“WE are Sholing, super Sholing. No one likes us. We don’t care.” Those words have become a popular refrain at the Silverlake Arena this season, aimed at those who objected to the Boatmen’s voluntary demotion from the Southern League last summer.
But it would have taken more than a few detractors to dampen the buoyant Boatmen’s celebrations on Saturday as they steered their way into the FA Vase quarter-finals for the first time in their history.
Having played second fiddle to an excellent Larkhall Athletic side for the best part of 90 minutes, Sholing came into their own in extra time.
Putting thoughts of niggling knocks and injuries to one side, they steamed into every tackle as if their lives depended on it and were rewarded with a 101st-minute goal by lethal leading marksman Lee Wort.
Substitute Lewis Fennemore supplied the throughball and the tireless Wort did the rest, accelerating forward and cleverly hooking the ball past former Chippenham goalkeeper Chris Snoddy into the far corner to book the Boatmen another home tie against Wisbech Town on Saturday week (March 8).
As Wort raced towards the Sholing dugout, pursued by several of his jubilant teammates, you couldn’t help but spare a thought for his opposite number, Tyler Sibbick, who had been outstanding all game but, unlike Wort, could not find a finish.
Even Sholing boss Dave Diaper generously admitted afterwards: “The best team probably lost today and you’ve got to feel a bit for Larkhall.
“But it’s happened to us,” he insisted. “We’ve played games where we’ve been on top and lost, like the (Southern One South & West) play-off final when Frome came here and won 1-0.
“Possession doesn’t win you games, goals do.
“Their centre-forward (Sibbick) is a top-notch player and he’s only 20. But the fact he didn’t score shows how good our two centre-halves, Pete Castle and Lee Bright, were.
“In fact our whole back four were tremendous today and, although Browner (goalkeeper Matt Brown) was a bit iffy to start with, in the end he kept us in the game.”
Brown emerged as an early hero of Sholing’s Vase run when he saved a Chris Flood penalty in a 1-0 first-round cliff-hanger at Winchester City.
But the 24-year-old, a teammate of Theo Walcott and Gareth Bale at Saints until the age of 16, needed a half-time pep talk on Saturday about imposing himself more.
With Larkhall extremely comfortable on the ball going forward, Sholing were forced to soak up pressure and try and catch their classy visitors on the break.
But there was one worrying moment with a quarter-of-an-hour gone when the under-pressure Brown made a total hash of dealing with Rob Hobbs’ inswinging corner and Sholing had to spare his blushes by scrambling the ball away.
Reliving that uncomfortable moment, the 24-year-old’ keeper explained: “One of their lads was pushing into me and I was told at half-time to toughen up and be more commanding.
“Fair play to Larkhall, they had a lot of movement, but we dug in and got the result we needed. It wasn’t always pretty, but we know we can play better and it’s the sign of a good team that we ground out the win.”
Brown played his part with a fine double save from defender Dan Jones following another Larkhall corner on 20 minutes before powerhouse defender Castle – back in action after knee trouble – took one for the team, booked for scything down the lively Sibbick as he threatened to burst through on goal.
Sholing’s best first-half moment came when Barry Mason reached Kev Brewster’s searching long ball a split second ahead of Snoddy, but he curled it round the ’keeper and just wide of the near post.
The second half was practically all Larkhall, but Brown excelled himself by tipping over Jamie Lyons gloriously struck free-kick and, when he was eventually beaten by Sibbick’s 75th-minute head from a corner, the crossbar came to Sholing’s rescue.
The Larks – unbeaten leaders of the Toolstation Western Premier Division – were unusually off-song in front of goal and substitute Ben Horan added to their catalogue of wasted opportunities, heading onto the top netting.
By now Sholing chances were so few and far between that it was hard envisage anything other than another backs-to-the-wall half-hour of extra time.
But, against the odds, the Boatmen emerged re-energised after a rallying team talk from Diaper which went along the lines of: “With Lee Wort still on the pitch, we’re always in with a shout.”
And the 22-year-old didn’t disappoint as he clinically converted his one real opportunity of the game for his 34th goal of another prolific season.
“Worty put the ball in the only place he could put it because the ’keeper had the other angle covered,” said Diaper.
“He’s been playing against Wessex League defenders this season and today there was a difference in class and I think Lee needs to be playing at this level all the time.”
Diaper added: “Today we looked like a team that hadn’t played for a while and the wet weather disruptions have caused us problems.
“But the boys have dug in and given their all with a dogged performance.
“We’ve beaten the best team in the Western League which is good for us, good for the area and good for the Wessex League.
“Wisbech were here watching today, which is good because we can play better. But let’s just enjoy this win and then think about the next round.”
Sholing: Matt Brown, Kevin Brewster (Lewis Fennemore, 64), Marc Diaper, Pete Castle, Lee Bright, Tyronne Bowers, Barry Mason, Byron Mason (Danny Cox, 114), Lee Wort, Ashley Jarvis (Nick Watts, 62), Marvin McLean. Subs (not used): Dan Miller, Lee Webber.