BUILDBASE FA VASE: Ely City 0 Sporting Khalsa 3
Throughout their history-making FA Vase journey, Ely City have continually defied the odds to go further in the national competition than the club has ever gone before.
But Saturday afternoon’s fifth-round tie against Sporting Khalsa proved to be one hurdle too many for Brady Stone’s men, who lost out to three second-half goals in front of a record 646 spectators at The Unwin Ground.
Khalsa - fifth in the Midland Football League Premier Division - were superior in every department on the day, and fully deserving of their place in the quarter-finals.
However, there were two moments that the hosting Robins will look back on as turning points in the tie, which had they gone in their favour, may have altered the final outcome.
The first of those saw legitimate appeals for a first-half penalty following a challenge on George Darling waved away by the referee, while Matt Simpson will not want to dwell on the chance he passed up after the restart. On both occasions, the scoreline was locked at 0-0.
Ely’s Harry Reynolds was certainly the busier of the two goalkeepers during the opening 45 minutes, though most of his work was routine.
His most testing moment came with 35 minutes on the clock as he showed good reflexes to turn Dave Meese’s shot from 12 yards out over the crossbar.
Five minutes earlier Darling had taken a tumble inside the Khalsa area after seemingly having his legs taken away from him with a challenge from behind. The Ely players and bench protested in unison, but the match official had no interest.
Playmaker Darling was also heavily involved in the 56th minute when his delayed pass split the Khalsa left-back and centre-back, sending Simpson racing clear.
It was the best chance of the tie up until that point, but the winger’s first touch was heavy and visiting goalkeeper Tom Turner collected with ease.
And just three minutes later, Khalsa took a lead that they never looked like relinquishing.
Reynolds had been equal to everything that had come his way so far, but Ely’s number one was left flailing at thin air as Craig Bannister picked out the top corner from wide on the right.
The advantage was doubled in the 68th minute, with the match official opting to point to the spot following advice from one of his assistants.
Luke Shearer stood up Ely centre-back Tom Williams, before knocking the ball one way and running the other. Beaten for pace, Williams tugged at the Khalsa striker’s shirt in a bid to retrieve the situation, only to be punished after Shearer hit the deck.
Meese took on the responsibility from 12 yards out and he found the net via the underside of the crossbar for his 22nd goal of the season.
Ely boss Stone turned to leading goalscorer Alex Theobald and two-goal hero from the previous round Ashley Shipp from the bench in an attempt to find a route back into the encounter, but with nine minutes remaining, the game was up.
Khalsa’s lively wide-man Yussef Ceesay worked his way towards the right byline, from where he drilled in a cross for Marvin Nisbett to apply the finishing touch.
Ely: Reynolds, Jeffrey, Alsop, Griffin (Shipp 73), Williams, Brookes, Enaro (Neal 73), Walter, Reed, Darling, Simpson (Theobald 65)
Man of the Match - George Darling: It was a difficult afternoon for Ely in an attacking sense, but the majority of their advancements into Khalsa territory had Darling as the focal point. He was also very unlucky to have not been awarded a penalty.
Attendance: 646 - a record for The Unwin Ground, surpassing the 386 set in the previous round against Shepshed Dynamo.
*For reaction from Ely boss Brady Stone, who spoke of his pride at what his players have achieved in The Vase this season, see this Thursday’s print edition of The Journal.