King’s Lynn’s contrasting fortunes
KING'S LYNN 2, ST NEOTS 1: The contrast could not have been more marked. This time last year The Walks was a footballing relic. A ground without a football team. Empty. Padlocked. Cold. Referee Degnarain's final blast on his whistle after three torturous stoppage time minutes heralded Lynn's passage into the FA Vase quarter-finals.
But it was much more. It was the moment the town and its supporters re-connected with its football club. The jubilation on the pitch was matched in the Main Stand and the home terraces. Chairman Buster Chapman was the first to congratulate his management and players in the chaotic scenes on the final whistle reminiscent of any the famous old stadium had seen before.
The footballing outpost that bears the proud name 'King's Lynn' has endured the toughest of recent times. No need to rake over the embers of what has now passed into history. Suffice to say, the latest incarnation appears on the cusp of an exciting new future.
The Linnets had lowered the colours of the previously unbeatable St Neots twice over consecutive weekends. A team assembled at exorbitant cost for step five football and boasting a former Premier League striker.
Reputations count for little in this corner of West Norfolk. Honest toil and hard work is the hallmark of an evolving side under the astute management of Kevin Boon and Gary Setchell.
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But they can play. Jamie Thurlbourne and Steve Spriggs offer a productive supply line for skipper, top scorer and hometown hero Jack Defty. Thurlbourne cut inside Dan Jacob in an early thurst but Chris Bacon was unable to control his throughball. Bacon then picked out Spriggs who lashed over.
Saints carried plenty of threat on the counter in a frenetic opening burst. Danny White bailed out Alex Street after the young keeper spilled Stefan Moore's cutback. The ever-impressive Danny Buhlemann needed to be alert at his near post to intercept Jacob's cross. Man-of-the-match Ross Watson slid in to rob Moore. Lynn's sturdy backline – minus injured left back Jamie Alsop - was in 'thou shalt not pass' mode.
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Jamie Thurlbourne curled a close range free kick over. It was edgy. Tense. The 1,600 or so home fans were struggling to find their collective voices as two cagey boxers sparred for that decisive breakthrough.
Watson headed straight at Tim Trebes on 52 minutes before Defty's sidefooted finish punctured the suffocating tension. Town's skipper was inches from a second after Jamie Thurlbourne fashioned a superb cross before Kieran Doherty screwed a half volley wide from 16 yards.
But this is King's Lynn. Old or new matters not one jot. Drama guaranteed. Jacob tumbled over Watson's outstretched leg. The referee pointed to the penalty spot. Ex-Linnet Lewis Webb did the rest. The tie was in the balance. Now it was about heart not huge wage bills.
Spriggs made way for Robbie Harris as home fans berated the match official who then waved away vocal appeals when Defty lost his balance in an aerial challenge at the opposite end.
Lynn surged forward again. Defty's near post run distracted two Neots defender. Harris poked goalwards past a despairing last ditch goal line clearance. The match winner wheeled away. Three sides of the ground erupted. The visitors weren't playing 11. They were playing 1,600. Jacob struck the grounded Street from barely four yards after Moore twisted cleverly inside the Town box. But there was no grandstand flourish. Only the dawning realisation King's Lynn is two steps from Wembley.
• King's Lynn: Street, Bexfield, Doherty, L Thurlbourne, Buhlemann, Watson, Spriggs (Harris 62), White, Defty, Bacon (Moreira 86), J Thurlbourne. Subs (not used): McNeil, White, Hails.
• Booking: L Thurlbourne
• Goals: Defty (52), Harris (65)
• St Neots: Trebes, D Moore, Davis, Webb, Fuff, Fordham, Hilliard (Skully 57), Hyem (Essendoh 81), S Moore, Tolley (Kanudu 74), Jacob. Subs (not used): Gent, McShane.
• Booking: Hyem
• Goal: Webb (61)
• Referee: A Degnarain (London)
• Attendance: 1,612