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‘A proud, proud day’ – Westgarth on FA Cup victory

Falmouth Town manager Andrew Westgarth declared his side’s 2-1 win over Saltash United in their Emirates FA Cup extra preliminary round tie as one of the proudest of his managerial career.

A heavily depleted Town side took on much-fancied Western League outfit Saltash United in the club’s first FA Cup tie for 11 years at Bickland Park, with second-half strikes from James Swan and Alex Wharton ensuring a memorable comeback to defeat the Ashes, who had their goalscorer Callum Merrin sent off early in the second period.

Merrin opened the scoring for Danny Lewis and Shane Krac’s side five minutes before the interval, with the youngster controlling Alex Cairo’s clipped cross at the far post before rolling it past Ryan Barnes.

But it was Merrin’s intervention on the hour that changed the complexion of the tie, with the midfielder receiving a second yellow card for an off-the-ball offence after Town had been awarded a free-kick 20 yards from goal. Jack Bray-Evans’ subsequent strike crashed against the left post, with Swan on hand to tap in the rebound for his first goal in Falmouth colours.

Town took full advantage of their extra man in the 81st minute when Wharton scored what proved to be the winning goal. Swan turned provider, with the former Truro City midfielder cutting the ball back at the byline for Wharton, who volleyed sweetly into the far corner from the centre of the box.

Saltash threw the kitchen sink at their hosts in the dying embers of the game, with Barnes denying Cairo, Alfie Wotton and Callum O’Brien late on as Town held on for a famous victory.

“That’s the beauty of cup football, that’s what it’s all about,” Westgarth said. “I think a lot of us came into today fearing the worst with so many players away. It’s a proud day for the club as a whole, the second team won 3-0 against last year’s champions even though we’ve had to pull on them, and I thought the boys that came in were absolutely fantastic.

“Saltash are a very, very good side and obviously we went 1-0 down, but we stayed in the game. I said to boys if you stay in the game long enough, chances will come. The sending off probably swung it in our favour a little bit, we were able to push people on, and we got a little bit of luck I suppose.

“You could either look at it as bad luck or good luck. Jack [Bray-Evans] has hit the crossbar from distance, you could say that was unlucky or you could say great that it fell to Swanny. I’m absolutely delighted for him to score his first goal, and then he showed a little bit of quality.

“We went for it when they went down to ten, we went 4-4-2 and caused them a few problems. Swanny’s gone out wide right and put a lovely ball in to Alex [Wharton], and what a finish. Alex has got all the tools to be one of the best players around, but he’s just got to work on that final product, and when he gets it right it shows, like today. I’m so pleased for him.”

A regular fixture of the early part of the non-league football season is player unavailability, and Town have felt it as much as the next team this year. No fewer than nine players – eight of last season’s title-winning squad plus new signing Cam Hutchison – were absent for various reasons, while skipper James Ward was an unused substitute after picking up an injury.

Ward’s injury meant Charlie Edney and Westgarth himself were the only two realistic options from the bench, with Westgarth having to play the final few minutes of the game when Wharton was withdrawn after taking a knock.

Brothers Sam and Oliver Pickup joined Kirk Davies in playing 90 minutes after stepping up from the second team – who still defeated reigning St Piran League West champions Illogan RBL 3-0 in their opening league game that afternoon – with Westgarth heaping praise on all of his players for playing their part in what the Town chief called ‘a proud, proud day’.

“I would actually put it up there as probably one of my proudest, biggest wins of my managerial career,” he said. ”I know people will look at that and say, ‘you’ve won leagues, won senior cups, won league cups, charity bowls against good Parkway side, but given what we had out [this win was up there with those]. 

“I had a bit of a sleepless night last night, being brutally honest, and that’s not saying I don’t trust the players that we’ve got, but when your captain pulls out [with injury] the night before when so many players are missing already you just think, ‘Bloody hell’.

“We’ve worked so hard to get into this league. Eight years I’ve been manager now and I’ve been really looking forward to playing in the FA Cup, and then it almost feels like you’re fighting with one hand behind your back. It’s a proud, proud day, and I’m over the moon.”

He added: “I’m absolutely buzzing, because football can be cruel. We could easily have lost that, they had a lot of chances at the end. Barnesy made two great saves and they had chances over the bar, so they had enough to win it, but it just felt like today was our day.”