Ben Wood scored a late winner as West Auckland edged past a resilient Billingham Town in an entertaining FA Vase tie.
West twice led before being pegged back by the Second Division side, Arran Wearmouth and the returning Nathan Fisher finding the net for West. However Wood’s goal 10 minutes from the end proved to be crucial and put West into the hat for Monday’s 3rd Round draw.
West started the game brightly and Fisher came close to breaking the deadlock in the 9th minute, racing onto a ball over the top from Michael McKeown but firing his first time shot across the face of goal.
2 minutes later, West were to be celebrating for the first time – and it was a goal worth the applause. Winger Arran Wearmouth cut in from McKeown’s ball, then curled an unstoppable shot into the far top corner.
Wearmouth came close again shortly after, Town keeper Mark Hodgson making a good save.
After this the visitors came more into the game and grew in confidence. Ashley Lavan saw a free header held by Mark Bell before Denver Morris had to clear a goal bound effort away from Kris Summers. Another 25 yard effort from Jake Fenton was well held by Bell before West pushed their luck again with Ross Colquhoun clearing a close range shot off the line.
And the relentless pressure paid it’s dividends when West’s luck ran out. For the third time Town saw a shot cleared off the line, Darren Richardson denying Lavan, however his strike partner Brandon Kirkbride latched onto the rebound to fire in the equaliser in the 39th minute.
West responded immediately with Fisher’s effort well blocked by the defence before Billingham again pushed forward looking for a half time lead. A good run into the area was deflected just wide and the corner was headed narrowly off target.
The home side came out rejuvenated from the break and took the game to Billingham from the off. The lively Wood was unable to turn in Wearmouth’s hard and low cross.
West restored their lead in the 50th minute when McKeown fed Nathan Fisher down the line, the marksman cut in and fired low past the keeper at his near post.
It could have got quickly worse for the visitors as Hodgson cleared straight to Wood and the West forward’s quick thinking saw him fire a first time 35 yard effort just wide of the unguarded goal.
West continued to press and make the game safe – Wood’s cross was deflected into the side netting then Wearmouth’s effort was heading into the top corner before being headed away. Anthony Bell was denied with a save from a quick corner before Billingham left West stunned with a second equaliser.
It came in the 59th minute when ex West star Craig Ruddy saw his cross sliced into the air as McKeown tried to clear and it inadvertently found Jake Fenton who climbed to head home.
West looked to overcome this set back and didn’t let their heads drop. Wearmouth’s positive run resulted in a shot narrowly wide whilst Wood was denied by a brilliant save from Hogdson after Fisher’s lay off. The hard working Wood then came close again with Anthony Bell’s drilled cross taking a couple of deflections taking the ball frustratingly away from the West forward in a promising position.
Wearmouth curled a shot inches past the post and Fisher’s deflected shot held. But just as it looked like West were going to be thwarted by the battling Teessiders, up stepped captain Ben Wood to snatch the winner. It came when Bell headed the ball back into the area, Wood touched the ball to Fisher before spinning into space. And when Fisher found his strike partner, Wood calmly rolled the ball past Hodgson to spell delight – and relief, on both the pitch and in the terraces.
Team: M Bell, Morris, Richardson, Colquhoun, Galpin, Mitchell, A Bell, McKeown, Fisher, Wood (Connor 87′), Wearmouth
Sub Not Used: McHugh
Goals: Wearmouth (11′), Fisher (50′), Wood (80′)