Emirates FA Cup: Bishop's Stortford beat St Albans City to reach first round for first time in seven years
Bishop's Stortford are into the first round proper of the Emirates FA Cup for the first time in seven years after a 2-0 home win over St Albans City in front of a live TV audience on Monday evening (Oct 26).
Goals from Darren Foxley and Aaron Greene in the first 16 minutes of the fourth qualifying round tie were enough for the Isthmian League Premier Division hosts to beat their Hertfordshire rivals the Saints from the Vanarama National League South, one rung higher in non-league football's ladder.
The victory stretches Blues' unbeaten run at the start of their 2020-21 campaign to 10 league and cup matches.
The reward for owner-manager Steve Smith's side is an away tie against yet another National League side nicknamed the Saints – Brackley Town, who play in the North division and won the FA Trophy in 2018. The draw was made live on BBC about half an hour before tonight's tie.
Monday's match was televised live on BT Sport and was only the second time Stortford have played in front of a live TV audience, after their FA Cup first-round defeat to Northampton Town in 2013. It was also the first live televised match played in front of a crowd in England since Leicester v West Ham in the Premier League in March.
The attendance at the R&D Advisors UK Stadium was a Covid-restricted capacity of 600.
If it was a dream start for Blues on the night it was a nightmare for debutant St Albans goalkeeper Rihards Matrevics as Stortford took the lead in the third minute with what couldn't even be classed as an attempt on goal! Foxley brilliantly shut down the Latvian national under-21s keeper's attempted clearance and the ball looped into the net.
The visitors twice went close to equalising – first when Mitchell Weiss's shot was just wide of a post and then when Zane Benton was denied by great defending from Mark Haines – before Stortford extended their lead in the 16th minute. A fantastic diagonal ball from Sam Robbins found the path of Greene, who found himself one on one with the keeper and calmly slotted home.
The first yellow card of the tie came in the 27th minute for Saints skipper Tom Bender following a late challenge on Foxley.
St Albans enjoyed the lion's share of possession and threatened regularly, but Blues defended well.
A well-worked corner routine found Shaun Jeffers in space in Stortford's penalty area but he scuffed his shot and the ball was cleared.
Soon after, the same player hit a long-range, left-footed shot which was easily gathered by Blues keeper Jack Giddens. The final escape of the half for the hosts came in the 42nd minute as a fine low cross from Bender evaded everybody in the six-yard area.
The second half was a much more even contest, with Stortford mounting more threats to the St Albans goal.
First, in the 51st minute, Blues midfielder Jack Thomas's header from Foxley's free kick following a foul on Archie Jones drifted just over the bar.
It should have been 3-0 two minutes later when Jones pinched the ball in midfield and slid it through to top scorer Frankie Merrifield, who was one on one with Matrevics but could only fire his effort over the bar.
The longer the second half wore on, the less the visitors looked like scoring. In the 73rd minute, Blues' Correy Davidson slid the ball through to fellow substitute James, Baker who forced a low save from Matrevics. Moments later Merrifield was not far away from converting a fine low cross from left-back Sam Mvemba.
In the final minutes it was Stortford who went closest to scoring. Mvemba performed brilliantly down the left, twisting and turning past two before crossing to Davidson whose goalbound effort was well saved by Matrevics.
St Albans did not threaten in the four added minutes and Stortford comfortably saw out the tie to set up a trip to Brackley Town's St James' Park ground in Northamptonshire.
It will be the first time Blues have ventured outside Hertfordshire in this season's FA Cup campaign following their penalty shootout win at Welwyn Garden City and home wins against Brentwood Town – who they meet again in the FA Trophy on Saturday (Oct 31) – and Royston Town in the three previous qualifying rounds.
Blues: Giddens, Mvemba, Thomas, Robbins, Henshaw, Marlow, Merrifield (Richardson 72), Greene (Davidson 66), Jones (Baker 64), Foxley, Haines. Not used: Smith, Haxell, Johnson, Brown.
St Albans: Matrevics, Stanley, Bender, Wiltshire, Nwabuokei, Jeffers (Onakwai 81), Banton (Chidyausiku 70), Diedhiou, Weiss (Akinola 70), Sundire, Mukena. Not used: Kaloczi, Clark, Jackson, Warner-Eley.