Stourbridge 3 Workington 2
By Richard Clark
The Glassboys are into the Evo-Stik NPL Premier Division Play-Off Final after a thrilling evening at the War Memorial Ground.
Visitors Workington pushed Gary Hackett's men all the way, equalising twice - the second time three minutes into added time at the end of the 90 minutes - but were finally beaten by Jordan Archer's powerful, rising shot midway through the first period of extra time.
After a quiet start, the game would ultimately provide tremendous entertainment for the 1,628-strong crowd packed into the War Memorial Ground on a surprisingly chilly late April evening.
Hackett made three changes from Saturday's starting eleven against Nantwich Town, with Dan Preston replacing Josh Green at left back, Matt Dodd returning for Kayelden Brown on the right flank, and Jordan Archer slotting in alongside Luke Benbow in attack, with Brad Birch missing out as the Glassboys adopted a 4-4-2 set-up.
The opening stages were unremarkable, although Rob Wilson's ambitious strike at goal for the visitors direct from the kick-off might have woken a few in the crowd up had it been anywhere near on target. There were, after that, few serious chances at either end as the teams settled into a game that had so much at stake, and it was almost 20 minutes before Ethan Jones had a sight of goal that was snuffed out straight away as a poor touch allowed the ball to run away from him, and then James Earl glanced a header wide from Conor Tinnion's cross at the other end.
The Glassboys began to find a little more rhythm as the half progressed, with a dangerous-looking Tom Tonks cross punched away by Aaran Taylor, who was fouled in doing so, and then Preston heading narrowly wide from a Tonks throw, whilst in between times, Wilson was closer than before, but not much, with a shot from distance that Matt Gould watched go well wide.
Luke Benbow fired tamely wide on the half hour, but the match was livening up and three minutes later the Glassboys had the lead as Tonks sent in a free kick which was met by the head of the unmarked Stuart Pierpoint whose downward header gave Taylor little chance. It was the first goal the visitors had conceded in over ten hours of football.
Initially, the visitors could not respond, and Archer might have doubled the lead five minutes from the break as Benbow helped the ball into his path, but from ten yards he could not beat Taylor who produced an excellent save to divert the ball wide, before Pierpoint headed well over from a Benbow free kick as the half drew to a close with Stourbridge looking relatively good value for their slim lead.
Benbow was off target with his header from a Tonks corner early in the second half, but that apart it was Workington who began to exert themselves and put pressure on the Glassboys' rearguard, without yet creating anything clear cut.
Indeed, twice the Glassboys were within a whisker of doubling their lead as the visitors struggled to clear in goalmouth scrambles, with Stour unable to force the ball over the line.
Workington thought they had levelled on 61 minutes when Gould produced a superb save to deny the tigerish Dave Symington only for Scott Allison to bury the loose ball, but he was denied by an offside flag, to the relief of the home supporters.
Benbow tried an overhead kick from a long Gould clearance, and would surely have beaten Taylor had the shot not been straight at him, and the Ethan Jones prodded the ball past Taylor after a strong run, but saw Jake Simpson on hand to boot the ball to safety,
But Workington found the equaliser they had been threatening on 69 minutes. Symington lined up a free kick from 25 yards and beat Gould low down to his right with a stunning strike, reminiscent of Benbow's goal against Whitehawk in the FA Cup.
With their tails up, the Cumbrian side now looked marginally the more likely to find a winner, and another free kick curled in by Simpson three minutes later missed everybody before drifting just wide of Gould's left-hand post. Stour were not done, however, and Benbow responded with a free kick of his own from the left that hit the outside of Taylor's right-hand upright and went behind.
But Benbow was not to be denied, and two minutes later, after Josh Calvert had seen his header deflected wide and Tinnion had yhundered a shot just over from the resulting corner, the Glassboys leading scorer had his team ahead once more, this time curling in a cross from the right that deceived Taylor and crept inside the far post, with the Workington keeper possible deceived by Archer's attempts to get some kind of touch on the ball.
With only 14 minutes to play, Stour were within touching distance of the Final, whilst the visitors needed a goal potentially to take the tie into extra time. For the most part, the Glassboys contained the attacking threat, although Workington were most definitely the team asking all the questions. A shot from Symington went wide with five minutes to play, and there was a real scare two minutes after that when Allison got free behind the Stourbridge defence only to lift his shot past Gould but wide of the post. Tinnion then saw his deft chip cleared off the line by Tonks, with Gould out of position as the clock ticked down.
It seemed that might be that, but Workington, showing no ill effects from the long journey and four games in the previous nine days, were to capitalise on a lifeline handed to them three minutes after the 90, when confusion between Matt Gould and Leon Broadhurst led to the midfielder conceding a needless corner, Tinnion's falg kick was expertly delivered and Dan Wordsworth rose highest to power a header beyond Gould into the top corner.
There was still time for Taylor to save Benbow's header and then claw away the loose ball, but the game ended all square and another 30 minutes beckoned.
Both teams seemed to be feeling the pace a little as the extra time got under way, the exertions of the second half in particular perhaps taking their toll, but any thoughts of it petering out into the inevitable spot-kicks were jolted on 97 minutes as Archer latched onto a mistake by the unfortunate Wordsworth before driving into the area and driving a rasping shot high into the roof of the net to give Stour the lead for the third time on the night.
Still the visitors pressed, with ever greater urgency. Half time came and went with the Glassboys repelling everything Workington could muster. Wordsworth turned in the area and shot over, and countless crosses were cleared, whilst Stour sought to exploit space on the break whenever possible, notably when Benbow was freed one on one with Taylor only to be thwarted by the keeper's legs.
Workington's final sight of goal saw Tinnion put a not surprisingly tired looking effort into the Shed, before referee Tom Kirk blew to signal the Glassboys' progression.
Both sides contributed so much to a fantastic game of football, and a superb advertisement for the Evo-Stik League. Make no mistake, Workington were magnificent, and will feel, with plenty of justification, that this was a match they did not deserve to lose. Ultimately, however, Stourbridge found that bit extra they needed when the chances came, and we now look forward to Saturday's final where we will play either Spennymoor Town (away) or Nantwich Town (at home). The second semi-final is on Tuesday evening at the Brewery Field, Spennymoor.
We will preview Saturday's Final once the opposition and venue are known.
Updated 13:22 - 25 Apr 2017 by Richard Clark