The first Saturday of September and with an International Break for the Premier League and Championship, the second Non League Day and 2011/12 FA Cup Preliminary Qualifying Round take centre stage. I start the day with a dilemma. Do I go and watch Tadcaster Albion (who I saw emerge victorious at Hemsworth Miners Welfare in the last Round) at Pontefract Collieries or do I go to Garforth Town the nearest club to home? My decision is clinched by the fact that in going to the Genix Healthcare Stadium, I’ll be able to watch the Oldest Club in the World play in the Oldest Cup Competition in the World. So Garforth Town v Sheffield FC it is.
Both teams play in the Evo-Stik League structure, with Garforth in Division One North and Sheffield in Division One South. Prior to this game, both sides have played six League games, with Garforth in 17th position and a total of 6 points with a solitary victory against Durham City so far. Sheffield have started more strongly sitting in 6th place with 10 points. This has been due to their excellent home form which has seen three wins against, Carlton Town, Grantham Town and Sutton Coldfield Town. Are the defeats of three “Town’s” a positive omen for Sheffield?
Last season these teams had very different experiences in the FA Cup. The Miners went out at the Preliminary Qualifying Round losing 1-0 to Tadcaster Albion. Whilst Garforth were exiting the competition, Club beat Colne 3-1 at home to progress. In the 1st Qualifying Round, Sheffield were drawn away at Woodley Sports and emerged 3-1 winners in a replay after drawing 2-2 in the game at Woodley. The 2nd Qualifying Round draw brought Northwich Victoria to Sheffield’s ground in Dronfield. Club must have thought their chance of progressing were over when they could only draw, but a 2-1 victory away at the Vics saw Sheffield through to the 3rd Qualifying Round and a home tie with Frickley Athletic. Once again Sheffield were unable to win the fixture at home, but as in the last Round again triumphed 2-1 in the replay. The 4th Qualifying Round draw brought Tipton Town of the Midland Alliance Division One to Dronfield. A bumper crowd of 1,026 attended a game that would see history made, as neither Sheffield or Tipton had ever reached the 1st Round Proper. The home side looked to be heading into the draw with the professionals of League One and League Two, but a Tipton equaliser left the game all square at 2-2. With Sheffield having emerged in Replays away from home in the previous Rounds, the game was by no means a formality for Tipton. However, in front of 1,420 Town emerged 2-0 winners. Their reward was a 1st Round tie at Brunton Park, where Carlisle United were ruthless in dispatching Tipton 6-0. Does a long run await either of these team today?
In truth, the opening 15 minutes were pretty scrappy. In windy conditions, neither side kept the ball on the ground and so it was a somewhat disappointing start to the Cup-tie. However, Garforth did take the lead on 19 minutes, when Matt Mathers put The Miners ahead. Further chances fell to the dangerous Paul Walker to increase the home lead, but Sheffield were coming more into the second period of the first half, with Garforth keeper Ben Higginson keeping Club at bay. However, on 37 minutes a Sheffield free kick was not dealt with by the home defence and Tom Burgin levelled the scores from close range. The visitors were now dominating the game, but couldn’t make a further breakthrough before half-time.
Sheffield started the second half as they had finished the first and continued to create chances. Matt Varley, Andy Gascoigne and Steve Woolley went close, before the visitors took a deserved lead. Having been awarded a free-kick and Garforth seemingly still sorting out their wall, Callum Higginson took the kick quickly to score on 64 minutes. This brought protests from the Garforth players, which the referee waved away. There followed a tetchy five minutes or so, as the home team showed their frustrations by committing a number of fouls which killed the flow of the game and brought a number of bookings. However, once they settled down again, The Miners worked their way back into the game. On 72 minutes Chris Howarth’s cross was headed goal-ward by Ben Thornton, only to be denied by a fine save by Dan Whatsize. However substitute Adam Priestly was first to the rebound to put Garforth back on level terms at 2-2. The Miners comeback was complete when just two minutes later, Chris Fisher drove in a free-kick to give Garforth a 3-2 lead. Rather than sit back on their lead the home team continued to press and Sheffield were grateful to Dan Whatsize for a couple of excellent saves that kept the visitors in the game. Even with five minutes of added time, Sheffield couldn’t forge a real chance of an equaliser as Garforth ran out 3-2 winners.
It was a really topsy-turvy affair and both sides had periods of domination and therefore could equally make a case for winning the Cup-tie. However, Garforth showed their spirit to come back from 2-1 down in the last quarter of the game and rather than hanging on to their lead, created further chances and therefore finished the stronger. So no repeat for Sheffield of last seasons Cup adventure, whilst Garforth have a home fixture against Frickley Athletic to look forward in the 1st Qualifying Round in two weeks.
Postscript: Elsewhere in the Preliminary Qualifying Round, Tadcaster Albion came through away from home 3-2 against Pontefract Collieries. Albion held a lead 1-0 at half-time after an early Karl Stewart goal. However, the game exploded into life in a seven minute second half spell in which four goals were scored. Ryan Poskitt levelled the game at 1-1 on 74 minutes, but goals from Graeme Whitehead (78 mins) and Jamie Hopcutt (80 mins), gave the visitors a two goal cushion. Back came The Colls to reduce the deficit as Ryan Poskitt scored his second and set up a tense last nine minutes. Albion held on and will have a home tie against Scarborough Athletic or Barton Town Old Boys in the next Round.