MATCH REPORT: FC ALBANY 3 - 2 SHIRE OAK BEARS
After a delayed start, Shire Oak Bears raced immediately into the ascendancy, creating two golden headed chances within the first ten minutes. Despite not managing to convert these, Shire Oak had the opener after 12 minutes when a deep corner was met brilliantly by Bears number 3 and headed inside the far post. The Bears remained the mostly likely team to score after their opener, creating another clear sight of goal. The lead only lasted ten minutes however. Albany won a free kick on the right-hand side of the penalty area, which was whipped in towards the crowd that had formed in the six-yard box. The Shire Oak keeper failed to claim it at the first attempt, after which the ball was cleared to the edge of the box where Albany's number 10 was waiting to bring the ball down and hammer a sumptuous volley into the top left corner on the half-turn.
FC Albany had equalised against the run of play and in stunning fashion, but from the restart it was the hosts who were on top. It took three more minutes for a long curling shot to force an incredible save from the Bears’ keeper, and two more chances from free kicks were squandered in probably the best period of the game. While they remained on the back foot until half-time, Shire Oak looked a constant threat on the break and, after missing a half-chance from a long ball on the half-hour mark, proved the danger by forcing two wonder-saves from the Albany goalkeeper which were not cleared. The ball was squared into the box and the resultant shot on goal was stopped by a last ditch block that cannoned off an Albany forearm and went wide. The referee spotted the hand and gave a penalty, which was slotted away to the goalkeeper’s right to give the Bears a 2-1 lead going into half-time.
The Bears once again raced out of the block and had the better of the second half’s opening exchanges as the affair turned scrappy. It was a game of free-kicks, yellow cards and little attacking intent from either side in the early second period, which was reflected in the next goal of the game. Sixty-two minutes in, FC Albany won yet another free kick on the right side of the Shire Oak penalty area, which was curled towards the front post. As the first man tried to clear the ball for the Bears, he looped a header upwards and into the far corner of the net, wrong-footing his goalkeeper in the process.
Albany had come from behind again to remain in this cup tie. The freak own goal failed to liven-up proceedings as the next twenty minutes produced just one chance - a near-post attempt from Albany which was met by a fine stop from the Shire Oak goalkeeper. It was clear that both teams were focused more on not getting knocked out of the Vase than forcing a winner and a feisty game ramped up a notch going into the final ten. On 82 minutes, Albany won a throw-in on the same side of the box that had given them joy on their opening two goals. It was launched into the goalmouth and the solitary Albany attacker flicked the ball on. It bounced across the goal and into the far bottom corner to give the hosts the lead for the first time in the game, having twice come from behind. A slew of bookings and tough challenges followed but for all the Shire Oak heart and effort that was put in to trying to force a continuation of the cup-tie, it was Albany who looked the most likely to add to their lead. Indeed, they almost did make it four in the first minute of added time only to be denied by an excellent last-ditch clearance. After three minutes added, the referee blew the final whistle to conclude the game.
It was a brilliant fighting performance from underdogs and hosts FC Albany, who twice made up the deficit to progress through to the third round of the Vase. Credit goes to them for not knowing when they were beaten and for some excellent last-ditch defending that kept them in the game at 1-0. For Shire Oak Bears, a valiant performance (in which they could and should have killed the game off early) ends in the disappointment of an early cup exit - they now turn their attention back to the League with a home clash against Billesley FC next weekend.