PLAYING In from of a crowd of 1,271 – the biggest so for this season at the Rec – Weymouth last night turned in one of their best displays in scoring four times to beat Cheltenham in this F.A. Cup fourth qualifying round replay.
Gerry Pearson (2), Mark Baber and Anniello Iannone helped themselves to four superb goals that crushed Cheltenham and delighted the Terras’ supporters.
Now Weymouth will receive Alliance Premier League pacemakers Maidstone United in the first round – and on last nights form they must be in with a good chance of going through to the second.
Weymouth manager Stuart Morgan was pleased not only with the performance of his team, but also with the support received.
“I would like to thank everyone for the way they rallied round to support us so well,” he told me. “I commented on the atmosphere at Cheltenham on Saturday in the programme, and now our fans have done a great job for us.
“And didn’t the players respond well? I kept the faith with the lads who did so well for me at home to champions Runcorn a fortnight ago.
“I was tempted to play Neil Merrick again after his great efforts at Cheltenham, but in the end decided to leave him out. And the end justified the means. My lads were magnificent.”
Alan Wood, the Cheltenham manager, was also full of praise for the Weymouth team.
“All credit to them,” he said. “They did a good job against us. The difference was in the finishing and the first-touch control. They are a very good side and I have no complaints.”
Weymouth certainly deserved top marks on this occasion, with Billy Elliot always looking strong in the middle of the defence, Gary Borthwick prompting continually from midfield, and Anni Iannone and Trevor Finnigan making successful returns to the team.
Pearson grafted well and grabbed two opportunist goals, while the industrious Baber was always dangerous and showed a lot of opportunism.
All round, Weymouth can take a bow – first for the competent way in which they had the match wrapped up by the hour, and secondly for the general way in which they worked and ran for each other in an entertaining game.
Cheltenham, however, gave Weymouth an early scare when John Murphy laid the ball through a big hole in their defence, and prolific goalscorer Paul Lewis strode through.
It was left to goalkeeper Kevin Roberts, against deputising for the unwell Keiron Baker, to leave his line and save with an outstretch foot.
But Weymouth kept cool, and Finnigan had Chris Ogden, the Cheltenham goalkeeper, going full stretch in the 16th minute to reach a great header from Paul Morrell’s cross.
As Weymouth stepped up the pace, Cheltenham began to look more and more worried, but the speed of the Terras’ first goal in the 36th minute took most people by surprise.
Baber battled for possession and fed Finnigan on the right. Over came a superbly placed centre to the near post, and Pearson fairly jumped in first time to hammer the ball on the volley, catching it at knee height to leave Ogden helpless.
Ogden saved his side several times, particularly eight minutes into the second-half when he had to move back quickly to tip a shot from an acute angle by live-wire Pearson over his bar.
The match should have been completely tied up when Borthwick played the ball through to leave Pearson in the clear four minutes later. But Pearson hesitated, and Ogden managed to dive bravely at his feet to scramble the ball away.
Then followed a three-minute spell in which Weymouth made sure of victory.
Terry Patterson failed to control the ball in the 76th minute and Iannone surged forward to score a great individual goal. He fired home a rocket shot from 35 yards into the top corner of the net, with Ogden left wondering what was happening.
In the 79th minute, Cheltenham failed to clear a corner, Iannone headed the ball down, and Pearson swept it first time into the roof of the net.
Near the end, Lewis had a clear-cut chance, after Stuart Corne had back-headed from a corner. But Lewis again contrived to lift the ball high over the bar.
Prehaps this was Cheltenham’s frustration showing through. For whatever they did, it was Weymouth who quickly recovered to slip back into the driving seat in a replay which could have been much harder for the Terras if they failed to take their chances as well as they did.
Weymouth: Roberts, Peter Morrell, Paul Morrell, Elliott, Arnold, Finnigan, Baber, Pearson, Iannone, Borthwick, Benjafield.