Stock takes Blues back to last eight
Michael Bailey Lowestoft Town 4, Hungerford Town 3 (after extra-time): A Russell Stock hat-trick finally saw Lowestoft Town through to the quarter-finals of the FA Vase after a thrilling tie against Hungerford Town at Crown Meadow.
A Russell Stock hat-trick finally saw Lowestoft Town through to the quarter-finals of the FA Vase after a thrilling tie against Hungerford Town at Crown Meadow.
The visitors exploded out of the blocks and were 2-0 up after only 10 minutes before Blues captain Darren Cockrill reduced the arrears midway through the first half.
But that was nothing compared to the drama that unfolded after half-time.
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Hungerford midfielder Tom Fila's excellent 57th minute strike was sandwiched by two red cards for the visitors as their indiscipline began to tell - but Lowestoft were still 3-1 down with only six minutes remaining, when Stock clicked into goalscoring form.
Quality headers in the 84th and 89th minutes secured extra-time and, with the Oxfordshire side understandably tiring, Stock completed his hat-trick from close range on 104 minutes to seal a quarter-final with Bideford at Crown Meadow on February 28.
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“It was hard,” said Town's hat-trick hero. “They came and set their stall out and they're a good side. They did the same to Leiston in the last round, we heard they went at them as well, and we didn't start too well but the guys have shown great spirit and come back.
“I was a bit disappointed because I missed a header in the first and second half, and as the one for the equaliser dropped, I thought I'm not going to miss this one. It was up there and either us go out or put it in the back of the net, and fortunately it went in.”
The match was a stern test of Lowestoft's credentials to go one better than their Wembley final appearance last season, and it looked like they might fail against an excellent Hungerford side who seemed capable of scoring every time they crossed the halfway line.
But ultimately the visitors' temperament failed them. First John Cant showed he couldn't; his dangerous lunge on Richard Woodrow earning a second yellow from referee Ian Rathbone.
Then, with 23 minutes remaining, Chris Blackford's needless two-footed challenge on the halfway line on Neil Plaskett left Rathbone with a similarly easy decision to make - despite Hungerford's protests.
“We've been in these situations before,” added Stock. “Every game we play is our cup final and sometimes you are down but true great sides and champions come from behind and win games, and we're trying to get that mentality here.
“We've done it today and we're in the next round. It's great to go into the last eight. Bideford are a good side, we know that, and it's going to be the same. You've just got to do everything you can to stay in it and we'll be looking forward to it.”
Hungerford had already forced Town keeper Andy Reynolds into two sharp saves before taking the lead in the third minute through Peter Macklin.
And they did not have long to wait for their second, when the excellent Jamie Gosling teed up Ian Concannon for a cool finish on 10 minutes, before Cockrill replied from Reece Hunn's corner.
Down to 10 men, Hungerford looked to hit a knock-out blow when Gosling's flag kick arrived at the feet of Fila on the edge of the area and he drilled an excellent shot low past Reynolds on 57 minutes to restore their two goal advantage.
Even after Blackford's dismissal, Lowestoft were struggling to stretch their well organised opponents, but assists from Carl Poppy and Woodrow - plus some wasteful finishing from Hungerford on the break - finally saw Stock help Lowestoft back from the brink.
With a two-man advantage, extra-time should have been a formality and Gary McGee duly set up Stock for his third, while there was still time for Darren Cockrill to see his late penalty saved by Dominic Green.
But that did not matter when Rathbone's final whistle blew to send the majority of the 1,016 crowd at Crown Meadow into raptures, as Lowestoft start to dream of a second Wembley appearance.
t The FA Vase quarter-final line-up will take another week to finalise after two more weekend postponements - St Ives v Marske and Whitley Bay v Stratford.
While Lowestoft already knew they would be at home to Bideford fellow Suffolk survivors Needham Market will face Chalfont St Peter - who were 4-0 winners over Christchurch. Biggleswade and Glossop also booked their passage on Saturday.