Stockton Town 2-3 West Auckland Town
West Auckland Town came from behind to beat Stockton Town and set up a League Cup final meeting with Newcastle Benfield on Easter Monday.
Adam Nicholson’s sixth-minute header was cancelled out by Liam Hegarty’s follow up inside the half-hour mark in what was a closely-contested first-half at the Coverall Stadium.
Amar Purewal rounded off a superb team goal on 56 minutes before substitute Alex Francis confirmed West’s spot in the League Cup final, converting Steven Snaith’s audacious cross with just two minutes remaining.
Nicholson added a late consolation for Stockton though Gary Forrest’s side held on to set up a clash with Newcastle Benfield, who overcame Whitley Bay by the same score-line, on April 22 (12:00pm), in what will be West’s first appearance in the final since they were runners-up to Team Northumbria in 2011.
Forrest made two changes from last weekend’s victory over Guisborough Town with Tom Portas and Anthony Bell replacing Denver Morris and Ross Colquhoun.
West started brighter and created the first opportunity within four minutes as Snaith’s cross from the left-hand side found Purewal unmarked in the area, but he could only direct his header over the bar in what was a big let off for the Anchors.
However, despite a promising start, West were dealt a blow just two minutes later as Stockton took the lead through skipper Nicholson, who rose highest to head home Max Craggs’ corner for his third goal in two games.
On 27 minutes, Anthony Bell played a key role in levelling proceedings as he cut inside from the left before curling a right-footed shot, which looked destined for the bottom corner, only for Michael Arthur to parry it into the path of Hegarty to fire it in from close-range and bring West back on level terms.
As referee James Westgate waved away strong penalty appeals from West for an adjudged handball, the Anchors almost restored their lead with a swift counterattack though Shane Bland was alert to the danger to prevent James Risbrough as a tense first-half was brought to a halt.
West completed the turnaround on 56 minutes with a well worked team goal, starting with a long ball downfield by Bland and ending with Snaith finding Bell out wide, who’s teasing cross from the byline was flicked in by Purewal for his fourth goal in the competition.
Arthur remained the busier out of the two keepers and pulled off consecutive saves to deny Francis’ curling effort and Purewal’s left-footed shot to keep the Anchors in the game.
At the opposite end, Bland denied substitute Mikey Roberts with a low save from the edge of the box as Stockton upped their tempo in search for a late equaliser.
On 88 minutes, West secured their place in the final through Francis after a pin-point cross from Snaith, who swept his shot underneath Arthur and sparked remarkable scenes in the Auckland technical area as Forrest’s side look to win the competition for the first time since 1963.
However, it proved to be a nervy finish as the Anchors pulled one back through Nicholson’s thumping strike in the 91st minute but West were able to weather the storm and round off an unforgettable night at the Coverall Stadium.
Next up for West is a return to Division One action at home against Penrith, who are 10 points adrift at the bottom of the table, this Saturday (15:00).
Stockton Town – Arthur, Bulmer, Ward, Robinson, Nicholson (c), Coulthard, Hayes, Mohammed (Roberts, 64), Coleman, Craggs, Risbrough
Subs not used – Taylor, Cossavella, Gray, Bartliff
Goals – Nicholson (6, 91)
West Auckland- Bland, Mitchell, Price, Cobain, Hunter, Dodds (c), Hegarty, Portas (Colquhoun, 80), Purewal (Burnicle, 87), Snaith, Bell (Francis, 60)
Subs not used – Fisher, Morris
Goals – Hegarty (27), Purewal (56), Francis (88)
Referee – James Westgate
Attendance – 396
Report by Harry Crowe
Picture by Andy Mitchell