St Ives’ Wembley dream ends in Staveley

IT was fun while it lasted, but there was no pot of gold at the end of St Ives Town’s FA Vase rainbow on Saturday.

With expectations high, the United Counties Premier Division side went to the outskirts of Chesterfield in Derbyshire, but lost 3-0 to Staveley Miners Welfare – and will now miss out on a two-legged semi final and the chance of a place in the national competition’s final at Wembley in May.

Things could have been so different had young striker Conor Washington taken one of the three chances he created for himself while the game was still goalless. Washington terrorised the Staveley defence for the first half an hour of the match but the home side’s goalkeeper Ian Deakin stopped all three of the 19-year-old’s shots. On another day etc, he might have scored a hat-trick.

There were minutes during that opening half an hour that St Ives looked fantastic. For short periods they played like the team that had beaten Gresley 4-0 in the previous round. Washington also teed up Junior McDougald and Stuart Cobb – but they were sloppy with their finishes.

In the 36th minute, St Ives went 1-0 down when lively left winger Jack Thornton crossed a low ball into the box which prolific goalscorer Ryan Damms tapped home.

There had already been danger signs. Thornton himself had headed the ball over in the first minute – but there was still hope, and during the first 20 minutes of the second half there were further chances for both sides with Saints goalkeeper Niall Conroy-Owen and Deakin both being forced into making excellent saves.

Staveley doubled their tally in the 71st minute when Dan Newman, one of St Ives most experienced players, dallied on the ball and allowed it to be stolen from his boot. Substitute Jordan Hall beat Conroy-Owen with a clinical finish. That was when St Ives’ heads began to drop.

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With the visitors pressing late on, the referee ignored a clear foul on Newman when the home side broke away and waved play-on for Staveley to grab their third.

“We didn’t perform as good as we can unfortunately,” said joint manager Jez Hall. “I think that’s what the lads are most disappointed about.

“They feel like it’s a chance missed because if they performed to the Gresley level we could have easily got the result.”

While chasing the game in the second half, Hall and his co-manager Warren Everdell were forced into making three non-tactical changes when first McDougald and then Aaron Last and Ozie Foster left the field with injuries. “That gave us no opportunity to change things,” said Hall. “It was a mix-and-match formation with the wrong personnel.

“It’s very rare that you have to make three substitutions through injury. That just about sums up our day really.”

Despite the result, St Ives’ fans, who are noisy at home let alone on the road at an FA Vase quarter final, out-sung the shy and retiring home support throughout the game – and then in the bar afterwards. And there was a nice touch just before the three coaches pulled away from the Inkersall Road ground.

Captain Lee Ellison climbed on board each one and spoke to the fans using the driver’s microphone. “We’re sorry we let you down,” he told them. “But we will give you our best again next year!”