Tom Clarke reports as braces from Josh Hmami and Anthony Miley send the Mariners through to the next round of the FA Cup…
Marine progressed to the Fourth Qualifying Round of the Emirates FA Cup on Tuesday evening with an emphatic 4-1 win over previously undefeated higher-league opposition.
There were doubts surrounding the game after several of Nantwich’s players tested positive for COVID-19 almost two weeks previously, but the show went on without the isolating away team members.
Just four minutes in, the almost capacity crowd (given government guideline limits) were treated to another Hmami special when the midfielder stepped up to a free kick on the edge of the box and curled it beyond Gregory Hall, of residence in the away net, making it five free-kick goals for him already this season as well as his match-winning penalty in the previous round at Runcorn Linnets.
The Mariners won another free kick on the far left of the Nantwich box on ten minutes, and the wall shook as Hmami stepped up again, but the glabrous goalkeeper managed to deal with it at the second time of asking.
Mikey Howard was lively going forward and had a penalty shout midway through the first half, but Marine’s appeals were put to a stop by referee Jake Topp.
In front of an almost full house, the Dabbers knocked at the door themselves as the opening period progressed, as David Raven had to tap a goal-bound effort around the post before Bayleigh Passant was forced into a strong save from the resulting corner.
Joe Malkin, son of former Tranmere Rovers striker Chris, started up front for the visitors but was forced off with an injury half an hour into the contest as Luke Walsh took his place.
The game opened up further as it approached half time, both sides going close to snatching the next goal, and Marine won another free kick on the edge of the box with five minutes left. The position of the foul meant that James Barrigan was preferred for this one, and the winger sent it towards goal only for it to be saved by Hall.
Neil Young made a half-time switch as his namesake Kengni entered the fray in place of Ryan Wignall, as the emphasis switched to pace over power.
That pace almost made Nantwich pay when Hmami intercepted a pass from Hall and found the run of Kengni, but the substitute’s effort was blocked. Howard almost took advantage of another defensive mix-up from the visitors when rounding the ‘keeper, but his shot was blocked on the line.
A rare defensive mix-up from Marine led to Nantwich’s equaliser, when Sean Cooke took advantage of some confusion between Raven and Passant to tap into an empty net and make it 1-1 on 59 minutes.
It took Hmami just two minutes to restore Marine’s lead though, after Mo Touray sped forward before squaring to the on-fire midfielder who lashed the ball to the right of goal, with Hall decked.
The visitors almost equalised again three minutes later when centre-back Troy Bourne found himself free at the back post from a corner, but the defender couldn’t quite get his shot off.
Marine won a free kick on the far right of the box as Prince Haywood was dismissed on 67 minutes for a second bookable offence, and Barrigan’s cross found Anthony Miley, who came in like a wrecking ball to poke home and make it 3-1.
Nantwich continued to fight back deep into the second half, with Passant forced to make several more smart saves, but the aerially dominant Miley struck again with just five minutes to go to head in from a Hmami corner and top off a man-of-the-match display for his efforts at both ends of the pitch.
It was almost five in stoppage time when James Joyce beat a couple of defenders on the left before cutting inside for Kengni, but the forward’s effort struck the crossbar before going out of play.
4-1 was an impressive result for the Mariners in the end, who go into the hat for the Fourth Qualifying Round. The draw will be made at 1pm on Thursday 15th October, live on talkSPORT 2.
Unbeaten in cup competitions this season, Marine now turn their attentions to the Buildbase FA Trophy, where they host Mossley on Saturday 17th October in a 3pm kick-off.
Marine: Bayleigh Passant, Josh Solomon-Davies, James Joyce, Alex Doyle, Anthony Miley, David Raven, Ryan Wignall (Neil Kengni, 46), Josh Hmami, Mikey Howard (Danny Shaw, 87), Mo Touray (Niall Cummins, 87), James Barrigan.
Unused subs: James Ellison, Kenny Strickland, James Devine, Germano Mendes.
Nantwich Town: Gregory Hall, Michael Koral, Caspar Hughes, Joel Stair, Troy Bourne, Ben Harrison, James Lawrie, Prince Haywood, Joe Malkin (Luke Walsh, 29), Sean Cooke, Callum Saunders.
Unused subs: David Webb, Theo Stair, Callum Parker, Samuel Jones, James Hawkins.
Goals: Marine – Josh Hmami (4, 61), Anthony Miley (68, 85). Nantwich Town – Sean Cooke (59).
Referee: Jake Topp. Assistant referees: Justin Walton, Dan Hooton.