Lancaster City are into the hat for the FA Cup Second Qualifying Round.
The Dollies beat Witton Albion 2-1 at The Giant Axe in a game of few noteworthy chances, but it was one that Lancaster deserved to win.
Niall Cowperthwaite returned from his three-game suspension and would go on to have a crucial role in the win, while captain Andrew Teague, Dom Lawson and Charlie Bailey also came into the side.
Those incomings were in place of Matty Clarke, Ackeme Francis-Burrell, Christian Sloan and Nic Evangelinos, who is out for up to three months with a fractured fibula.
Dom Lawson got himself into a nice position after some good play down the centre, but his shot after he turned towards goal went just over.
Lawson had another opportunity to get the opener, but his effort inside the box was blocked.
The Dollies started the game very well, barely giving the visitors any opportunity to create chances of their own in the first twenty minutes.
At the midpoint of the first half, City got rewarded for their strong start from some great play that started high up the pitch.
As Witton Albion tried to get the ball away, some great work from both Bailey brothers got it back for the home side, and the ball was crossed in from the right to the in-form Jake Connelly, who got his fourth goal of the season.
Witton had a couple of decent chances after the goal but Andre Mendes was equal to them both. One was straight at the ‘keeper but the other required a bit more stretching to keep it out.
Mark Fell said post-match that those saves have “kept us in the FA Cup”.
With 10 minutes to go until the half time whistle, the Dollies could’ve doubled their advantage. Cowperthwaite did brilliantly to get the ball past the Witton midfield, before spraying it wide to Lawson. The cross came in from the number nine but Connelly couldn’t quite direct his shot goalwards.
Witton equalised in controversial circumstances just three minutes later.
The Lancaster fans were convinced there was a handball in the build up to Connor Hughes’ strike, as the visitors won back possession and Elliott Rokka sent the ball over the top for Hughes to calmly drive past Mendes.
City tried to regain the lead before the break.
Kyle Brownhill outmuscled a Witton man to win the ball back, before sending it towards Simon Grand. The centre back has already scored two this season and could’ve had a third, but his bullet header was straight at Harry Wright.
Just before the whistle, Jake Connelly latched onto a long ball on the right hand side and took the shot on from a tight angle in the box, but Wright got down low to make a save.
Opportunities in the first half of the second period were few and far between.
Jake Connelly had the best opportunity in that section of the game. He was through one on one against the goalkeeper but couldn’t keep his effort down.
The hosts got the winner with 10 minutes remaining.
Despite Lancaster’s constant pressure, Niall Cowperthwaite’s winning strike was the first noteworthy event in the match for about fifteen, but it was richly deserved.
Substitute Matty Clarke did fantastically well to set up the midfielder who rifled it home on his return to the side.
Cowperthwaite was awarded player of the match for a great display. It wasn’t just his goal that was impressive, he was a powerhouse in midfield and had a part to play in a lot of Lancaster’s attacking moves.
Witton were on the ball a fair bit more after the goal, but never really troubled Mendes’ goal again. A cross from the left looked like it could’ve caused a few problems but Mendes gathered the ball and clutched it to his chest.
Mark Fell spoke to Beyond Radio post-match and was pleased to get “the job done”.
“It wasn’t a classic, the two goals we scored were more about persistence and patience and keeping them under pressure for a long period of time rather than works of art, although we did create some decent chances, we were quite front foot for the first half an hour," he said.
“We were made to work for that today by a very decent, robust Witton side – we knew we’d get nothing less than graft, hard work and endeavour from them. We just found a way.
“I think that is the biggest difference between this year and last year. Last season [in the FA Cup] we came up against Bury, couldn’t find a way to unlock them here, went walking wounded to Bury and lost.
“We would’ve been walking wounded if we didn’t manage to win today but we found a way, and that’s the most important thing.”
Clubs who progress to the second qualifying round of the cup receive over £2,000, according to the FA website, and Fell is hopeful the Dollies can progress even further in the competition and also in the FA Trophy, which gets underway for City next month.
“A little bit further [in the cup] would help the club financially and the money today is certainly welcome," he said.
"The crowd today was decent, around 350, and we want to keep that at 400 or more whenever we can.
“We’re on a tight budget here and we need to make sure that we utilise all of our resources and all the money we can get into the club, so if we can get even further in the cup and have an FA Trophy run, that’d be unbelievable.”
The draw for the Second Qualifying Round takes place today (September 4).
The Dollies now turn their attention to league action once again. They make the trip to Greater Manchester on Saturday (September 9) to face Hyde United.
Lancaster City: Mendes, S Bailey (Clarke 76’), Brownhill, Barnes, Teague (c), Grand, Carroll, Cowperthwaite, Lawson (Norris 64’) C Bailey, Connelly (Jarvis 73’)
Subs not used: Allington, Stephenson, Deighan
Witton Albion: Wright, Koral, Mwaslie, Harrison, Hitchcox, Fogerty, Williams (c), Lawrie, Duckworth, Hughes, Rokka (Cain 71’)
Subs not used: Grewal, Jedrzejczyk, Baxter, Jackson