THE buoyant Boatmen of Sholing set sail to the quarter-finals of the FA Vase this afternoon, beating Larkhall Athletic 1-0 in extra-time.
The Silverlake Stadium side had goalkeeper Matt Brown to thank for keeping the visitors at bay in a goalless period of normal time.
And it was master marksman Lee Wort who finally settled a tense fifth round tie in the 11th minute of extra-time to the delight of a season’s best of 323 crowd.
With Pete Castle returning from knee problems, Mike Carter was Sholing’s sole absentee having severed thumb tendons at work.
With the Boatmen’s Ultras fans in good voice, the tie got off to a highly competitive start and it was immediately evident that Sholing would have their hands full containing a Larkhall side who looked extremely comfortable on the ball going forward. The Boatmen resembled more the away side, looking to pick out pacy frontrunners Lee Wort and Ashley Jarvis and catch the visitors on the break.
Sholing forced a couple of set-pieces with 12 minutes gone.
Larkhall skipper Matt Ralph brought down winger Marvin McLean on the left and Kev Brewster’s inswinging free-kick was finger-tipped behind by keeper Chris Snoddy. Marc Diaper delivered the corner to the back post where skipper Byron Mason headed wide.
A sustained spell of Larkhall pressure followed.
Sholing’s Lee Bright did well to cut out Jamie Lyons’ goal-bound strike and get the ball away for a corner.
Rob Hobbs delivered the flag kick and Sholing keeper Matt Brown, who had made a hash of dealing with Larkhall’s previous corner, excelled himself this time with a fine double save from Dan Jones.
Then, on 22 minutes, Bright’s central defensive partner Castle received a yellow card for hacking down Larks’ top scorer Tyler Sibbick as he out manoeuvred him and threatened to burst through on goal. That was followed by Sholing’s best chance when, with the Larks short of numbers at the back, Brewster delivered an excellent long ball into the path of Barry Mason.
The speedy wideman scampered down the right and curled the ball past the advancing keeper, but it bent just wide.
Sibbick continued to cause problems for the Sholing defence, forcing Brown to save his header from Scott Lye’s cross and then somehow failing to convert a dangerous inswinging corner from the right.
He was then involved in a collision with Brewster inside the Sholing area, leaving the right-back needing treatment. Another long ball threatened the visitors on 34 minutes but, having wriggled his way between two defenders, Wort couldn’t get the desired shot away.
With the 45-minute mark approaching Barry Mason was caught by a challenge on the right, but brother Byron went powering on towards goal but couldn’t find a way past Snoddy with his angled shot.
Then, in stoppage time, Bright was penalised for fouling Sibbick on the byline and Lyons slammed the free-kick into the side netting from an acute angle.
Larkhall switched to more of a direct style at the start of the second half and Brown was forced into another crucial save, this time with his legs, as dangerman Sibbick burst through.
Brown’s handling was impeccable as the Larks continued to pile on the pressure and, when he might have been beaten following Ross Lye’s threatening ball across goal, Bright was in the right place at the right time to snuff out the danger.
By now Boatmen’s boss Dave Diaper had made two substitutions, first replacing Jarvis with Nick Watts and then sending on Lewis Fennemore for Brewster.
With 20 minutes remaining Bright tripped Ross Lye some 25 yards out. Lyons struck a beauty of a free-kick which moved awkwardly in the air, but the unflappable Brown managed to tick it over.
The Bath visitors continued to look the likeliest scorers and the Sholing woodwork was shaken on 75 minutes by Sibbick’s header from a corner.
Sholing chances were few and far between in an energy-sapping half until Barry Mason drilled a 25-yard effort wide.
Sibbick then turned provider for Larkhall, crossing for substitute Ben Horan who, under pressure from McLean headed onto the top netting. Brown then pulled another save out of the top drawer, getting down sharply to turn Sibbick’s fierce low drive away.
After soaking up the pressure, Sholing threatened in stoppage time when Fennemore played an excellent ball into the path of fellow sub Watts, but it was marginally too far in front of the winger.
With normal time running out, Larkhall mounted one last raid but Sibbick was hurt in a collision with Brown and one of his own team mates as he challenged for Scott Lye’s high delivery to the back stick.
Sholing emerged reinvigorated in extra time – McLean dispossessing Scott Lye inside the area and then falling hopefully as the Larkhall man snapped back at him, but nothing was given.
The visitors responded positively but, against all the odds, it was Sholing who snatched the lead with 11 minutes gone from the golden boot of top scorer Wort. Fennemore chipped a glorious pass forward to the lethal, young striker who brilliantly hooked it past the keeper and into the far corner.
With Larkhall stunned, defender Steve Casey got the ball away for a corner under pressure from speed machine Wort as he chased another long ball. The subsequent flag kick eventually came to Fennemore who flashed a shot across the face of goal and wide.
Sholing were looking brighter now than at almost any time during the first 90 minutes and continually snapped at Larkhall’s heels to win possession.
The longer extra-time went on, the more the Boatmen warmed to the task and, with Castle, Bright and Diaper all solid in front of man-of-the-match Brown they saw out an historic victory.