Nantwich Town 2, Pickering Town 0
NANTWICH eased into the FA Vase semi finals with a comfortable win over Pickering Town at Jackson Avenue on Sunday.
Drama and tension looked on the agenda for arguably the biggest game in their history, but the Dabbers were a class above their opponents from the Northern Counties East League Premier Division.
A Matt Blake header and a wonder-goal from substitute Danny Griggs were the least they deserved in front of almost 700 supporters.
Now only Cammell Laird stand in the way of the final at Birmingham City's 30,000 all-seater St Andrews stadium.
Player-boss Steve Davis said: 'I'm really pleased for the boys as we controlled the game for long periods.
'Paul Taylor made a great block on the line which was a massive turning point, but I felt we should have won the game in the first half.
'The weather wasn't great but the crowd were superb and got behind us. I couldn't ask for more and I thank them for that.
'I'm very proud to be part of the Nantwich team and proud for the town itself. Hopefully people will continue to get behind us and drive us on in the semi finals.'
Griggs was left out as former Birmingham man Martin O'Connor made his debut in a three-man midfield. The 38-year-old proved his worth with a commanding display in the centre. Matthew Platt moved into the forward line, alongside Blake and James Marrow.
Platt had already put a volley over before he saw a deflected effort crash off the crossbar, after good work from Blake down the right in the 9th minute.
Ricky Greening and Mark Swailes both had
decent efforts as the visitors responded, but when all-action skipper Phil Parkinson won a corner on the quarter hour, the Dabbers hit the front.
Taylor swung it in and Blake, whose pace and strength was far too much for the visitor's lumbering defenders Rob Eeles and Mick McLaughton, got across keeper Carl Silburn for an easy header home.
The frontman should have doubled the lead two minutes later when Marrow turned neatly and sent him through, but Silburn turned his shot away for a corner.
The former Crewe Alex trainee headed wide from a Platt cross soon after, and the Dabbers were denied a penalty when Platt was manhandled in the box following a 27th minute Stuart Scheuber centre.
Silburn kept his side in it again on 38 minutes, saving with his legs from the imposing Marrow. But Nantwich were almost made to pay for spurned opportunities before the break.
Former Wales international and Luton Town, Reading and Watford forward Lee Nogan arrived on the end of a Ricky Greening cross but headed straight at Rob Hackney from eight yards.
The referee waved away strong penalty appeals after Scheuber was floored in the box soon after the restart, and Taylor's heroic block on the line after good work from Nogan was required to keep Nantwich ahead.
Griggs was introduced for Platt on 68 minutes, and the diminutive forward terrorised the visiting defence before sealing the tie with four minutes left.
He received the ball just inside the box and drifted across four defenders before planting
his effort in the bottom corner past a despairing Silburn.
Nantwich are the underdogs over two legs against the powerful Laird side. The first leg is away on April 1, before the return at Jackson Avenue on April 8. Before that, they must entertain the Merseyside outfit in the league, on Tuesday (21st).
Davis added: 'It doesn't get any easier but we have already played them and know what they are about so I think we will give them a good game over two legs.'
Nantwich entertained Skelmersdale as the Chronicle went to press last night, while Atherton LR visit on Saturday (3pm).