Sunderland RCA v Stockton Town, Saturday 4th September 2021, 3pm

After attending matches in the Extra Preliminary and Preliminary rounds of the FA Cup I thought I’d keep my streak going with a game in the First Qualifying Round. There were a few options but I took the opportunity to see Stockton Town for the first time this season in their tie with Sunderland RCA at the Meadow Lane ground in Ryhope.

The ground wasn’t the easiest to find. We could see it from all sides but it took a while to locate the entrance. Once parked up we headed into town for something to eat. The Guide Post pub looked promising but weren’t doing food and so in the end we had to settle for fish and chips from Ryhope Fisheries next door.

With rain in the air, we returned to the ground a good half an hour before kick off to try and get a seat under cover. It was six quid each admission with another pound for the programme. A decent attendance looked to be on the cards and the bar area was already busy as we made our way towards the main stand. There were flags from Stockton and plenty of Teesside accents.

We spent the first half in the main stand with the beagle tucked between my legs. He’s generally fine sitting quietly at a game but every now and then he perks up when he smells food. Bit like me really. Stockton took an early lead through a Kev Hayes free-kick and with Mikey Roberts adding a second mid-way through the half.

At that stage it looked as if Stockton, who are one division higher than RCA, were on for an easy win, but the hosts pulled one back on the half-hour and then equalized a few minutes later. They could even have taken the lead just before half-time but were denied by a decent save from the keeper. It was quite a turnaround.

With the prospect of rain diminishing we watched the second half from behind the goal. Stockton were getting on top again but struggled to make the extra possession count. Former Boro player Jonathan Franks was having a decent game. He’s someone that I’ve kept an eye on throughout his career, mainly because he went to school with my kids. I saw his Premier League appearance in the relegation game at West Ham and Jen and I saw him at Hampden in the League Cup semi-final victory over Celtic a few years ago. More recently I’ve watched out for his team’s results in Iceland and it’s good to see him back where he started.

With around twenty minutes to go Stockton regained the lead with another goal from Hayes. There were still chances going begging at the other end though and I wasn’t convinced that Stockton would see the game out. For one thing they had a few players carrying a bit of weight. It’s not unusual to see the odd player at this level with a bit of a belly on them but Stockton had at least three. Mind you, a few of the Sunderland lads looked as if they could do with a decent dinner so perhaps these things even out.

With play stopped for some reason we had a chat with the lady lino about dogs and football. She mentioned that in one game she had been reffing it had been a nightmare getting a stray dog off the pitch. There were at least six dogs at this game so it’s not surprising really that you get the odd one that gets up to mischief.

With time running out Stockton clinched the game with a fourth goal to see themselves through to the Second Qualifying Round and only three more wins from a potential tie against a League One or Two club.

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