NORTHWICH went to Wembley last time they won five successive matches in the FA Trophy.
That they will need to win three more to match that feat this time around is an indicator of how far they have fallen since, but Ian Kearney’s stoppage time goal at least keeps them on course.
With his winner, thumped high into the net after substitute Michael Clarke had flicked on a long throw, came justice.
The hosts deserved to win a contest that started almost an hour later thanks to referee Jason Whiteley not being able to make his mind up about a part-frozen pitch.
Minded to call off the contest, he was talked out of it by both managers.
Strange then that Staines, who perhaps could have predicted a miserable conclusion to their weekend once their coach conked out on the motorway en route, should play for a draw.
Such passivity should have been punished, and then some, before the break.
Chris Budrys steered off target at the near post from Lewis Short’s cross on the quarter hour, then scuffed off target when face-to-face with keeper Rhys Evans after Tom Field had split the
Michael Roddy fluffed Vics’ best chance, firing wide at the conclusion of a sweeping counter attack started when Field winning a tackle close to a corner flag in his own half.
When Wayne Riley’s shot was deflected to safety following Dominic Collins’ improvised back heel, Vics could have been forgiven for thinking their luck was out.
“I thought we were excellent in the first half,” said manager Andy Preece afterwards.
“Our attacks were incisive against a team set up to defend, but we weren’t clinical when we needed to be.”
Staines stopped proceedings at every opportunity after the interval, their defenders squeezing into spaces that had been occupied earlier by attackers.
It frustrated the hosts who, Ryan Wade’s weak effort at the back post aside, struggled to shoot at goal.
Their guests smashed and grabbed at Woking seven days ago, a game plan from which they were reluctant to deviate even as Vics started to flounder.
It almost worked, for twice they made a mess of glorious chances.
Andre Scarlett erred first, shooting feebly at Ben Hinchliffe after finding himself one-on-one with Vics’ number one nine minutes from time.
They came closer still to nicking a winner with five minutes left, substitute Mark Nwokeji denied only by Hinchliffe’s heroics as he stretched to his left to parry.
At the other end, Field sent a tired effort skywards after replacement Jordan Johnson had skipped into space.
The Swans screamed for a penalty when Roddy reached a cross – they felt with his arm – in stoppage time but Whiteley, positioned perfectly, ignored their appeal.
Vics, their cutting edge blunted by a combination of resolute defending and blatant time-wasting, were rescued by their captain in the fourth minute of added time.
Clarke helped on Short’s long throw, Kearney spinning smartly before slamming a left foot shot past a shocked Evans.
Vics’ Star Man Ben Hinchliffe. For averting the football equivalent of a robbery with two saves – one of them brilliant – in the contest’s last ten minutes.
His parry to deny substitute Mark Nwokeji, in a context of having nothing to do for the previous 85 minutes, was equal in value to Ian Kearney’s late, late winner.
A word too for Tom Field, who stamped his considerable authority onto the match from midfield before the break. Unable to influence the pattern of play so much in the second half, reason perhaps
for Vics not looking as incisive.
Vics (4-2-3-1) Hinchliffe (GK), Disney, Collins, Kearney, Short, Field, Roddy, Wade (Johnson 62), Riley (Armstrong 90), Woolfe, Budrys (Clarke 78)
Subs not used Smyth, Fitzpatrick
Goal Kearney 90 (+4)
Booked Roddy (foul)
Staines (5-3-2) Evans (GK), Jackson, Goodman, Gordon, Thompson, Everitt, Scarlett, Kavanagh, Risbridger, Charles-Smith, O’Brien (Nwokeji 75)
Subs not used Wheeler, Tyrrell, Newton, Butler
Booked Risbridger (dissent)
Referee Jason Whiteley (Morley)