultant corner an almighty scramble ensued. The ball fell to Loft on the edge of the box and he showed good footwork to turn inside Byron Mason who tripped him to the floor.
Referee Justin Mason was perfectly placed and instantly pointed to the spot.
Tate, who scored twice in the previous round against Ampthill, side footed the penalty to his right and despite the ‘keeper getting a hand to the ball, it nestled into the bottom corner to level the scores.
Rowland sensibly replaced Featherstone with Scott Dartnell at halftime. Dartnell slotted in at leftback and Divall shuffled across to the right to deal with the threat of McLean.
United began the second half well. Divall flashed an effort just wide but United took the lead on 59 minutes.
Patient build-up play saw Tate clip a clever ball into McBride. The striker held off the defender, turned and fired a perfectly placed low effort from 20 yards into the bottom corner.
After taking the lead Sholing cranked up the pressure. The hosts almost pulled level on 80 minutes. Substitute Kevin Brewster whipped in an inviting freekick and skipper Byron Mason angled a powerful header just wide.
The equaliser came just three minutes later. Carter, now operating in a more advanced role, cut on to his favoured right foot and finished superbly from 18 yards to make it 2-2.
A fine game from two evenly matched teams. They will now do it all again next Saturday with the small matter of a Wembley final at stake.
United: Young 6; Featherstone 5 (Scott Dartnell 45 6), Divall 8, Loft 9, Ray 7, Franklin 7, Tate 7, Saunders 7, McBride 9, Mclean 7, Dryer 6. Subs not used: Ben Dartnell, Aston, Szafrawski
Booked: Featherstone, McBride
Sholing: Carter, Diaper, Castle, Bright, Fennemore (Bowers 65), Barry Mason, Byron Mason, Wort, Jarvis (Brewster 76), Mclean
Subs not used: Miller, Sawyer, Cox
Booked: Fennemore, Byron Mason, Bowers
Ref: Justin Amey
MOM: Ryan McBride