BUILDBASE FA VASE FOURTH ROUND: Ely City 3 Shepshed Dynamo 0
Saturday, January 7, 2017 will go down as the day that the record books had to be rewritten at Ely City.
A crowd of 386 supporters — the highest attendance for a competitive fixture at The Unwin Ground — watched on as The Robins booked their place in the last 16 of The Buildbase FA Vase for the first time ever.
A brace from Ashley Shipp, who had replaced injured leading goalscorer Alex Theobald in the starting line-up, gave Brady Stone’s men a two-goal lead at the break, before George Darling — played in by new signing Sam Reed — settled any nerves late on to seal a safe passage through.
The Leicestershire-based visitors were the more dominant of the two sides during the opening exchanges, yet for all of their possession, Harry Reynolds in the Ely goal was well protected by his back four.
While Dynamo were finding clear-cut chances hard to carve out, it was a different story up the other end as Ely’s influence on proceedings started to grow.
Kelvin Enaro was denied when through one-on-one with visiting goalkeeper Ben Gathercole in the 16th minute, before Darling could not quite stretch far enough to apply the finishing touch to a neatly-constructed passing move.
With the tie nicely poised, the first goal was always going to be crucial and so it proved as the home side broke the deadlock in the 38th minute.
Enaro’s corner from the right caused mayhem in the Dynamo area, with a combination of Tom Williams and Shipp forcing the ball goalwards.
After a brief moment of confusion, referee James Turner adjudged the ball had crossed the line, leaving Shipp to wheel away in celebration.
And it got even better for the centre-forward five minutes later. A driving run from Matt Simpson forced the Dynamo defence to retreat, and in turn created space for advancing Ely left-back Jamie Alsop.
Having been picked out by Simpson, the captain duly centred the ball, where Shipp was waiting to glance a header inside the far post.
The old cliché goes that a 2-0 half-time scoreline is one of the most dangerous in football, with a goal for the opposition after the restart seeing the momentum swing back the other way in the blink of an eye.
To Ely’s credit, their answer to the uncertainty was to try to score a third goal in the second half and the lively Enaro will feel he should have provided it.
With 53 minutes on the clock he raced through for the second time in the match, only to fire over, and the Nigerian produced a similar finish when cutting in from the left flank 11 minutes later.
All the while Shepshed were having plenty of possession, but the majority of it was in front of Ely, who showed much more defensive discipline than in their recent 5-4 league win over Walsham-le-Willows.
And that restraint was duly rewarded in the 76th minute with a third and tie-clinching goal.
Reed — signed from Ryman League side Bury Town earlier in the week — went clear down the left. He could have pulled the trigger himself, but instead showed good awareness to feed the onrushing Darling and the attacker calmly slotted his effort beyond Gathercole’s reach.
Not only did it settle the outcome, Darling’s strike also continued Ely’s run of having scored at least three goals in each of their six Vase ties in 2016/17.
Rated as 66/1 outsiders with Bet Victor to win the competition ahead of kick-off, Ely now await Monday lunchtime’s fifth-round draw as the Thurlow Nunn League’s sole representative.
Ely: Reynolds, Jeffrey, Alsop, Griffin, Williams, Brookes, Enaro, Walter, Shipp (Reed 69), Darling (Neal 77), Simpson (Hunt 85)
* For match reaction from manager Brady Stone, see this Thursday’s print edition.