Northern League side Morpeth Town overcame a battling Berkhamsted 2-1 in the FA Vase fifth found – ending the Comrades’ dreams of a Wembley final.
Goals from Luke Carr and Michael Chilton were enough to send the Highwaymen through, despite Tom Carter’s early goal for the home side.
It was a match full of blood and thunder, and in blustery conditions in front of Berko’s biggest crowd of the season, it had the makings of a classic.
The atmosphere seemed to transfer to the Berko players who made an excellent start, carving out the first real opportunity when Lewis Rodridgoe’s header flashed just wide from Dan Weeks’ pinpoint free kick.
It all seemed to be going the Comrades’ way when Tom Carter rose highest to meet Alex Campana’s corner and sent a towering header past Karl Dryden to put the home side 1-0 up inside the first 15 minutes.
The celebrations showed just how much the game meant and what followed was a sustained period of pressure as Berko’s high energy and pressing keeping Morpeth from finding a foothold in the game.
As the half wore on the visitors began to grow in strength and started to show the kind of attacking threat that saw then knock out last year’s Vase winners North Shields in the previous round.
Dale Sears had to be on hand to stop Luke Carr’s shot with a last ditch tackle and Chris Swailes sent a glancing header just over the bar from a corner.
Berko looked like they were going to survive until half-time, however just before the interval, the referee blew for a foul just outside the Comrades box.
Captain Keith Graydon stepped up to take, fired a powerful shot directly into the wall and from there the referee pointed to the spot for an alleged handball.
Protests exploded but nothing was going to sway the mind of the officials and Luke Carr duly slotted home from the spot to make it 1=1.
The game was still there for the taking however, but now the visitors had a foothold in the match and it was one they were not going to let go of lightly.
Berkhamsted brought on the more potent goal threat of Bradley O’Donovan, however he received little service as Morpeth controlled the game and dictated the pace in the second half.
The winning goal was one of little quality and one that reflected the scrappier nature of the second half, Michael Chilton popping up to tap the ball home from a corner.
Berkhamsted continued to press and probe, growing into the game as the half wore on, however their task was made all the harder when Dan Edwards was sent off for a second bookable offence after a reckless challenge on Graydon.
Morpeth continued to be a threat, Sean Taylor tormenting the home defense with his quick feet and pacey runs down the wing.
There was drama saved for the final minutes as the Comrades mounted some serious pressure.
O’Donovan put the ball inches over after he found himself in space, but the most dramatic moment of the match was saved for the final seconds.
Campana sent in a teasing ball from a corner, captain Jim Baldry leapt clear of the stranded Morpeth defenders and sent a powerful header towards the goal only to see it agonizingly hit the underside of the crossbar and fail to go over the line.
That was that, the final whistle blew and the Berkhamsted players lay distraught on the ground.
Ultimately it had been a heroic effort and one that arguably deserved more. The cup dream may be over for now but the efforts of those players to get there in the first place will certainly not be forgotten in a hurry.
As for Morpeth, the Highwaymen march on to the quarter-finals and the sight of the national stadium comes ever closer.
Berko: Tasker, Edwards, Weeks, Baldry, Sears, Rodrigoe, Moannion (O’Donovan), Frederick (Jowle), Campana, Chamberlain (Eboji), Carter. Subs not used: Canham and Gilbert.
Elsewhere, Berko’s development side won 10-2 in an away friendly with Pond Park Rangers. Caleb Bolton led the way with four goals and there were two each for Ben Gomm and Jack Whitehead, and one each for George Head and Paul Toms.
Berkhamsted get back to league action at home to Leverstock Green on Tuesday and entertain Cockfosters on Saturday.
They are then at home to Hertford Town in the quarter-final of the Challenge Trophy on Tuesday, February 16th. This is now the only cup Berko are left in this season.
Berkhamsted are away to Tring Athletic Reserves in the Suburban Plate on Saturday.