RCA's hat-trick hero Colin Larkin in action at a foggy UTS Stadium. Photograph: Simon Mears.
For more photos from the match please click here.
FA Vase day: a special day. Matchday anticipation - heightened. An extra spring in the step. For clubs at our level, the Vase offers a very real opportunity for Wembley glory. This isn’t fantasy football or Roy of the Rovers stuff; recent history shows that the last eight Vase finals contested have featured at least one Northern League club - with seven of those finals being victorious for our teams. And we need look no further than today’s hosts, Dunston UTS, to realise that dreams can become reality. Dunston lifted the Vase - at Wembley - as recently as May 2012 thanks to a 2-0 win over fellow Northern League side West Auckland Town in the final.
With the two sides reaching the Fifth Round of the Vase last season, both entered this year’s competition at the Second Round stage, which saw Dunston defeat Hemsworth MW 3-1 on Tuesday and RCA narrowly beat Stockton Town - courtesy of an extra-time penalty scored by Colin Larkin - to set up today’s Third Round match.
RCA made one change to the side that lost at West Auckland last Saturday. Clayton Davis returned at right back with Luke Richardson moving to left back, and James Armstrong slotted into central midfield. With RCA unable to call upon the services of Ross Preston and Adam McGuinness, who were both cup-tied after playing for Washington in the First Qualifying Round, Craig Hodgson was moved from central midfield to partner Greg Swansbury in the centre of defence.
The two teams lined up as follows:
Dunston: Holden, Pearson, Halliday, Slaughter, Capewell, Gilhespy, Smith, Burrell ©, Heslop, Luccock, Thear.
RCA: Carmichael, Davis, Richardson, Hodgson, Swansbury ©, Robinson, Charlton, Larkin, Butler, Armstrong, Callen.
RCA got the match underway and immediately showed their intent. In the opening minute Butler made a driving run through the middle before releasing Charlton in on goal, however, the flag was raised for offside. In the eighth minute Dunston got their first opportunity when Armstrong committed a foul 20 yards from goal. The resulting free-kick by Slaughter took a wicked deflection and, with Carmichael stranded, went inches wide of the post for a corner which was cleared.
In the 11th minute RCA took the lead with a lovely move. Callen broke up play midway inside the RCA half and drove forward before releasing the ball to Butler on the left touchline. Butler’s pinpoint cross eluded the Dunston defence and Larkin sent a beautifully judged looping header back over Holden and into the far corner of the net. Four minutes later Robinson made a run down the left and his cross to Butler was saved by Holden. RCA kept up the pressure and Holden was called into action again, this time saving a shot from Callen.
On the half hour Smith was booked for a foul on Hodgson as the heat was cranked up a notch. The ground was now becoming shrouded in freezing fog which, especially under the lights, provided a wonderful, eerie atmosphere to the match.
RCA doubled their lead in the 34th minute with the same combination that brought the opening goal. Butler again made progress down the left and fired in a cross and Larkin coolly chested the ball down, beating his marker and half-volleyed emphatically into the net. With five minutes to go until half-time, RCA could have all but wrapped up the match. Back-to-back corners caused havoc in the Dunston defence as first Callen had an effort cleared off the line, and then from the next corner Robinson had a shot well saved by Holden.
Half-time: Dunston UTS 0 Sunderland RCA 2
Much of the half-time banter was on the importance of the next goal - if, indeed, there was to be one. Should RCA get a third it was surely game over, however, if Dunston pulled one back, particularly early on, then it was very much game on.
It was a fired-up Dunston that took to the field for the second half and they proceeded to dominate the early exchanges and force RCA onto the back foot. That said, it was RCA who created the first clear-cut chance of the half on the hour mark. Callen made a terrific run down the left and cut the ball into the unmarked Armstrong, who, from 12 yards, blazed the ball over the crossbar. Five minutes later and RCA launched a superb counterattack. Larkin made a surging run down the right and cut into the penalty area before squaring the ball to Charlton, who unleashed a powerful first-time shot which seemed to be bound for the bottom corner until Holden got down sharply to his left to produce a brilliant reflex save - great play all round.
In the 67th minute, a Dunston attack down the left saw the ball reach the edge of the RCA penalty area where Thear fired in a cracking shot that was going into the bottom corner until Carmichael got down to his right to superbly parry the ball away - three players converged onto the loose ball but strong appeals for a penalty were ignored by the referee. It was a crucial save as Dunston continued to press for a foothold in the game and possibly set up a grandstand finish.
As the game entered the final 15 minutes Dunston again attacked down the left and, as Carmichael rushed from his goal to make an interception, the ball was played into the penalty area where Swansbury was on hand to clear the ball.
With eight minutes to go, Larkin made a run down the left, driving into the penalty area, and precisely placing a left foot shot across the goalkeeper and into the far corner to complete a memorable hat-trick.
In the final minute Dunston were rewarded for their second half effort with substitute Drane scoring a consolation goal to deny RCA a clean sheet.
After five minutes of stoppage time the final whistle was blown to bring to a close a quite magnificent performance from every one of the RCA lads and a deserved victory. But whilst it was a terrific show from the team, it was Colin Larkin who had grabbed the headlines. What is it about Larkin and the Vase? A marriage made in football heaven. A ‘perfect’ hat-trick today, with a header and a right foot shot in the first half, followed by a left foot strike in the second - a masterclass in finishing. Last season ‘Larks’ was prolific for RCA in the Vase scoring eight goals - including two hat-tricks against Hemsworth MW and Tadcaster Albion. And this season he is continuing where he left off with all four of our goals scored in the competition to date.
Following today’s other results, RCA will join Billingham Town, Morpeth Town, Shildon and South Shields in the hat representing the Northern League in the last 32 of the competition. The draw takes place on Monday lunchtime.
It’s back to league action for RCA on Saturday and a second trip of the season to Penrith - where we lost a close FA Cup match by a single goal on the opening day of the campaign.