By Jon Couch
STOCKTON TOWN 0 THATCHAM TOWN 1
Cooper-Clark 23 (pen)
Shane Cooper-Clark’s first-half penalty ensured Thatcham Town finally broke the Northern League’s stranglehold on the FA Vase with the narrowest of victories at Wembley.
The famous trophy has made its way up the M1 in eight of the last nine seasons but Cooper-Clark’s 62nd goal of the season for the Kingfishers proved enough to send it on its way to the Berkshire side for the first time.
Cooper-Clark struck the killer blow on 23 minutes after Jordan Brown had gone down under James Ward’s challenge.
But it come with an element of fortune with Stockton keeper Michael Arthur getting a strong hand to his spot-kick but was unable to prevent it spinning into the opposite corner.
Thatcham, the Hellenic League champions, just about deserved their victory and came within a whisker of adding a second goal on 65 minutes when Gavin James’ shot on the turn ricocheted off the underside of the crossbar but bounced on the line to safety.
But roared on by a large contingent who made their way down from Teesside, Stockton piled on the pressure in a late onslaught with a succession of corners failing to breach a resolute Thatcham defence, led expertly by the outstanding Baboucarr Jarra.
Stockton were below-par in the opening 45 minutes but came out firing after the break with Curtis Angell forced to hack clear almost from his own goal-line, while Jamie Owens screwed a shot narrowly wide.
Thatcham, though, were always dangerous on the break and, although visibly tiring amid Stockton’s late push for an equaliser, might have wrapped it up in injury-time when Ross Cook’s effort at an open goal with Arthur up from a corner was steered clear by a sliding Matthew Garbutt but by then the damage had been done.
STOCKTON: Arthur; Carter (Garbutt 61), Ward (Nicholson 79), N Mulligan, D Mulligan, Coulthard, Hayes, Woodhouse, Owens, Risborough, Stockton (Coleman 67). Subs: Cossavella, Dunwell.
THATCHAM: Rackley; Brownhill, Angell, Melledrew (A James 81), Jarra, Moran, Bayley, Cooper-Clark (Cook 79), G James, Elliott, Brown (Johnson 70). Subs: Grant, Thomas.
Ref: John Brooks
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