A late change of plans, which saw my wife pick up a late booking, spurred me on to find a Friday night fixture. As regular readers will know, I’m not a huge fan of watching matches in Athletic Stadia, however as this was within a reachable driving distance for me, I decided to come to Essex, to watch this FA Vase fixture.
The Ashton Athletic Stadium, is based in Woodford and is the home of Woodford Town, who, like their opponents today, Sawbridgeworth Town, play in the Essex Senior Football League, Premier Division. The ground was opened in August 2021 after a long battle to bring Woodford Town back to play in their home town. There is a big main stand named after Jas Athwal, a local councillor and leader of Redbridge Council, who worked hard to get the stadium project developed.
The welcome on the gate, programme quality, PA and music offer and food and drink available made the distance from the pitch (over the athletics track) less of an atmospheric issue than I have found it at other clubs who play in a dual use stadium.
Woodford Town have had a positive opening quarter of the season, sitting in eighth place with fifteen points from ten games. Alejandro Machado with four goals and Samir Ali, with three goals have topped the scoring for the home side, this season. Manager Shane Baptiste would have been hopeful that his Woodford Town side can achieve promotion this season and a decent FA Vase run would add to the income and feel-good factor at the club.
Sawbridgeworth Town have the same number of points from ten games as their opponents, but sit lower, in tenth place, on goal difference. Their goals have been scored by Wale Adedeji and Sadie Akanbi who both top score, coming into the tie tonight, with four goals. Manager Ben Taylor would know, with so little between the teams’ performances this season, that an away FA Vase win was possible.
The game opened with Woodford Town attacking confidently, despite the wet surface, after heavy early evening rain. In the twelfth minute the ball fell to Woodford Town’s Luke Parrot who fired the ball home to put the Woods 1-0 ahead.
The remainder of the half saw Woodford Town push hard for a second goal. It finally came on the stroke of half time, when Jamie Phillips threw himself in bravely, for a header on the edge of the area, which looped over the keeper and into the Sawbridgeworth Town goal, for 2-0. Phillips was left requiring treatment, before rejoining the game. At half time the score remained 2-0 to the home team.
The second half opened with a third Woodford Town goal, on 48 minutes, which also effectively ended the tie. Luke Parrot created a chance from nowhere to score his second of the game.
Woodford Town continued to create chances although Sawbridgeworth Town also began to play themselves into the game, as the game moved into its final third.
In the 78th minute Sawbridgeworth Town secured what appeared to be a consolation goal, when a deflected shot went into the Woodford Town net to make it 3-1 on the night.
In the 88th minute it looked like Sawbridgeworth Town were ready to make it and uncomfortable final few minutes when a spectacular overhead volleyed finish from their number 7, flew past McEvoy, in the Woodford Town goal, to bring the scores back to 3-2.
Two minutes later just when it looked as if the referee would blow for full time, a free kick was awarded to Sawbridgeworth Town, which was pumped into a nervous Woodford Town box. A headed finish rattled the crossbar and bounced back before being nodded over the line by the away sides’ centre half, to the joy of the away fans and players to see Sawbridgeworth Town turn around a very unlikely 3-0 deficit, making it 3-3 within the final 12 minutes! The final whistle blew immediately, sending the game into an immediate penalty shoot out.
The shoot out was almost as tense as the game had been. Woodford Town’s keeper McEvoy made a save on the final Sawbridgeworth Town penalty, to ensure the result was secured at 4-2 and to send the home team into the next round. The away team should rightly feel proud of the way they fought back to make this a really entertaining and exciting FA Vase tie.