LEE Wort and his jubilant Sholing teammates are just 180 minutes away from realising what the predatory striker describes as “every footballer’s dream.”
The buoyant Boatmen have Wembley in their sights after yet another unerring Wort strike – his 37th of his latest goal-packed season – scraped them through a tense FA Vase quarter-final against Wisbech Town.
Even though, once again, they were sometimes second best.
Admittedly the Cambridgeshire visitors – a distinctly average seventh in the United Counties Premier Division – did not monopolise play to the same degree as classy fifth round opponents Larkhall Athletic who, for all their fluent football, were also sent packing 1-0.
Indeed, Sholing did enough to earn their goal advantage in the 29th-minute on Saturday when, with Wisbech playing a dangerously high defensive line, Ashley Jarvis turned sharply in the centre circle and sent Wort scampering clear of the Fenmen’s last defender, player/co-boss Paul Cousins. As ’keeper Carl Macney came out, the lethal marksman pulled to the left of him before nonchalantly rolling the ball into the far corner.
Taking up the story, the level-headed 22-year-old from St Mary’s said: “I just ran as fast as I could. “I thought the ’keeper came out a bit too easily and I just kept knocking it past him until I could get a shot away.
“They were quick going forward but we knew we could get in behind them as we proved with the goal.”
With Sholing having limbered up for the tie with a 9-0 Sydenhams Premier hammering of Horndean, the majority of the 426 crowd must have expected them to go for the jugular.
But, having sounded out a warning shot just before half-time when Callum Reed rattled the home crossbar, Wisbech bossed proceedings after the break.
Reed hit the woodwork again on 77 minutes with a tremendous, low 30-yard blast from the right which struck the base of the far post with ’keeper Matt Brown beaten.
By that time, Sholing boss Dave Diaper had been so concerned about his side getting overrun that he had little option but to withdraw Wort’s strike partner Jarvis and throw on substitute Alex Sawyer to shore up midfield. The Boatmen were seldom at their free-flowing best but, as against Larkhall, they held strong with a mixture of good fortune and never-say-defending which makes you wonder if their name is written on the trophy.
On this evidence, Sholing will have to raise their game to become only the fourth Wessex side to reach the Vase final, following in the footsteps of Wimborne Town and Winchester City – the 1992 and 2004 winners – and beaten 2007 finalists AFC Totton.
But the most encouraging thing for Diaper’s Sholing history-makers is that they know they have an awful lot more to give.
“I don’t think we really got going today,” admitted match-winner Wort. “We know we can play better than that and we know amongst ourselves that if we’re up against a tougher side in the semis we might not get the chance (that we had today).
“But we stuck together and, in games like this when you’ve got Wembley on your mind, you get that little bit of extra team spirit.
“I didn’t go to see Totton at Wembley, but I know the likes of Barry (Mason) and some others did and I’ve heard all about it.
“It’s my dream and everybody else’s to get there.
“We’ve spoken about it, but it seems surreal that we’re two games away.”
Sholing boss Diaper takes the view that as long as Wort is on the field his side always have a fighting chance of scoring. Wisbech were not that lucky.
No sooner had Tom James, who had netted in every Vase game for the Fenmen, buried their fifth round winner than he jetted off to play and coach in Australia.
Joint boss Dick Creasey admitted: “We missed TJ today. It’s disappointing but I can’t fault the lads.
“We let in a silly goal and had a little bit of bad luck, hitting the bar and the post. But these things happen in football and you’ve got to move on.”
Sholing are joined in today’s semi-final draw by West Auckland, Eastbourne United and St Andrews.
The Leicester-based St Andrews are the lowest ranked of the four clubs, playing a level below Sholing in the Eastern Counties Midlands League.
The two-legged ties will be played on Saturdays March 29 and April 5.
SHOLING: Matt Brown, Mike Carter, Marc Diaper, Pete Castle, Lee Bright, Tyronne Bowers, Barry Mason, Byron Mason, Lee Wort, Ashley Jarvis (Alex Sawyer, 61), Marvin McLean. Subs (not used) Kev Brewster, Dan Miller, Danny Cox, Lee Webber.