Away cup match played on 23 September 2022.
Kicked off at 7:45 PM

Stafford Town are out of the FA Vase after an enthralling narrow 1-0 defeat to Hinckley AFC at Kirkby Road in the 2nd Qualifying Round. In an exciting, evenly contested game full of incidents, including a missed penalty for the hosts and a red card for the visitors, both sides played some excellent football and the result was in the balance until a late Hinckley winner meant they avoided the lottery of penalties. Stafford can be extremely proud of their performance, especially given they played more than half an hour with ten men and still looked a threat, hopefully signalling that the team have turned a corner and can look forward to some better league results than those achieved thus far. Hinckley were perhaps guilty of over-committing in the opening ten minutes or so, Stafford almost making them pay in just the second minute as Declan Arber released Nathan Scott down the right but his excellent low cross just evaded Ryan Taylor at the back post. A similar run and cross by Scott five minutes later was then well cut out before it could reach Arber in the box. There were half-hearted Hinckley appeals for a penalty in the tenth minute as Charlie Swingwood recovered his ground to win back possession just inside the box. Rhys Williams was making his debut in the Stafford goal and he was on hand to smartly push away a good effort on the volley from the edge of the box in the 14th minute; before Scott dragged an effort across goal a few minutes later. Taylor then had an effort well saved and cleared as he drove in at goal from the left at the end of a delightful, sweeping Stafford move. Josh Wilson Snr then saw a header saved in the 31st minute after a good delivery from the right by Taylor Draper. Stafford were then unhappy at a lack of punishment when Matt Dudley was caught late as he cleared the ball upfield on the edge of the box. As halftime approached a Hinckley throw-in resulted in Swingwood being caught by the elbow of Draper, forcing him to be replaced by Reece Bailey, who would prove to have an eventful evening. In injury time, a high cross by Hinckley was misjudged by Bailey and the ball clearly dropped onto his hand; although the referee did not award a penalty for that offence, Callum White subsequently fouled a Hinckley player in the ensuing scramble and the referee pointed to the spot. Fortunately for Stafford, Williams saved the spot-kick to keep the scores level going into the break, Hinckley also having a headed goal from a free kick ruled out for offside in injury time. HT 0-0. Hinckley began the second half on the front foot, Williams making himself big to deny a 1-on-1 in the opening five minutes, before another dangerous Hinckley cross was cleared minutes later. The hosts were to gain a massive advantage for the remainder of the game when Bailey was dismissed in the 57th minute with a straight red card for a lunging tackle on the halfway line that caught his opponent late. Understandably buoyed, Hinckley forced Williams into another fine save as he tipped a shot from inside the box wide of the post and saved another header shortly after. Stafford dug in and defended superbly, players backing up their team-mates to make up for their man disadvantage, as the hosts became frustrated at their inability to break Stafford down despite seeing the majority of the ball. In addition, Stafford were not content to simply defend and hope for penalties, but rather they also posed a threat on the counter. In the 73rd minute, a through ball by Jake Cartwright released Arber on the left but his cross was cleared; Arber retrieved the loose ball and worked his way into the box for a shot that agonisingly hit the foot of the near post before being cleared. An 81st minute ball over the top almost found Scott in behind, but the Hinckley ‘keeper came out of the area to head out for a throw-in. A minute later, a driving run into the box by White resulted in a shot that was blocked, the follow-up somehow deflected over for a corner with the ‘keeper out of position. A low Arber cross then evaded Scott in the box in the 84th minute before Hinckley broke Stafford hearts two minutes later, a ball out to the left setting up a pinpoint cross that was headed powerfully back across goal into the net despite the best efforts of Williams and the defenders. Stafford threw men forward for an equaliser as Hinckley looked to see out the result, with some dubious efforts at time-wasting ignored by the referee. Scott dragged one final injury-time effort wide from the edge of the box before the referee brought an end to an excellent advert for the competition and non-league football in general. All at Stafford wish Hinckley the best in the next round of the competition and for the remainder of the season in general. FT 1-0 Hinckley AFC. Stafford return to league action on Saturday 1st October with a trip to take on league newcomers Stockport Georgians followed by a midweek away visit to take on another new side in the North West Counties League this season, Foley Meir, on Tuesday 4th October.

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