Since my efforts to get to Edgeley Park to watch Grimsby’s Conference game against Stockport County were thwarted I decided to take in a local non-league game instead as Garforth Town took on Frickley Athletic in the FA Cup first qualifying round at the gloriously named Genix Healthcare stadium.
Garforth, of the Evo Stik first division north (three leagues below the Mariners) were the underdogs going into the game as they sat a division lower than the visitors (Evo Stik premier), but with home advantage and blustery conditions making it a real leveller, they would have fancied an upset.
And they should have been in front early on when midfielder Ben Thornton whipped in an excellent cross from the right, but striker Paul Walker could only lift the ball over the crossbar from eight yards. A few minutes later Garforth’s Dempsey Smith took the ball inside from the left and his low effort was pushed away by Adam Billard in the Frickley goal.
Garforth, assisted by a stiff breeze in the first half, continued looking like the side most likely to break the deadlock and they came close again when centre back Darren Kelly saw his header from a corner cleared off the line.
On 28 minutes the home side were made to rue their missed chances as Frickley went ahead against the run of play. Left back David Cyrus rose unchallenged at the near post to power home a header from an Alex Callery corner.
Garforth almost responded two minutes later when Walker reacted first to Matt Dempsey’s volleyed pull-back and his near post flick was parried out for a corner by Billard. From the corner the home side thought they had equalised when Kelly headed home but the referee blew for a foul on the keeper.
Despite being under the cosh for the best part of the half, Frickley almost doubled their lead just before half time when Bradley Grayson’s cross from the left picked out Alex Callery arriving late in the box, but he could only direct a glancing header over the bar after getting in between Garforth centre backs Kelly and Rob Pacey.
With the breeze now behind them and a goal to the good, Frickley were looking good to progress to the next qualifying round. Their task became easier when Kelly brought down winger Leon Henry just outside the Garforth box and the defender was shown a straight red card. Although there was no denying it was a foul, a sending off seemed particularly harsh.
Things went from bad to worse for the Miners as Frickley’s Ashmore curled home an excellent direct free kick to double the lead and put the visitors in a commanding position.
The game became scrappy and chances were few and far between. Facing the wind and a man light, Garforth never looked like they would overturn the deficit – although they did have a goal disallowed midway through the second half when Walker was adjudged offside as he clipped home a loose ball.
Frickley nearly made it three when Grayson headed over the bar at the far post, while Garforth’s Walker and Chris Fisher both blasted efforts high and wide from outside the box as their search for a goal became increasingly desperate.
Frickley were able to see out the game comfortably after four minutes of injury time and will be in the hat for the second qualifying round draw, to be played next month.
It wasn’t a great spectacle but much of that may have been down to blustery conditions and a pitch that looked hard and bobbly. Garforth will have felt aggrieved to be a goal down at half time as they had created much the better chances in the first half and the sending off early in the second was harsh.
Two weeks ago I saw Guiseley take apart Vauxhall Motors 4-1 at Nethermoor and on that showing they looked good enough to beat the Mariners. However, the difference in standard between Guiseley in the Conference North and Frickley in the Evo Stik premier was stark; although it was only last season, of course, when Town lost to Evo Stik premier opposition in the shape of Chasetown.