HEBBURN TOWN 1
CONGLETON TOWN 0
(FA Vase round five)
After a series of narrow, hard-fought victories, the Bears headed north, 173 miles and three hours, to Hebburn, a small town on the south bank of the River Tyne, between Jarrow and Gateshead, for round five of the FA Vase.
Formed in 1912, as a works team for the Reyrolles Engineering Company, “The Hornets” as they became known, have become something of a leading light in non-league football (writes Mike McLaughlin).
They are in the unique position of waiting to play in last year’s postponed Vase final at Wembley on 3rd May against Consett, while they plough on in this year’s instalment.
When lockdown bit they were storming away at the top of the Northern League with 11 wins from 12, and a 49-11 goal tally.
It was not always so. As recently as a few years ago the club was in dire straits: unsuccessful, penniless, and with crowds as low as 30. A Save Hebburn campaign prompted both Newcastle and Sunderland to send teams for lucrative friendlies, sponsors appeared, new owners invested. The clubhouse is now a financially fertile focus for the community, attendances are 250+, and all is well.
The Bears travelled in typically determined, level-headed fashion but hopes were high. Social media was abuzz with excitement and anticipation, awash with wishes, hopes and dreams.
Hebburn’s ground provided few surprises, but the pitch did. It did not look at all promising: hard, uneven and even rutted in places.
Whatever, the Bears began confidently and expansively, initially pushing the home side back. Their midfield, even without the injured Jason Johnson, resumed the neat, busy activity of the week before, but soon found the poor playing surface inhibiting.
As the game moved on, both sides settled to positive, productive rhythms.
Hebburn grew in confidence and impetus, but the visitors sat strong and Dave Part on was happy. Dan Cope went close with a characteristically neat turn and half-volley, but over the bar.
Hebburn Town 1
Congleton Town 0
In the second half play opened up and Hebburn resumed their attacks, but once again the Bears went close to taking the lead when the previously subdued Arron Johns broke through, only to be thwarted by the uneven pitch as he skied his shot.
Relieved, the home side hit back strongly, but the Bears were resolute and, as the tempo increased, several well-merited bookings followed. Just as predictably did the substitutions follow. Time was running out, penalties loomed.
Then, in the dying moments, a gap appeared in the Bears’ right defence allowing a low centre to be struck across the area. It was redirected unconvincingly towards goal but – horror – the modest little effort deflected off a random body, looped over the stranded Parton, and the Bears were beaten, out of the 2021 FA Vase!
What a wretched way for it all to end.
Online reactions to the game were quite standard from both viewpoints.
“It was heartbreak for the Bears this afternoon … matched them for most of the 90 minutes.”
“Was a very good, close contest. Not many sides get close to Hebburn but it was toe to toe today.”
Long-time Bears fan and club life-member Ray Ogden was quite clear, blunt even, in his assessment: “Despite their reputation, I found Hebburn to be quite ordinary, nothing special about them at all. We more than matched them in every department.
If the goal is an example of the luck they enjoy, then it’s no surprise that they’re doing well. I would also add that the people there were the most friendly, welcoming folk you could wish to meet”.
Match stats revealed possession as 57% to 43% in favour of the home side, and shots on goal as 6-6.
Hebburn proved a very competent, solid outfit and challenged the Bears throughout. Margins were very tight, but it is, once again, Hebburn who go forward.
Much is written about winners and winning mentality. In post-match interviews it was apparent that Hebburn’s attitude was hard-headed and business-like.
All teams involved at this stage had to be taken as capable and competitive, so the Bears were no surprise to them.
They had expected a dogged, rigid team who played carefully within themselves.
Each team (club) had to develop its own culture of finding a way to win, and yielding nothing, however tight and demanding the circumstances.
It was an uncompromising, unflinching attitude.
Manager Ryan Austin commented: “Obviously we are gutted to go out, especially in the manner that we did.
“I thought the lads’ effort and desire deserved at least a draw but wasn’t meant to be. We will look forward to a break now and then rebuild and go again next season. We wish them all the best in the next round.”
And so, Warrington Rylands 1906, having beaten West Auckland Town 3-1 on penalties, are the final survivors of the NWCFL challenge and face the Hebburn machine in round six next Saturday. The Bears will watch with interest.
Meanwhile, Congleton Town Community Football Club will benefit from the £5,500 prize money accumulated from their exploits, and hopefully build from their battling experiences.
All enjoyed their efforts. Thanks lads!