‘My brother is getting married this weekend and I’m best man, so I’ve been trying to finish my speech over the last few days!”
Lee Rusbridge is a busy man at the moment. Between Baldock’s successful trip to Hatfield Town in the FA Cup Extra Preliminary Round and their Preliminary Qualifying Round match at home to Harlow Town, the Club Secretary has the honour of being the best man at his brother’s wedding and the daunting task of preparing the important speech.
But, through (I’m sure) many screwed up pieces of paper and a few bitten-down Biros, Mr Rusbridge took time out to speak to me about Baldock’s fantastic 3-0 win at Gosling Stadium last Saturday afternoon.
”We were certainly worthy winners’, stated Lee. ‘Going into the game we didn’t know too much about Hatfield. They were relegated from the SSML Premier Division last season, but since then they’ve got a new manager who took Bedmond FC to the Herts Senior County League title last term. Having won their opening two league games, we expected to face a tough task and a team full of confidence. We limited their goalscoring opportunities and in the end ran out comfortable winners.”
Scott Grant’s men went into the game full of confidence, having demolished Amersham Town 6-1 a few days before the big match and that swagger continued into their FA Cup tie, as goals from Jack Gregson, Kane Dougherty and Luke Hennessey sent Town through to the next round.
The away side started brightly but failed to muster any genuine opportunities in front of goal. Jack Gregson provided Baldock’s first shot on goal with a volley from fifteen yards out, but struck just over the bar.
The hosts should have nosed themselves in front on the half hour, but Town ‘keeper Nick Stilwell managed to get a toe on the ball from a Hatfield header after Alex Coppin’s slip. On the stroke of half time, the opening goal arrived.
A Baldock corner fell to Jack Gregson just inside the box. With his first touch, the ball fell nicely for a strike and, with Hatfield defenders closing in, Gregson unleashed an unstoppable effort into the top corner. The away side had the lead as the half time whistle blew.
Goal-scorer Gregson hit the post on the hour as Town looked for the killer second goal – fourteen minutes from time, it arrived. Substitute Kane Dougherty received the ball after great work on the right wing by Luke Hennessey, with Dougherty tucking the ball past the Hatfield ‘keeper from eight yards out.
The two-goal lead quickly became three, as just four minutes later, Hennessey turned from provider to goal-scorer, nodding home Jack Gregson’s cross from six yards out. The three-goal cushion allowed the away side to play out the last ten minutes, comfortable in the knowledge that a home tie against Harlow Town awaits.
For winning the first game on the road to Wembley, £1,500 has been pumped into the bank account of Baldock Town Football Club and there was only one way to celebrate the victory – a brand new kit! ”The money usually goes towards the general running costs of the club, but we bought ourselves a new kit, which we played in for the first time against Hatfield”, said Lee.
When you take into account Manchester United’s mammoth £750m kit sponsorship deal, you can see why the FA Cup still means so much at this level, despite what the bigger clubs – just like the Red Devils – think of it.
Ahead of the Preliminary Qualifying Round game with Ryman Division One North side Harlow Town, Baldock have started their league campaign in great fashion – but Rusbridge believes there is still more to come: ”We’ve started well. I don’t think we’ve hit our best form just yet, but we are unbeaten with three wins and a draw. We had a goalless draw on the opening day with Bedford, who missed out on promotion on goal difference last season. We then beat Amersham Town 6-1, with all the goals coming in the second half!’
‘Obviously our FA Cup victory over Hatfield was a boost for everyone and then we won 2-1 at Chesham United Reserves on Wednesday evening, so we go into Saturday’s home match with Southall top of the league, but it is still very early days and its a long season.’
‘Following our match with Southall, we then host Harpenden Town on Wednesday, who are also currently unbeaten, so it’s important we maintain that promising start before we worry about the big one with Harlow a week on Sunday.”
Despite the glut of league games still to play before the Cup tie, one Baldock eye is looking ahead to the game. Harlow sit a couple of divisions above Town, so for the Hitchin-based club, Sunday August 31st is a big day in their history.
”It’s fantastic for the club to be able to pit its wits against a club higher up the pyramid – basically, we’ve got nothing to lose. The pressure will be on them as they will be expected to win comfortably, but the FA Cup has a habit of bringing up shock results – we just hope we can achieve one of those this year!’
Harlow have reached the competition proper on numerous occasions, most recently in 2009, but despite the Essex’s side pedigree, Rusbridge is still confident of springing a surprise at Top Field.
”They lost out in the Play-Offs for promotion from Ryman Division One North last season and they’ve made a bright start to this term results-wise, so everything points to a Harlow victory, but you just never know.”
Spencer Knight, Harlow Town assistant manager, stated that his side would approach the game as any other, despite being the superior side on paper: ”We hope to progress to the next round – preferably without the need for a replay – but even if we were to advance on penalties, being in the hat for the next round is what counts!’
‘We will approach the game exactly the same as any other. We will not be worrying about the fact that Baldock are ranked lower; the FA Cup is a fantastic competition for the underdog and we certainly don’t want to be on the end of one of the shocks of the round.”
The winners are guaranteed a tie at Ryman Premier League side Grays Athletic in the First Qualifying Round, so both sides have something to play for – Baldock will be looking to advance further and pit their wits away from home against stronger and higher opposition, whilst Harlow will be attempting to set up an Essex showdown at Mill Field, the weekend of September 13/14th.
Personally, I’ll be attending Top Field next Sunday to take in the game and I cannot wait. I’ll be back a couple of days after the game with a match report, photos and my next piece on my journey to the FA Cup Final.
Best of luck to both teams!
Baldock Town meet Harlow Town in the FA Cup Preliminary Qualifying Round at Top Field on Sunday August 31st, 3pm kick-off. Ticket prices TBA.
Baldock Town team from: Nick Stilwell, Josh Furness, Alex Coppin, Dean Gilbert (c), Michael Payne, Lewis Barker, Sean Morrison, Luke Gregson, Nathan Aulsberry, Jack Gregson, Luke Hennessey, Ian Morrison, Lee Pateman, Kane Dougherty, Anthony Bowskill, Iain Robinson, Adam Pitcairn, Harry Holland, Tom Oram.
Harlow Town expected line-up: Ed Thompson; Ben Glasgow, Dave Kendall, Josh Urquhart, Layne Eadie; Fabion Simms, Dave Cowley, Jamie Smith; Shane Stamp, Jared Small, Alex Read.
Find out how it finished between Baldock Town and Harlow Town HERE.
Article featured on Baldock’s website: http://www.pitchero.com/clubs/baldocktownfc/news/fa-cup-blog–part-ii-1276656.html & Harlow’s website: http://www.harlowtownfootballclub.co.uk/news/mark-litchfield–fa-cup-journey-201415-1277442.html
Check out the full FA Cup journey here: https://marklitchfieldblog.wordpress.com/fa-cup-20142015/