The Amber hordes headed off to the West Midlands hoping for FA Cup glory in the latest instalment of this season’s competition and the opposition don’t come any bigger than Non-League stalwarts Halesowen Town, twice winners of the FA Vase in their not too distant past, and currently flying high at the summit of the Northern Premier League Midland Division after an impressive, unbeaten start to the campaign.
The welcome that everyone from Sheffield received from the committee, volunteers and fans of the hosts was absolutely superb and The Yeltz showed what a class act they are throughout an unforgettable day.
As expected, Russ Eagle made wholesale changes from the side beaten in the FA Vase last time out, whilst we were told that the home side were short of four regular players due to injury or non-availability, albeit they were virtually unchanged from their last game in midweek.
The home side started confidently and it was a few minutes in before The Ambers managed to get on the ball for any length of time but when they did, they created the first half chance. A James Oliver run and cross earned a corner but Rikki Paylor just couldn’t get his shot away when the ball fell to him in the Town box.
After a Kane Reece burst into the area was foiled, Town broke quickly, only for Holmes to blast over from the edge of the area, whilst shortly afterwards, a cross from the marauding Lloyd was deflected over his own bar by Paylor patrolling the near post.
Some good footwork on the right flank by Manning earned the winger the right to shoot but his low effort was easily smothered by Ben Townsend at his near post before Sam Smith caused some mild panic in the home defence when he chased a long ball and was the recipient of some good fortune when keeper Platt’s clearance hit the striker and looped goalwards before being cleared. As Town failed to clear their lines, Oliver nipped in and set up Mitch Dunne who couldn’t find the target with a snap shot under pressure.
Back came the hosts and from a quick free kick, right back Evans almost got in on the right but a great recovery tackle by Sam Fewkes eased the danger. Molyneux then went close when he latched onto a long ball but dragged his effort wide of Townsend’s far post and shortly after, Finn pulled another chance wide. The home crowd then bayed for a penalty as a clear push in the back by Jack Harrison in a melee in the box was not given and Townsend was grateful to drop on the ball.
The Ambers goal continued to lead a charmed life. A close range header by Holmes could only find Townsend's hands before the same player then benefited from a long throw, forcing Townsend into a low save at the back stick as Halesowen really started to ramp up the pressure.
Then, out of nothing, The Ambers struck first. A long free kick from Richard Tootle picked out a Handsworth head at the far side of the area and, as two Halesowen players went for the loose ball, they seemed to collide, leaving Reece the opportunity to poke the ball home.
With half time approaching, The Yeltz continued to push and probe and Townsend, by far the busier of the two keepers, was kept busy, saving in quick succession from Holmes and Manning who both tried their luck from outside the box.
The second half started in much the same fashion with Town on the attack, constantly pushing The Ambers back towards their own box but finding Townsend in imperious form. The keeper denied Manning twice before Molyneux wasted Town’s best chance when he failed in a one on one with Townsend, but from the resulting corner, Town skipper McCone was desperately unlucky to see his header come back off the post with Townsend, for once, beaten.
Oliver then relieved the pressure with a fantastic burst down the right before forcing Platt into a low save at his near post, but The Yeltz were soon back on the offensive, Scott blazing a glorious opportunity over the stand when it seemed easier to hit the target.
Paylor was then on hand to block a goalbound effort by Scott following some excellent approach play by Manning, Holmes blasting the ensuing loose ball wide and the home fans must have been bemoaning the number of chances that were being passed up, not that the noise levels ever lowered in a fantastic atmosphere.
With just over an hour played and The Ambers hanging on by their finger tips, the games defining moment arrived. Smith received the ball near the centre circle and, spotting Platt well off his line, the striker let fly and the ball flew unerringly into the net to stun the home support and delight the travelling fans.
The longest half an hour in the recent history of our Club followed as the hosts ramped up the pressure even further whilst The Ambers stood up to the test time and time again. If anything, Town perhaps overplayed at times instead of taking a more direct route but that said, some of their approach play was very easy on the eye.
McCone headed wide from a corner and Townsend denied Holmes again before a goal line clearance saved The Ambers amidst a mass scramble in the six yard box. Evans then tried his luck from way out but Townsend punched clear before Ali headed over from yet another corner. Fresh legs were needed from the bench and Leon Howarth and Cecil Nyoni entered the fray but it was still one way traffic, and after Townsend again denied Finn, the Ambers resistance was finally broken ten minutes from time when substitute Bunn drilled a shot into the corner of the net after creating space for himself on the edge of the area.
It was certainly hearts in mouth time as The Ambers faithful urged their side on and Townsend was soon back at his impenetrable best to deny chance after chance from the home side. Ethan Hobson came on to add reinforcement to the beleaguered back line, and just when it seemed that it would just be a matter of time before the equaliser, Handsworth pulled it out of the hat when Oliver surged to the byline and crossed for Smith to plunder his second from close range.
The remaining time plus the five extra minutes passed in a blur as the whistles rang out from one part of the ground and when the referee added his final shrill, the ground erupted (or at least one small part of it did). As the players left the pitch, the home fans paid them the ultimate accolade, staying on to applaud them off in a class act that was hugely appreciated by Handsworth players, management and supporters alike.
And so, for only the second time in our history, The Ambers are in the hat for the Third Qualifying Round draw and whoever we get paired against, they will have to go a long way to better the experience we enjoyed at Halesowen.