FA Vase review: United’s proud run was so close to Wembley final

Eastbourne United boss Simon Rowland
Eastbourne United boss Simon Rowland
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The pained expressions on the faces of the Eastbourne United players, management and officials at the final whistle told the story at the Oval on Saturday.

A chance to reach a Wembley final had passed by and it was Sholing FC who advanced to face West Auckland in an FA Vase final showdown on Saturday, May 10.

United had performed with skill and determination to negotiate the eight previous rounds.

Along the pathway to the semi-final, Simon Rowland’s County League Two side beat higher level opposition in each round. Back in September goals from Ryan McBride, Casey Ham and Wes Tate saw them advance beyond division one side Arundel.

Next up, four goals from Jason Taylor and a strike from Matt Maclean enabled them to inch beyond Southern Counties East Football League side Phoenix Sports in a dramatic 5-4 extra-time triumph.

Chessington and Hook were the next victims and this time United cruised 3-0 at Chalky Lane with goals from McBride, Tate and Taylor.

In the third round Southpark from the Combined Counties League Premier Division proved tough opposition until second half goalsfrom Shaun Loft and McBride took United to a 2-1 victory.

Into the fourth round and what a game Hanworth Villa of the Combined Counties League Premier Division proved to be. In front of a hostile home crowd, United produced their best football in extra-time and won by a remarkable 7-2 scoreline. Joe Dryer was the main man with a hat-trick, Sean Ray, McBride, Tate and Scott Dartnell completed the scoring.

Morpeth in round five proved a feisty affair.

The Northern League division one side completely lost their discipline at the Oval and finished the game with just eight men on the pitch.

A McBride and Tate double contributed to their downfall with Dryer and Jack Divall also on target.

By this stage the nerves were starting to jangle. The thought of Wembley became a realistic prospect for players more used to the surroundings of the non-league pitches of Sussex. However, against a very capable Ampthill side, Rowland’s men held firm at the Oval. Tate opened the scoring with a sublime long-range volley before the he netted a second half winner.

So to the two-legged semi-final and a daunting clash against a free-scoring Sholing FC side who are happily carving up all before them in the Wessex Premier.

In the first leg at the Silverlake Arena United looked assured and disciplined and came away with a very creditable 2-2 draw thanks to a Tate penalty and precise finish from McBride.

McBride, who was man of the match in the first leg, was forced to sit out the all-important home leg due to suspension - and it proved crucial.

Sholing were quick from the blocks and stunned the 1,426 crowd as they took a three goal lead. Maclean and Jamie Crellin pulled two back in a spirited second half performance but despite a couple of decent penalty appeals, they could not repair the damage and the visitors added a fourth on the break.

It was a painful end to what had been a brave attempt. Small consolation came from the fact that the players and management made history for the club. Never before had United or indeed any other team from Eastbourne reached the semi-final of the FA Vase.

Rowland said, “It’s tough because when we cranked up the pressure Sholing cracked but we left ourselves with too much do.

“We will set up to do well in the league next year but if we find ourselves in this position in the Vase again, hopefully we can go one better.”