FA Cup: Stearn’s stunners knock the Puritans out

Banbury United keeper Jack Harding kept Bath City at bay in the second half
Banbury United keeper Jack Harding kept Bath City at bay in the second half

Banbury United hopes of a run in the Emirates FA Cup are over for another season.

Bath City ended the Puritans’ hopes with a 2-0 victory in Saturday’s second qualifying round tie at the Banbury Plant Hire Community Stadium.

Both goals came in the first half courtesy of two stunning strikes from Ross Stearn. To complete a disappointing day for United, they had central defender Lee Henderson sent off in the closing stages for picking up a second caution.

The Vanarama National League South highfliers ran out comfortable winners, dominating the first half and creating several chances in the second period, one in which United fared better but without really looking like getting back in the contest.

As expected, City enjoyed plenty of possession in the opening stages and created the game’s first chance when Ryan Brunt fired over after cutting inside. Adam Mann saw his 25 yard drive deflected wide and from his ensuing corner Robbie Cundy headed straight at Jack Harding.

United countered and Ricky Johnson headed Greg Kaziboni’s deep cross wide of the far post. Ravi Shamsi’s trickery almost created an opening as United looked to make the most of their limited possession.

But City maintained the upper hand with the experienced Sean Rigg pulling the strings in midfield and left-back Anthony Straker continually rampaging down the left flank. United had to work overtime to keep the visitors at bay.

Rigg released Stearn but Charlie Wise was quickest to react and managed to intercept on the edge of his box. Stearn had another chance moments later only to fire well over from the edge of the box.

But Stearn’s third chance resulted in the opening goal on the half-hour mark. Mann’s fierce 25 yard drive was superbly punched away by Harding but Stearn smashed the rebound past the United keeper into the roof of the net from a tight angle.

United rallied and enjoyed their best spell but City doubled their advantage in the 42nd minute and it was that man Stearn again. Henderson headed clear Mann’s corner but the ball fell kindly for Stearn who hit a rocket from 20 yards which flew past Harding and into the roof of the net.

United were unable to impose themselves on the tie in the first half so manager Mike Ford threw on Jordy Ngathe in place of Mark Bell for the restart, reverting to 3-5-2 instead of his starting 4-4-2 formation. That gave United the extra man in midfield and they started the second half with more of the ball.

A brief spell of pressure around the box ended with Jack Self firing over and Johnson was just unable to connect with Charlie Hawtin’s deep cross at the far post as United finally began to ask questions of the visitors. A neat move ended with Marvin Martin releasing Shamsi who burst into the box but fired over from a tight angle.

Goals change games and Ford knew his side needed to one to keep the tie alive so he sent on Steve Diggin for Johnson.

But it took a superb double save from Harding to keep United’s hopes alive. The United keeper clawed away Mann’s lofted effort at full stretch and then quickly recovered to deny substitute Tom Smith from the rebound.

City sensed a third goal and Mann’s swerving 25 yarder beat the diving Harding but hit the outside of the upright before Rigg’s thunder bolt was blocked by Wise. From the ensuing corner, a goalmouth scramble ended with Harding doing well to keep out a close range effort from Frankie Artus.

The impressive Rigg burst into the box but dragged his shot just wide of the far post before firing over from 25 yards. Harding reacted well to keep out a close range effort from substitute Andy Watkins before thwarting him again moments later after he burst into the six-yard box.