Bridgwater Town 2 - 2 Melksham Town
FA Vase Third Round
Saturday 2nd December 2017
Before this game a Bridgy supporter handed over to the visiting Melksham Town officials a programme from a match at the Conigre when the former Town club went to Melksham sitting proudly on top of the Premier Division in April 1981 writes Kerry Miller.
It was a throw back to the old days of the classic Western League clashes and was so apt as the 2017 version of the sides played out a breathless old fashioned FA Vase tie on Saturday which ended in a ‘Desmond’ and a eagerly-awaited replay at Melksham on Monday.
Bridgwater were without striker Jack Taylor and within 30 seconds were a goal down as Gary Higdon controlled a long pass and set up Jake Brown who could not miss from six yards out to stun the bulk of the 247 crowd at Fairfax Park. The Robins responded well with the impressive Ryan Burrows crossed for Jake Llewellyn to bring a save from Rob Brown in the Melksham goal. Bridgwater were struggling to settle at the back and following a mistake in midfield, Luke Ballinger, whose grandfather Brian played in the 1981 game, hit a 30 yarder which Jake Viney acrobatically clawed away for a corner. Ballinger was seeing plenty of the ball and everything went through him in the first 20 minutes before Bridgwater began to find a way through and Shaun Copp finished a fine move with a delicate lob which Rob Brown did well to keep out. The reprieve was short lived as Town broke again and Burrows’ pace and skill was too much for Lee Davidson and his foul brought a spot-kick which Tyne Govier put away for his second in two games. Four minutes later it was 2-1 as Harry Horton won a midfield battle and released Burrows whose cross shot went in off the far post to stun Melksham. The 100 mile an hour start continued and on 24 minutes it was 2-2 as Higdon’s pass found Brown in the box and when he and Govier clashed, referee Dale Wootton pointed to the spot and top scorer Higdon levelled.
The action and mistakes kept coming and Brown was allowed to advance but his shot was wild, as was that from Jack Jenkins at the other end near the break. Jamie Lyons then crossed for Joe Stradling who was inches wide to close out a stunning first 45 minutes. Bridgwater started well after the break with Lee Begg going close with a back header but the pace had been relentless and not unsurprisingly it eased and the teams cancelled each other out until Melksham boss Kieran Baggs replaced Stradling with Ryan Bole with 20 minutes left. Within seconds a long throw evaded all in the home box to reach substitute Olly Webb but he headed wide from close range and many thought that might have been the turning point but the game was far from over.
Horton had a shot blocked and Josh White nodded a Llewellyn free-kick wide late on but extra-time was inevitable and while the big crowd next door at the Bridgwater and Albion v North Petherton derby filed away, the Fairfax Park crowd settled for another half hour.
On the restart Higdon went close again before Horton’s 30 yarder was saved by Brown. The Robins then put together their best move of the game involving Copp, Burrows and Jenkins, whose effort was deflected over and later a long throw found Bole who saw his volley saved by Viney in the home goal. With minutes left Melksham thought they had pinched the tie when Brown crossed for Bole to nod home but referee Wootton was well placed and ruled that Bole had pushed a defender and it meant a replay at Melksham on Monday which is bound to attract a huge crowd.
With both teams on automatic pilot and with Higdon carrying a knock for much of the last hour, it will be the survival of the fittest to see who joins Bradford Town in the draw for the fourth round which will be published on Monday lunchtime.