Morpeth Town claimed their first ever FA Vase triumph with a stunning 4-1 victory against much fancied favourites, Hereford. Morpeth fell behind in just the second minute following a magnificent Rob Purdie strike, but they survived a torrent of chances to turn the game around, and romped to victory in doing so. Goals from Chris Swailes, Luke Carr, Sean Taylor & Shaun Bell ensured that the Northern League side upset the odds to mark a fantastic start to the inaugural Non-League Finals Day.
Hereford came to Wembley on the back of a remarkable first season in existence, with their intentions firmly set on adding a fourth piece of silverware to their collection. Expectations were certainly high with almost 20,000 fans making the journey to the national stadium from Hereford. Those numbers dwarfed the amount of fans in attendance from Morpeth, who brought a respectable 4,000 plus themselves. The atmosphere created by both sets of fans was excellent, which increased the anticipation ahead of an intriguing Vase Final. Being a pheonix club, Hereford were touted by many to add to their Midland League title, as well as two other cups to their collection, but Morpeth Town were flying the Northern League flag, synonymous with FA Vase success. Morpeth were looking to make it a seventh title in eight years for their league, an omen with which the Northumberland side were looking to take advantage of.
There was barely any time for any nerves to settle, as the first goal of the encounter came inside the opening 75 seconds. The Hereford fans were the ones to well and truly raise the decibels inside Wembley, as they saw Rob Purdie score with a scorching effort from 25 yards out. He found a pocket of space to run into after latching onto a Joe Tumulty pass to unleash a powerful strike into the bottom corner. Hereford were certainly buoyed by their start to the game, and they had a great chance to double their lead only two minutes later. Although Morpeth goalkeeper, Karl Dryden, could do little about Hereford’s opener, he denied the opposition a second as he closed down Sirdic Grant, with the winger looking to guide his effort into the far corner. His intervention was imperative after Grant combined with Pablo Haysham for a one-two and left centre-half, James Novak, chasing his shadow.
Morpeth settled to some extent in the minutes afterwards, but it was still Hereford knocking on their door. Dryden was called into action on two more occasions before the quarter hour mark to keep his team in the tie. Firstly, he turned behind a Haysham header at his near post, before coming to the rescue again to deny Tumulty’s first time shot from an excellent Purdie cross. It took until 17 minutes for Morpeth to create their first opportunity on goal, but it was one Hereford goalkeeper, Martin Horsell, had to be alert to. Sean Taylor produced a dangerous shot aimed towards the top corner, but Horsell was equal to it as he conceded a corner after covering his near post comfortably.
Hereford were keen to ensure they remained on the front foot, and were incredibly unlucky not to double their lead in the 24th minute. Grant beat Novak to a loose ball to then drive towards the area, before crashing an effort onto the crossbar. Then a minute later, Haysham miskicked a golden chance when free in the middle of box, which left you wondering if they would rue their missed opportunities.
Morpeth almost sensed there was an opening available, and they came close themselves when midfielder, Ben Sayer, narrowly whistled an effort over the bar from range on the half hour mark. Ultimately, Hereford would live to regret missing those chances in front of goal, as Morpeth silenced the vast amount of travelling fans by levelling in the 34th minute. Sayer delivered a high corner across towards the far post, where veteran centre-half, Chris Swailes, inadvertently chested the ball over the line to give Morpeth a reward for weathering the early storm. Horsell did himself no favours for the goal either, as he flapped at the corner to allow the ball to fall into Swailes’ path. Whether he knew much about the effort or not, it was a goal that wrote Swailes into the Wembley record books, as he became the oldest Wembley goalscorer at the age of 45. Swailes wheeled away in jubilation, and it is a moment that Uncle Albert as he is affectionately known as by his team-mates, will certainly never forget after coming back from previous heart surgery and injury problems.
Swailes’ goal seemed to spur on Morpeth as they gathered momentum, and they came agonisingly close to adding a second with seven minutes remaining of the period. Sayer was having a superb game in the middle with a fine array of passes, and his through-ball in behind the Hereford defence to Luke Carr helped set up a two on one opportunity against Horsell. Carr did the right thing in squaring the ball across the edge of the six-yard box for Michael Chilton to tap home, but the forward decided to go with the outside of his right foot to drag the effort wide of the far post. Hereford produced one more effort of their own before the break, when Haysham surged forward down the left wing from inside his own half, but he shot wide of the near post with the last chance of an exciting first half.
Much like the first half, the fans barely had chance to catch a breath and take their seats, with Morpeth this time scoring within the opening 42 seconds after the interval. Hereford failed to clear their lines from a Sayer effort, and incredibly allowed Taylor and Carr to pass between themselves on the left hand side of the area before Carr put his effort away. Carr guided his effort into the far corner to stun Hereford, who had seemingly lost their way after their early dominance.
Morpeth were playing with a new wave of confidence, and looked the much better team after the break, which culminated in The Highwaymen adding a third in the 59th minute. Sean Taylor capped off a fine performance as he slotted past Horsell inside the near post, after he collected a pass from Chilton, who atoned somewhat for his miss earlier on.
Hereford seemed to lack the commitment after going behind, and they attempted to change things by bringing on top scorer, John Mills, who has scored 53 goals this season, and talented wide man, Mustaphu Bundu. Although Bundu looked a tricky customer down the left as he advanced past players to the byline, Hereford were generally short on ideas and had almost conceded defeat by their general demeanour. Morpeth on the other hand were looking very assured as they passed the ball around with supreme confidence. Sayer and Keith Graydon controlled the play in the middle throughout, with Carr and Taylor also linking up the play superbly in an attacking sense.
Morpeth kept up the pressure in the latter stages with Taylor producing another decent effort as the 80 minute mark approached. His low drive from the right forced Horsell to gather the ball at the second attempt as Morpeth looked to catch Hereford out, with the Bulls pushing more men forward in search of halving the deficit. Bundu did in fact almost offer Hereford a lifeline with seven minutes left on the clock. He shifted the ball away from his marker on the edge of the box to generate enough space to curl an effort towards the far post, but the effort drifted inches wide.
With the game drawing to a close, Morpeth introduced their final substitute in the form of Shaun Bell, who came on for the excellent Carr. Bell’s contribution proved to be a telling one as he produced the final nail in the coffin for Hereford to bag a fourth in stoppage time to complete a sensational victory. Morpeth did have some defending to do in between Bell’s introduction and his goal however, as substitute Damien Mullen cleared a Bundu header off the line to keep it at 3-1. Three would soon turn into four in stoppage time as another substitute in the form of Steven Anderson set up the goal. Anderson played a sublime ball through the middle of two defenders to set up Bell, who saw his effort creep inside the near post via a deflection from Joel Edwards, to seal an incredible victory for Morpeth.
After the FA Vase success, Morpeth midfielder, Keith Graydon gave Non-League Fanzone his thoughts on the contest. After going a goal down, Graydon explained his side’s plan of action, “I think after fifteen minutes we stopped the ball into their big front man, de-pressed them, and they had no plan B”. Commenting on his own performance, “I think I played well. I had to sit very deep compared to normal to stop their supply to the front line, which allowed our attacking players more freedom to produce what they did”. Graydon, a previous winner and FA Vase Final goalscorer with Spennymoor Town in 2013, also compared this achievement to his previous triumph. “I think it’s a bigger achievement than Spennymoor, due to how much of an underdog we were. No one gave us a chance except our fans and ourselves, but the chairman and people behind the scenes deserve the trophy for all their hard work over the years”
In the end Morpeth Town were deserved winners and can be credited for one of the best FA Vase performances in recent memory, especially with the odds seemingly stacked against them beforehand. A touch of class was also shown by Hereford in defeat, who formed a guard of honour for the newly crowned champions. Hereford, despite defeat, can however take heart from an appearance at Wembley on the back of a hugely successful league campaign, both of which are truly remarkable feats in themselves in their first ever season. It was definitely a fantastic occasion and congratulations to go Morpeth Town, FA Vase 2015/16 winners.
Hereford FC: Martin Horsell, Jimmy Oates, Ryan Green, Jamie Willets, Joel Edwards, Sirdic Grant, Aaron Birch, Rob Purdie, Joe Tomelty, Pablo Haysham, Mike Symons.
Substitutions: Mustapha Bunda (for Tomelty 55), John Mills (for Willets 70)
Subs not used: Nathan Summers, Dylan Bonella, Ros Stanley.
Goal: Purdie 2
Morpeth Town: Karl Dryden, Stephen Forster, Chris Swailes, Michael Hall, James Novak, Luke Carr, Keith Graydon, Jordan Fry, Ben Sayer, Sean Taylor, Michael Chilton.
Substititions: Steven Anderson (for Chilton 67), Damien Mullen (for Taylor 76), Shaun Bell (for Carr 88)
Sub not used: Dale Pearson, Niall Harrison
Goals: Swailes 34, Carr 46, Taylor 59, Bell 90
Attendance: 46,781 (Combined FA Vase & Trophy attendance)
Report by James Hunt
Video – Highwaymen TV
Header photo courtesy of Bulls News – More FA Vase content also available
For some fantastic photos from the Final check out Alan Palmer’s photo gallery here