FA Cup preliminary round

Witham Town are still in the FA Cup, but FC Clacton must be asking themselves just how that could be possible after this preliminary round tie at the Rush Green Bowl.

Despite playing their league football at a level lower than their visitors, Clacton looked anything but underdogs as they dominated the play through much of the 90 minutes.

The Seasiders created more than enough chances to have been comfortable winners, but in the end, it was only Mehki McKenzie’s first-half goal that they had to show for their efforts.

And the fact that Oli Bell equalised that with a headed goal meant that Witham lived to fight another day and the two clubs will have to meet in a replay at the Simarco Stadium.

The opening exchanges were tight, with neither side able to really get on top or craft much in the way of clear cut opportunities, although both did look to be positive early on.

Witham’s best threats came from long throw-ins from Marcus Bowers and Clacton keeper Joe Fowler had to claw away one such throw over his crossbar on five minutes.

However, the Seasiders started to pose more problems for the Town back line from open play and Witham keeper George Marsh had to be alert to claim a low cross that Jordan Lartey drilled across his six-yard box with Clacton striker Jake Clowsley closing in fast.

Determination from Clowsely saw him evade a couple of challenges and get away on the left before laying a well-weighted ball into the run of Mekhi McKenzie, who fired in a shot that was saved by Marsh as Clacton looked lively going forward.

That was continued by an overloading of home players on the Clacton left and Billy Wales floated a lovely cross to the back post that was met cleanly by the onrushing Harry McDonald, but his shot flew across the face of the goal and just wide.

There was almost an immediate response from Witham as a low cross into the Clacton area fell to Bowers, but he scuffed his shot and Fowler was able to claim.

That was a rare threat from Town, though, as it was at the other end of the pitch where the greater threat remained and Clacton’s pressing eventually led to the opening goal.

They were desperately unlucky not to open the scoring when a shot from Clowsley was palmed on to the post by Marsh and Lartey dived to make it to the rebound only to see his header cannon off the crossbar before a clearance could be made.

And Lartey went close again soon after when he stung Marsh’s hands with a fierce effort in the 29th minute and Whipps had to turn the loose ball behind.

However, it was a brief reprieve for Witham as, from resulting corner, the ball was swung beautifully into the Witham area where McKenzie glanced an excellent header into the back of the Town net.

It was a lead that was completely deserved by the Seasiders at that stage of the proceedings, but it wasn’t one that lasted for too long.

On 38 minutes, a great move from Witham opened the Clacton defence and allowed the visitors to pull level.

George Bugg moved the ball wide to Joshua Luther, who swung in a superb cross that was met unchallenged by Oli Bell and he thundered a header past an exposed Fowler.

It was perhaps harsh on the hosts that their first-half dominance hadn’t resulted in an interval lead, but they finished strongly to give their visitors plenty to think about at the break.

Realising they had been second-best in the opening 45 minutes, Witham made changes after the restart with the introduction of Jamie Guy and Ollie Emsden.

However, it was the hosts who had the first real sight of goal as McDonald broke free and Marsh had to make a good save to ensure his team stayed level.

McKenzie then headed over from a corner as Clacton kept the pressure on, while Kyelan Marvell curled an effort wide from another set piece and Lartey fired over when well-placed.

Witham, on the other hand, found quality possession frustratingly difficult to come by and goal chances even rarer as Fowler remained largely untroubled in the home goal.

At the other end, Clacton kept pressing and Clowsley was so unlucky as the Witham woodwork was struck for a third time when a curling shot bounced away off the upright after he had cut inside from the right.

The game naturally slowed in the latter stages as the high temperatures proved punishing to both sets of players, but pressure was still mainly directed towards the Witham goal.

It was a frantic finish, but the visitors’ goal somehow stayed intact and a replay will be required to separate them on another day.

FC Clacton: Joe Fowler, Charlie Thompson, Billy Wales, Kyelan Marvell, Chris Ribchester, Ollie Lamb, Jordan Lartey, Jordan Brazitis (Brad Westley 68 (Callum Griffith 83)), Mekhi McKenzie, Harry McDonald, Jake Clowsley. Subs not used: Duiane Nwadikwa, Jake Richardson.

Witham Town: George Marsh, Joshua Luther, Liam Whipps, Pat Ahern, Jake Thompson, Charlie Barlow, Jett Hogan, Chris Taylor (Oli Emsden 45), Marcus Bowers, Oli Bell, George Bugg (Jamie Guy 48 (Teddy Henderson 65)). Subs not used: Kye Jude, Michael Bett.

Referee: Eugene Robinson.