FA Cup giant killing sees AFC Sudbury advance into first round proper at expense of National League South leaders Dartford
The FA Cup may not carry the glitz and glamour that it once did at the top end of the game, but AFC Sudbury proved this afternoon that the old magic is still well and truly alive.
On paper, the Yellows were big underdogs heading into today's fourth qualifying round tie at home to Dartford. The visitors from Kent were yet to lose this term, sat top of the Vanarama National League South table and were averaging three goals a game in all competitions.
And yet it is Sudbury who will be in the hat for tomorrow's first round proper draw for the second time in their history after a memorable 3-1 victory in front a decent MEL Group Stadium crowd.
Speaking during the week, joint boss Rick Andrews called on his Sudbury players to still be in the tie at half-time. And to their credit they followed their manager's orders, although there was a late sucker punch to contend with.
You could see why the hosts had kept nine clean sheets from their previous 10 fixtures as a well-organised goalkeeper and back four were impressively protected by an industrious midfield quintet.
It meant clear cut opportunities were hard to come by for Dartford, who saw a number of first-half corners come to nothing.
They did go close from one of those when Connor Essam glanced Jack Jebb's delivery from the left just off target in the 39th minute, while six minutes later Luke Allen jinked his way into the Sudbury box, only for his tame effort to be routinely collected by Josh Blunkell.
But just when it seemed to be mission accomplished, the away side broke the deadlock in the fourth minute of time added on. Dartford had struggled to break down a stubborn Sudbury up until this point, which may have been the motivating factor behind Jebb's decision to try his luck from 25 yards out.
The former Arsenal youngster – once dubbed 'the next Jack Wilshere' – cut across the ball, sending it swerving from right to left on its way into the top corner of Blunkell's net – the Sudbury youngster was at full stretch, but two 'keepers would not have kept it out.
The old cliche goes that letting in a goal just before half-time is one of the worst times to concede, but there was no sign of any hangover at the start of the second half as Sudbury raced out of the traps.
Young striker Shane Temple was particularly lively and it was he who was upended just outside the Dartford box in the 50th minute. It looked like Jake Turner was going to take the subsequent free kick, but he ended up being the decoy for Reece Harris, who whipped a left-footed effort over the wall and in off the underside of the crossbar.
The equaliser seemed to rattle Dartford, and in particular their skipper Tom Bonner. Already on a booking, the centre-back was duly handed his marching orders in the 59th minute for an off the ball incident.
It was a moment that allowed the Sudbury faithful to start dreaming – something that duly turned into genuine belief four minutes later when Temple showed just why Football League clubs have been showing an interest in him during the last 12 months.
Similar to the equaliser he showed quick feet, but this time there was no bringing him down as he set a shot outside the right-hand post that bent back in and nestled in the bottom corner.
From that point onwards it was all about game management for the home side, who ply their trade two levels below the Darts. They remained compact, hunted in packs and largely forced Dartford out wide, from where their crosses were well dealt with by the centre-back pairing of Jamie Shaw and Joe Grimwood, as well as Blunkell.
The nerves understandably returned among the supporters heading into stoppage time, but they were completely extinguished with 93 minutes on the clock when captain Lewis O'Malley sprinted clear from halfway and then showed good composure to fire across King and inside the far post.
It sealed what must surely be one of the best days in the club's history, with the team joining their 2000/01 counterparts in reaching the first round of the world's oldest cup competition.
AFC Sudbury: Blunkell, Keys, Harris, Turner, Grimwood, O'Malley, Nyadzayo (Stokes 79'), Frimpong, Shaw, Temple (Gilchrist 72'), Andrews (Hipkin 90')
Suffolk News Man of the Match – Lewis O'Malley: It feels harsh to single out one player because every single one of them was fantastic, but the skipper claims it. Played brilliantly in midfield and rounded it off with a goal in stoppage time.