F.A. Challenge Cup with Budweiser – Second Qualifying Round
St. Neots Town 1 Boreham Wood 2
by John Mead
Another away day, another red card but on this occasion Ian Allinson’s side were just too good for the Evo-Stik Southern Football League Premier Division side.
The whole game centred around an incident involving James Russell the Wood ‘keeper after forty-four minutes. At that stage Russell had made three good saves and Wood had gone ahead just six minutes earlier with an excellently worked goal. The Wood shot stopper had rushed out to the edge of his area to gather a ball which he spilled when Callum Reynolds had knocked into him after a challenge from the Saints Captain Stefan Moore. Russell did handle outside the area when he reached out to gather the ball before retracting his arms after realising his error.
Referee Mr. Hendley surprisingly rushed over to issue a straight red card, when there were clearly Wood players between the ball and the goal and it was difficult to see where the goal scoring opportunity that was denied had come from. It left an already beleaguered Wood missing six players a mountain to climb, yet climb the mountain they did.
Cliff Akurang was forced to play in the centre of defence given the three suspensions and the injury to Jerel Ifil, leaving Inih Effiong partnering Omer Riza up front.
Wood controlled the first twenty minutes of the game with a fantastic thirty yard drive from Graeme Montgomery forcing ‘keeper Michael Duggan into a full stretch diving save. Lewis Hilliard then hit a fierce shot from the right that found Russell in his usual imperious form.
Moore then rounded Akurang before Russell saved bravely at his feet as the home side started playing without fear. Russell again saved his side with a low diving save from a finely struck low shot from Callum Stewart.
Wood took the lead with a sharp and incisive move that showed them at their best. Chez Isaac won possession releasing Riza who cut a superb first time ball out to the left wing into space for David Hutton. His cross was just too high for the arriving Effiong, who certainly distracted the defence, and failed to pick up Greg Morgan who steered the ball home from the right to record his first goal since returning to the Club he learnt his trade at. The Saints were smarting and were nearly made to pay further just minutes later when a fine Mark Jones ball ran superbly into the path of Riza. He unselfishly squared for Effiong who allowed a defender to get a foot in. The unfortunate Russell incident followed leaving Wood down to ten men, with Effiong sacrificed for Cameron Baker-Owers.
The second half was sure to be a long one for Allinson’s men but if there was a player on the field who could win a game on his own then Riza, well known in the Huntingdon area, for his spell at nearby Histon, was that man. He headed just over from a Montgomery free kick, before increasing the lead thanks to individual brilliance and the telepathy that he and Montgomery seem to shackle. Montgomery’s clearance down the left found Riza who fizzed past two defenders before finishing past Duggan from a tight angle. He could have had another when a quick free kick found him again through on goal although this time his shot from the outside of the boot lacked control.
With Lee Close in superb form at right back and Isaac full of running the Wood defence were superb. Baker-Owers commanded his area from set pieces, until Robert Hastings, just on the field of play, gave away a cheap free kick thirty five yards out. Hilliard drove home a well struck shot into the bottom right hand corner with thirteen minutes remaining to set up a tense finish. Substitute Kaine Felix was a hair’s breadth away from latching onto a Declan Rogers cross for an equaliser, but Wood held on to progress into Monday’s draw.
Ian Allinson declared, “We made it hard for ourselves conceding, but we set up well in the second half to deny them space as we perceived their strengths lay in the counter attack. I am pleased with the overall performance and glad to be in the next Round.” On the talking point of the afternoon, he added, “We will look at it and decide what to do. If we had played the whole match with eleven men which we quite possibly should have, it would have been a totally different game.”
Team: Russell, Close, Jones, Morgan (Sub – Hastings 75 mins.), Effiong (Sub – Baker-Owers 45 mins.), Reynolds, Hutton, Isaac, Akurang, Riza (Sub – Scott-Morris 87 mins.), Montgomery.
Subs (Not used): Yala, Doolan.
Bookings: Russell (sent off 44), Close. Goals: St. Neots Town: Hilliard 77. Boreham Wood: Morgan 38, Riza 58.
Man of the Match: Lee Close.