Stamford AFC are history makers. The Daniels defied the odds and proved their “Replay Kings” tag true, with a stunning 3-2 win at higher league Wrexham AFC on Tuesday to book a place in the first round proper of the FA Cup for the first time.
Their reward is a £12,500 payday and trip to League Two Hartlepool United on November 5. They will be well up for it if this display was anything to go by.
In many ways it was the perfect underdog performance - hit on the break and score from set pieces. Well it would have been perfect if they hadn’t conceded two goals in the final seven minutes of the match to send the game to extra time. Lee Beeson gave Stamford the lead from the penalty spot just before the break and then Kern Miller doubled it with a stunning volley. But the Daniels were pegged back, first by Shaun Harrad with a volley of his own and then by a blast from distance by impressive substitute Jordan Evans in the 92nd minute. But in extra time Jake Duffy curled a free kick to win the tie and spark wild celebrations.
After a scrappy opening Vanaran National League side Wrexham had the first shot on goal, a nice turn in midfield opened up space for Gerry McDonagh to fire from distance but Daniels goalkeeper Sam Donkin took it with ease.
Stamford were boxed into their own half and McDonagh again tested Donkin, this time forcing the young keeper into a smart save low down to his left.
The Daniels were forced to hit on the break and a nice move which saw Jevani Brown play in Elliot Sandy saw the later try his luck from distance but his shot was dragged harmlessly wide.
Delroy Gordon made a rash tackle which allowed Wrexham’s John Rooney to curl a free kick dangerously close to the away goal, just skimming the top of the netting.
Sam Hill misplaced a pass looking to hit the Welsh side on the break and a chance opened up for McDonagh to test Donkin again but he was more than a match for it.
Meanwhile at the other end, starved of possession, Brown was showing his class when he did get the ball, turning nicely, nut-megging the defender and then curling a shot wide of the post for Stamford’s best moment of the match at that point.
McDonagh was the man looking most likely for the Red Dragons and he went close with a header from a whipped in cross from Rooney, but the striker couldn’t quite keep his header down.
Chris Salt replied for Stamford with a header wide from a Sam Hill corner. And soon after a Gordon cross on the right hand flank was begging for someone to get on the end of but the Daniels were understandably playing conservative football and didn’t have the men in the box to react.
But the Daniels were posing a threat on the break and it was a long ball harmlessly hit forward which brought the goal in the 45th minute. Sandy chased hard and was chopped down by Curtis Tilt, in the box, to give referee Karl Evans no option but to point to the spot. Beeson made sure from the spot, for the second match in a row having scored on Saturday against the same side, and sparked wild celebrations on the pitch and in the stands amongst the hardy 53 Stamford faithful who made the nearly 300 mile round trip.
Just three minutes after the break Rooney had a great chance to level for the hosts, chesting down a cross into the box all he had to do was hit it with the goal at his mercy but Sam Hill blocked the shot and cleared the danger.
Sean Newton then narrowly fired wide and McDonagh just headed over a dangerous free kick into the area, it might have even been going in before the striker got a last touch.
The pressure was building on Stamford who were intent to just hit it long and hope half time substitute Ryan Robbins could pull a bit of magic out the hat. More often than not Wrexham just came back at the yellow shirted wall, and Kai Edwards went close with a curling effort after cutting in off the right wing.
Stamford’s midfield of Jake Duffy, Hill, Beeson and Ollie Luto ran themselves to a standstill in the second half, chasing down every loose ball, tracking and tackling. It was an incredible display of passion and effort from the quartet.
Harried and hustled, Wrexham were still just shooting from distance, with Stamford’s stunning defence blocking the shots.
Miller looked to have put the icing on the cake in the 71st minute making it 2-0 with a stunning volley. First Robbins had brilliantly launched a lone break and forced a save on a tight angle from Jalal, winning a corner for his effort. Hill delivered the ball into the box to the back post and Chris Salt nodded it back into the danger area for his centre back partner to smash home.
It was a goal worthy of winning a game at any level. But Wrexham had saved their best to last. In the 87th minute Harrad pulled a goal back after it was chested into his path by Hamza Bencherif and then Evans smashed the ball home from the edge of the box in the 92nd minute to break Daniels’ hearts.
Between the two goals Donkins had pulled off a stunning reflex save to keep his side in the match, after the Red Dragons had just hit the pitch.
Wrexham almost won it with the last kick of regular time as well as Evans smashed another a shot from distance but Donkin got down low to earn extra time.
Evans was proving to be a super sub and a swerving shot almost beat Donkin early in extra time. An even better effort, from even further out, required a another great diving save from Donkin.
But Stamford were not done, Ollie Brown-Hill won a free kick on the edge of the box and up stepped Duffy.
The midfielder curled the ball so beautifully into the side netting that most in the ground assumed it had gone wide - but Duffy turned away with hands raised in wild celebration.
Wrexham kept coming at Stamford but in truth it was the Daniels who looked more likely to score again as Ollie Brown-Hill, playing up front alongside Miller, who was pushed up from central defence, led break outs into the home team’s box.
Only a fine save from Jalal kept out Brown-Hill. Stamford held on to spark emotional scenes at the final whistle
Wrexham: 1 Shawn Jalal, 4 Hamza Bencherif, 6 Curtis Tilt, 7 Anthony Barry, 10 John Rooney, 11 Sean Newton, 12 Kai Edwards, 13 Mark Carrington, 15 Rob Edwards, 18 Shaun Harrad, 20 Gerry McDonagh
Substitutes: Chris Dunn, Jordan Evans, Callum Powell, Leo Smith, Olly Marx, Tyler Harvey, Brandon Burrows.
Stamford AFC: 1 Sam Donkin, 2 Delroy Gordon (C), 3 Jon Challinor, 4 Sam Hill, 5 Chris Salt, 6 Kern Miller, 7 Lee Beeson, 8 Jake Duffy, 9 Elliott Sandy,10 Jevani Brown, Ollie Luto.
Substitutes: 12 Tom Batchelor, 14 Curtis Hartley, 15 John King, 16 Ryan Robbins, 17 Ollie Brown-Hill, 18 Keenan King, 19 Taylor McMillan
Referee: Karl Evans