The result increases scrutiny of the Bucks prospects under manager Gavin Cowan, and whilst postponements have punctuated a season that remains barely a month old, the disappointment at this failure was palpable.
Early exits from the Emirates FA Cup aren’t unique to the Bucks under Cowan. Since their reformation, the club’s record in this most famous of competitions has rarely hit the heights; perhaps the club’s fans were spoiled by Telford United’s rich history of the 1980s, or for those not old enough to remember those days perhaps it’s a desire to experience some it for themselves, rather than to hear fans wistfully but excitedly recalling trips to Derby County, Lincoln City and Everton under Stan Storton.
The Bucks manager is well aware of Telford’s history in the competition, but writing themselves into the club’s history books is something that again proved beyond his side on Saturday.
A diffident display saw the Bucks slip on the banana skin provided by opponents from two divisions lower; although Stamford’s two-goal hero was the magnificently-monikered Cosmos Matwasa, the truth is that the visitors weren’t out of this world. Instead, Graham Drury’s side simply played to their strengths, whilst the Bucks seemed uncertain of where their strengths lay, to the layman at least. Cowan’s team watched Stamford peel the banana and discard it into their path, but still couldn’t help themselves from standing on it.
The result was a cup tie where the hosts instead laid out the welcome mat and invited Stamford to establish a two-goal lead before the urgency of their situation struck them, prompting some frenzied but ultimately unsuccessful attempts to redeem themselves.
To compound the misery, the Bucks had experienced defender Nathan Pond dismissed for a straight red card offence against substitute Michael Frew late in the game, an incident which betrayed Pond’s vast experience.
Pond, recently struck down by Covid, returned to a Bucks side with a 4-4-2 formation, Jed Abbey returning in midfield and Tyrell Hamilton handed a start up front alongside Jason Oswell.
The visitors, from the Northern Premier League Division One, arrived in good form but without manager Graham Drury; he had to watch his side from the stands rather than the touchline after being sent off for an incident before his team’s recent game with Spalding United.
Drury struggled to contain his instincts and had to move from his initial position as his bellowed exhortations to his team disturbed a few nearby home fans.
His team started reasonably, albeit neither side appeared to really seize the initiative; however, the Bucks enjoyed the better chances and could have been ahead in the opening 25 minutes. Jason Oswell’s header from a free-kick lacked power but still beat keeper Daniel Wallis before rebounding off the base of his left post. Tyrell Hamilton couldn’t corral the rebound and the chance passed, but Hamilton brought a genuine save from Wallis within a minute or so, his fierce effort turned away at point-blank range.
Within a minute the Daniels escaped to the opposite end and Matwasa’s low strike from outside the box beat Russ Griffiths to his right to open the scoring. The skilful no.11 was the obvious threat and buoyed by their lead, full-back Michael Armstrong joined an attack before striking a curling shot wide.
The ‘trip hazard’ signs were up, and despite the warnings, and Elliott Durrell trying to spark his team into action, the visiting side soon really had lift-off. Within ten minutes of their first goal, Matwasa was again the man on target, as a similar strike from range skidded along the tuff and hit the inside of Griffiths’ right post before rebounding in behind him. The Bucks keeper looked either wrong-footed or had anticipated the effort going wide.
The Bucks appeared star-struck, and the lack of atmosphere in the ground was punctuated by a few boos as half-time arrived, with the hosts appearing to lack any clear idea how to get themselves back into the contest.
Within five minutes of the restart, and moments after Durrell fired a shot wide of the far post, Cowan rolled the dice and made two changes, replacing Jed Abbey in midfield with Jack Byrne and withdrawing Oswell; his replacement, Kai Williams, formed a more fleet-footed strike partner for Hamilton, and it appeared that the Bucks were going to stop trying to play Stamford at a game they were more familiar with and try to play through midfield to the pair.
The plan produced some brighter moments. Kyle Bennett fired across goal but wide, whilst Wallis held on well, low down at his near post, to deny Hamilton. It wasn’t one-way traffic, and a dangerous low cross from Matwasa invited but didn’t receive a touch in the six-yard box, a moment that could have signalled ‘Game Over’.
The game began to open up. Matwasa fired a rising shot over from the ‘D’ after turning Ross White, and his strike partner Tendai Chitiza placed a curling shot wide of Griffiths’ left post. The Bucks replied through Hamilton, whose speed got him into a good position but whose composure deserted him, as he shot wide of the far post.
On 76 minutes, Hamilton got some reward for his willingness to run and run, when he was hacked down by a panicking Stacy Freeman for a penalty kick; Elliott Durrell took the responsibility and beat Wallis as the keeper dived the wrong way.
The Bucks then ran towards the chink of light that goal provided; substitute Matthew Barnes-Homer saw a stabbed shot from six yards deflected wide as the Bucks packed the visitors’ penalty area, but in keeping with their ability to self-harm, they then metaphorically slammed the trapdoor shut on their own fingers.
Pond had become embroiled in a spat with someone on the Stamford bench was frustrations and nerves took hold, and staff from both sides intervened to cool the moment down. Alas, Pond was evidently far from calm when he and substitute Michael Frew challenged moments after the restart; to call his lunge at Frew agricultural would be more than kind, and as the Stamford bench shot to their feet demanding censure, referee Sam Mulhall delivered it, reaching for his back pocket and dismissing Pond.
Down to ten men, the Bucks frenzied efforts to earn a replay almost paid off when Durrell collected a cross hit too deeply and lifted the ball into the six-yard box, almost beating Wallis. The keeper toppled backwards but flapped the ball away, with Williams’ follow-up blocked as the game slipped away.
The visiting Daniels, named after former Stamford resident Daniel Lambert, once Britain’s heaviest man, may have been given a fat chance of progressing; however, despite not being outstanding they deserved their progress, simply by knowing what they were good at and sticking to it, a lesson the Bucks may need to take on board.
Telford (4-4-2): Griffiths; Birch (Barnes-Homer 74), White , Pond, Streete, Abbey (Byrne 51), Walker, Oswell (Williams 51), Bennett, Durrell, Hamilton.
Subs not used: Lilly, Bood, Abbey.
Goals: Durrell (76 penalty)
Stamford: Wallis, Armstrong, Bartle, Vince, Cook, Blunden, Chitiza, Butterworth, Freeman (Wright 80), Challinor (Frew 70), Matwasa.
Subs not used: Johnson, Goncalves, Duffy, Morgan, Haystead.
Scorers: Matwasa (26, 35).
Cautioned: Vince, Cook, Blunden, Wright.
Referee: Sam Mulhall.
Assistants: Jason Roberts, James Lunn.