The dream of a cup final at Wembley Stadium came to an abrupt end for Biggleswade United as they were comprehensively beaten 3-1 by Saffron Walden Town on a dispiriting Saturday afternoon at Second Meadow.
After securing consecutive league victories for the first time this season in their last two matches expectations had risen considerably and the crowd were anticipating another positive result in the cup competitions, where the team has excelled in spite of their poor league form.
However, it was the away side who delivered a thoroughly professional performance to ensure their progression into the 3rd round proper of the FA Vase.
As form has improved in recent weeks certain mistakes that were curtailing United’s progress had appeared to have been eliminated. One of those issues was their inability to start games with enough concentration and intensity and that resurfaced again here as the visitors took the lead with just two minutes on the clock. A calamitous error by Joachim Martos as he was caught way off his line presenting James Thomas with the opportunity to float the ball towards goal and it trickled over the goal line, to the disbelief of the United supporters.
‘The Bloods’ continued to dominate in the early stages with an aggressive, direct approach that caused a sluggish United numerous problems. It also made the game rather scrappy and that was reflected when Nyasha Sagwete almost diverted the ball into his own net following some unconvincing defending from a corner. Martos then almost gifted the away side another chance to take aim at an empty net but he was fortunately reprieved on this occasion. United found themselves defending worryingly deep allowing the away side to control the game in midfield and they were able to find Craig Calver in space on the edge of the box, who turned before whipping his shot wide of the far post.
The hosts’ first chance of the game came when Kane Farrell’s inverted cross reached Scott Batchelor in the middle but he scuffed his shot on the turn into the Floyd Croll’s gloves. The game began to settle down after that following a frantic start with United looking far more comfortable and assured. They equalised when a near post corner was met firmly by Akwofei Ajeakwa and well saved by Croll only for the ball to drop for Sagwete about six yards out, who side footed his volley expertly off the underside of the crossbar and in.
Another hairy moment for Martos, who was evidently affected by the vociferous away fans behind his goal, then followed as he ironically failed to come off his line quick enough this time allowing goalscorer Thomas to nip in before the Spanish keeper recovered to make the save.
The visitors restored their lead from a corner when skipper Ben Lawrence was given a free run from the edge of the area before he powered his header past Martos who was powerless to prevent it. Goalmouth action was limited after the goal but it was Calver who came closest to scoring when his dipping shot struck the underside of the bar before the keeper pounced on the ball.
As the half-time whistle approached United set about trying to restore parity and almost did so on two occasions before the break. First when NIck Elliot whipped his shot just over the bar and subsequently through Adam Sartini following a well crafted move which culminated in the diminutive midfielder being smothered by Croll as he beared down on goal. Sartini was involved again as his free kick from the right hand side evaded everyone and drifted out for a goal kick, representing the final action of the first half.
Head Coach Cristian Colás was fortunate enough to have the entire squad at his disposal going into the game, including robust forward Tom Cookman who was on the bench for the second week running on his return from injury. He replaced Batchelor at half time as United pursued another equalising goal by bolstering their forward line.
Both sides struggled to create chances at the start of the second half with United enjoying a sustained period of possession but lacking the creativity to unlock a very solid defence. Their first notable opportunity finally came when Cookman found Ajeakwa on the right hand side with an acrobatic pass and the American striker then slipped in the overlapping Matt Cooper, whose fizzed cross was well blocked.
‘The Bloods’ continued to prove to be a difficult side to break down with the backline making defending seem effortless at times. In recognition of this, Colás introduced Adam Drakulić in place of Sartini to hopefully add some much needed guile and trickery to proceedings.
However, it was soon after that the visitors clinched the game with a stunning effort by Dan Grindrod. The ball fell to the left back about 30 yards out and he unleashed a vicious drive that nestled in the top right hand corner past a stranded Martos in the United goal. A strike fit for a higher level on the English footballing pyramid that had surely condemned United to defeat.
That goal gave the away side the confidence to take control of the game and began creating chances regularly with United restricted to defending from their eighteen yard line for long periods. Two of the goalscorers combined when Grindrod’s whipped corner found Lawrence at the back post, but the skipper headed down and wide. Calver then received the ball from a long throw in from the left hand side before turning swiftly and shooting wide of the near post.
United were struggling at this point with their defensive shape now non-existent as Grindrod found Thomas on the overlap, whose cross was almost parried straight back into the path of the full back by Martos before Sagwete intervened. Louis Harpur then watched as his free kick went narrowly over the bar with ‘The Bloods’ remaining in the ascendancy.
Stuart Richardson then replaced Sagwete as United desperately went in search of that elusive goal that would give them a route back into the game. But creating genuine openings continued to prove to be difficult with Elliot not exerting his usual influence from that deep lying midfield role.
The visitors had victory in their sights and almost improved upon the scoreline in remarkable fashion when Grindrod’s Leighton Baines-esque corner rebounded struck the near post and rebounded back to him. The game petered out after the moment with ‘The Bloods’ prepared to suffocate their hosts as the final whistle edged closer.
Overall, a demoralising defeat for the team as the opportunity to take to the Wembley turf is over for another season. However, there were numerous positives to take from the two previous league games and they certainly offered something to build on and with two cup competitions still left to fight for there’s still the potential for it to be a successful campaign.
Tuesday’s scheduled North Beds Charity Cup match against Bedford Town has been rearranged for December 1.
They visit Harefield United in the SSML Premier on Saturday, November 28.