Low quality, but high stakes 

Both teams may have entered the game enjoying their best run of form this season but paradoxically they produced the least spectacular game between them. 

It’s hard to fathom why. 

There can be little debate about the outcome; substitute Jordan Darr was responsible for an outstanding moment of individual quality – perhaps the only one in the entire 90 minutes – when he conjured a decisive second goal for Vics. 

As they had been during a league meeting in January, Steve Wilkes’ men were simply more efficient. 

He had remarked beforehand how important a victory would be in the context of his side’s campaign given that 1874 had already reached a final. 

Was it a penalty? 

Probably, but only just. 

1874 did not defend with rigour in the build-up and Jack Pritchard kicked fresh air, and not the ball, when attempting to clear. 

If there was contact with Dom Craig when his leg came down again, then it was slight. 

The visiting players were certainly upset at referee Karl Buckley’s decision, although co-manager Wayne Godison told the Guardian afterwards his initial verdict was that a spot-kick was merited. 

What cannot be denied is that it was a crucial episode in the game given Vics could administer their lead while knowing 1874 had to gamble in a bid to find an equaliser. 

We need to talk about set-pieces 

A tally of 33 fouls, two third of those conceded by Vics, invited 1874 to repeatedly send balls into the home team’s penalty area. 

They also had 10 corners. 

It will have infuriated management duo Paul Bowyer and Wayne Goodison to see almost every one of them wasted through a dreadful delivery. 

Substitute Aaron Smith raised standards following his introduction and from his right boot did the best cross of the contest pick out Taylor Kennerley for the visitors’ best chance. 

Sadly, it was in the 93rd minute and the wide man’s header whizzed past an upright. 

Vics were successful in disrupting 1874’s rhythm although Brandon Barski will have held his breath fleetingly after clattering into Scott McGowan a second time only minutes after he had been booked for a similar – but less emphatic – indiscretion. 

A victory for pragmatism (again) 

Steve Wilkes was presented with a problem and once more came up with a solution. 

Rob Doran’s shoulder injury deprived him of an in-form striker who had excelled during the teams’ previous meeting earlier in the year. 

With Brian Matthews unavailable too, he decided to improvise with Joel Brownhill restored to a central striking role he had performed so well for Ashton Athletic last season. 

It didn’t work at all. 

For the second-half, he reshuffled expertly. 

Brownhill and Darryhl Mason flanked Dom Craig, a midfielder whose starting position was deeper and so didn’t give 1874’s defenders a fixed point of reference. 

He was enough of a nuisance to panic Jack Pritchard into conceding a (soft) penalty while Ryan Winder – unable to make an impact in a more advanced position before the break – was more prominent too after returning to midfield. 

What about 1874? Where do they go from here? 

It is important not to draw sweeping conclusions from what was a disappointing performance. 

In a wider context – a single defeat in 10 previous league and cup matches – it is a stumble that was less predictable than last time they played Vics with a long list of absentees during an inconsistent spell of results. 

It is hard to envisage them being so wasteful again from set-pieces, a point made by Goodison afterwards, and that is something that is straightforward to rectify. 

There will be concern that a free-scoring side in recent weeks created to little from open play, admittedly against a side that does defend well. 

Their trajectory remains upwards though, and they have a Macron Cup final against City of Liverpool on the horizon.