FC United of Manchester 1 Stourbridge 0
A committed display by Stourbridge wasn't quite enough to prevent FC United from securing the Evo-Stik League Championship in front of a huge crowd.
Gary Hackett shuffled his pack and made three changes from Saturday’s starting line-up. Luke Benbow returned in attack, in place of Josh Morgan-Parker, who was unavailable, whilst Tyrone Williams came into the left-back slot, with Chris Knight partnering Will Richards in central defence. Former Youth Teamer Sam Tye was handed a daunting first League start in central midfield alongside Leon Broadhurst, as Jordan Fitzpatrick and Kayelden Brown had to make do with places on the bench.
A pulsating crowd of 3,588 packed into Curzon Ashton’s Tameside Stadium, the highest attendance for any League match involving Stourbridge since February 1964 when 5,340 saw us take on Dudley Town at the Sports Centre in the West Midlands League.
With the home side needing three points to make sure of automatic promotion to the renamed National League for next season, the first half was a tense affair, with the home side not surprisingly doing most of the pressing and Stourbridge looking to fashion what they could on the break.
A cagey opening wasn’t helped by a clash of heads after 8 minutes involving Richards and FC United’s Rory Fallon, with both needing treatment, before Craig Lindfield came close to opening the scoring on 11 minutes with a header that came back off Lewis Solly’s crossbar.
Jerome Wright shot across the face of goal and just wide for the Red Rebels on 17 minutes before Stourbridge created their first chance of any note with 24 minutes played, Luke Benbow turning on the edge of the box but failing to get enough power behind his shot to seriously trouble Dave Carnell in the home goal. Moments later at the other end, a cross from the left by Wright narrowly evaded both Tom Greaves and Lindfield with the goal gaping.
Greg Daniels drove a shot over the bar with 31 minutes on the clock, but there were then half-chances for the Glassboys in quick succession as the half neared its conclusion. First Drew Canavan tried his luck from 20 yards on the volley, but it was always drifting wide of Carnell’s left-hand post, and then Stourbridge’s best move of the game so far involving Brian Smikle, Luke Connolly and Benbow saw the latter again unable to test Carnell with a weak effort on goal.
The final chance of the half fell to Greaves as he looked to break clear of the defence, but his run ended with a scuffed shot wide of Solly’s goal.
The interval clearly brought about a rethink in the home dressing room and there was an obvious attempt to increase the tempo as the second period began. Daniels hooked an effort over the bar from a corner five minutes into the half, and then Williams was a trifle fortunate to see his attempted clearance rebound off an unsuspecting attacker and just wide of goal five minutes later.
To this point Stourbridge had looked as in control defensively as at any time in recent weeks, but the warning signs were there as the home side began to ratchet up the pressure. Knight was forced into a hacked clearance off the line on 58 minutes from Lindfield’s header, and another cross flashed across goal shortly afterwards with nobody there to convert.
The goal that had been threatened finally arrived just after the mid-point of the half. Benbow was unfortunate to lose the ball under pressure close to the halfway line, after a corner had been headed clear, and Liam Brownhill fed the ball out to the Lindfield on the left who picked out the unmarked Daniels in the middle. His downward header was enough to beat Knight on the line, despite the Stourbridge man’s efforts to clear.
Knowing that the scoreline would be all they needed, FC seemed momentarily unsure whether to continue in their hitherto attacking mode or to adopt a more conservative approach, whilst Stourbridge began to make more headway than had been the case in the second half so far. A 71st trip on Chris Lait brought the Glassboys a dead ball chance from 25 yards out but, although well hit and on target, Lait's shot was comfortably held by Carnell low down to his right.
In truth there were few chances for either side in the closing quarter hour. A Canavan free kick from the right was cleared with little danger by the home defence, and Tye’s deflected shot with 2 minutes to play fell kindly for Carnell to claim, before the moment finally arrived for the home side to celebrate.
A fine effort by the Glassboys against an impressive FC United side who showed intermittently why they have been so strong in the second half of the season. Our congratulations go to them for a deserved Championship triumph.
The result means that Stourbridge are now 17th in the Evo-Stik League Premier Division table.
Stourbridge: Solly, Canavan, Knight, Richards, Williams, Tye, Connolly (Hales 76), Broadhurst, Benbow, Smikle, Lait.
Unused substitutes: Fitzpatrick, Brown, Hill (gk).