Stocksbridge Park Steels put in a performance to be proud of but eventually succumbed to a 3-1 defeat against higher league Stalybridge Celtic in front of the BBC Sport cameras in the FA Cup Preliminary Round.
Stalybridge took the lead through an impressive lob from Michael Burke but Stocksbridge levelled thanks to a low and powerful free kick from Scott Ruthven. In the second half though Stalybrige were able to get the win thanks to goals from Krisel Prifti and substitute Keano Deacon, the latter coming in the last minute to kill off the tie.
Stocksbridge were looking like the better side in the first few minutes, with Josh Nodder getting the first shot on target after his header was well saved by Thomas Stewart, but Stalybridge were able to score with their first chance of the game. Burke spotted Ed Hall off of his line and was able to lob over him and into the back of the net.
Despite going one down, Stocksbridge continued to have more of the ball and more of the chances. Luke Mangham almost put himself on every FA Cup highlight reel for the rest of the season when he teed up a volley for himself but his top corner effort was acrobatically saved by Stewart. The resulting corner also made Stewart work as the ball was headed out for Kurtis Turner to drive a shot low and towards goal but the Stalybridge keeper got low to palm it out for a corner.
Nodder was working hard and very keen to get the equalising goal. He first took a shot that would end up going high and wide and then got even closer with an acrobatic volley inside the box which went just over.
So when Stocksbridge got a free kick from 25 yards out, most expected Nodder to be the one to take it. However it would be Ruthven who’d step up and that worked out very well for the Steels. He hit his shot low and past an outstretched Stewart to level the game.
The game would quieten down for the rest of the half except for when a Stalybridge pass cut the Stocksbridge defence in half. Burke and Berat Ustabasi both ran onto it and neither seemed to be sure who was taking the shot. By the time Burke hit it, the chance had gone and the shot went wide in a let off for the Steels.
There was excitement to start the second half as Mangham in a sliding tackle on the goalkeeper Stewart but the Stalybridge shot stopper was quick to get the ball into his arms.
But Stalybridge retook the lead not long after this. There was a mix-up in the Stocksbridge defence and the ball was gifted to Prifti who took his opportunity to give Stalybridge the lead.
Stalybridge would start to take control of the match at this point with them having more of the ball with Burke in particularly being a nuisance for the Stocksbridge defence. His overhead kick was tamely dealt with but he was given a free header that should have been in the back of the net rather than over the bar. Stalybridge had another gilt edge chance when Burke went free on goal only for Hall to save. Charley Doyle then got a follow-up but Michael Trench was the hero, blocking on the line to keep Stocksbridge in the game.
The big what if will come from a massive scramble towards the end of the game. After the ball was played into the box, Ruthven hooked the ball onto the bar. A mad battle to score started and Stocksbridge had three shots blocked before Stalybridge were able to clear.
Stocksbridge were pushing for the equaliser but it would be Stalybridge who would score and knock the Steels out of the FA Cup. Deacon got the ball in the box with all the space he could have ever wanted and finished to secure their passage into the next round of the cup.
Manager Chris Hilton will now have to wait another year to get his first FA Cup win with Stocksbridge. They’ll hope to bounce back with their opening Northern Premier League South East fixture against Kidsgrove Athletic. This takes place on 19th September at the Eco Power Environmental Stadium and you can reserve your tickets by contacting the club now. Stalybridge start their season in the Northern Premier League Premier Division with a home match against Lancaster City.