Rhys Forster is the hero as Ascot United make FA Vase history

Ascot United goalkeeper Rhys Forster. Photo: Rob Mack.
Ascot United goalkeeper Rhys Forster. Photo: Rob Mack.

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Ascot United are ninety minutes from Wembley after beating West Didsbury and Chorlton 4-3 on penalties in the Isuzu FA Vase Quarter Finals on Saturday afternoon. At a sold-out Brookburn Road, The Yellamen dug deep to salvage a 1-1 draw in normal time, before going behind in the shoot-out only for Rhys Forster to turn it around for the spot-kick victory.

The latest crop of Yellamen were vying to make history on the outskirts of Manchester after Ascot had fallen at the quarter-final hurdle in both 2013 and 2015; amongst them George Lock and Dan Bailey who were making their 200th and 100th appearances respectively. 

On the other side of the perimeter railings, the smattering of travelling fans made their presence heard in a capacity 1,300 crowd; 3pm and it was game-on.

The first half was all about the hosts – backed by a superb home support – and they would lead inside five minutes when Rob Gerrard’s attempted clearance clattered Billy Matthews’ right boot; the ball cannoning directly into the bottom left hand corner past a helpless Forster.

Matthews then delivered a superb left-wing cross that striker Benjamin Elliott glanced agonisingly wide – a let off for Ascot midway through the half – and Elliott would later fire-over first-time from a well-worked short corner routine.

Ascot were subdued and still reeling from their early setback when Harry Grant’s effort from a tight angle was easily saved by home ‘keeper Andrew Jones; their only chance of the half ten minutes before the break.

Ascot were much improved immediately after the break, although chances were few and far between for both sides.

However, both Lock and Jordan Ajanlekoko needed to be alert in quick succession to deny the hosts what would have been a killer second goal as the game entered the final fifteen minutes, before Lalustani checked onto his right at the other end and fired over in what looked like the dying embers of Ascot’s campaign.

But champions find a way, and if they are to lift silverware they will reflect on what lay ahead. The clock ticked over to 81 minutes – the incessant drizzle now becoming worse – and Harry Grant would illuminate the affair with a pass through the eye of a needle that teed up top scorer Brendan Matthew to slide home, sparking delirium amongst the travelling supporters gathered at the far corner of the ground.

Going for the proverbial jugular, Ascot might have won it only for Lalustani to fire weakly at Jones four minutes into added time, but penalties were an inevitable outcome.

Even then the odds were against Ascot. Taking penalties in front of their passionate home support, and with the confidence of three wins on spot kicks in previous rounds, the hosts’ sensed blood of their own. And, the pendulum was almost nestled on the Brookburn Road bar when earlier Ascot substitute Marcus Mealing’s penalty was saved at one-all after Harry Grant had netted his side’s first spot-kick; advantage ‘West.

But Brendan Matthew and Jordan Ajalekoko kept their nerve for Ascot as Ezekiel Eme struck the bar and Forster saved brilliantly from Darren McKnight in-and-around another successful home spot-kick, teeing up the fifth and final taker Lalustani with spot-kicks tied at three-all.

And, Lalustani duly kept his cool – slotting home – to spark pandemonium amongst the traveling supporters.

Much credit goes to the hosts both on and off the pitch, but after Forster’s heroics The Yellamen are in Monday’s draw.

The Yellamen have racked up over 1500 miles on the road in this season’s competition – an unlucky carbon footprint – but there is still plenty of fuel in the tank for what is still a possible league and cup double.

Ascot United: Forster, Lock, Gerrard (Ellis 65’), Ajanlekoko, A. Grant, Bailey (Mealing 65’), McCormack, H. Grant, Matthew, Lalustani, Welch. Subs unused: Negus, Balogun, August, Bouwers, Tucker

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