BUILDBASE FA VASE
Ely City 0
Sporting Khalsa 3
Pride was the only emotion coursing through Brady Stone’s veins after his Ely City side’s record-breaking FA Vase run was halted at the fifth-round stage on Saturday.
The Robins’ road to Wembley started with a 3-2 win over Kirkley & Pakefield on September 10 and took them on a trip to remember.
Wins over Diss Town, Northampton on Chenecks, Wadham Lodge and Welwyn Garden City followed, before Shepshed Dynamo were beaten 3-0 in front of a record 386 spectators at The Unwin Ground.
That attendance was smashed by almost 300 for Sporting Khalsa’s visit at the weekend, but it proved to be a step too far for Stone’s charges, who lost out to three second-half goals.
Nevertheless, having overseen a club-record run in the national competition, Stone refused to be too downbeat at the final whistle — and demanded his players followed suit.
“We were beaten by the better team, simple as that,” he said.
“A defeat in the Vase is always hard to take, but if you had offered us the last 16 at the season of the season, of course we would have taken it.
“I have told the players they need to be proud of themselves and to walk off with their heads held high because what they have achieved is amazing.
“I am unbelievably proud of the lads and also proud of the city for the way they have come out and supported us.
“We appreciate it greatly and it is just a shame we could not give them a result to match their support.”
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 hosts 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, when a goal would have given Ely something to cling on to.
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.
n Ely: Reynolds, Jeffrey, Alsop, Griffin (Shipp 73), Williams, Brookes, Enaro (Neal 73), Walter, Reed, Darling, Simpson (Theobald 65)
Man of the Match: George Darling
n Ely must now switch their attention back to the Thurlow Nunn League Premier Division relegation battle.
On Saturday, they host Kirkley & Pakefield (3pm), before making the short trip to Newmarket Town on Tuesday (7.45pm).
Ely head into those games in the bottom three, one point from safety.