Anton Stephenson scores twice to send Bethnal Green United into FA Vase first round
Anton Stephenson fired a stunning double to send Bethnal Green United into the first round proper of the FA Vase
Old Woodstock Town 1
Bethnal Green United 3
FA Vase Second Round Qualifying
Anton Stephenson fired a stunning double to send Bethnal Green United into the first round proper of the FA Vase as the club continues to make history in their maiden appearance in the competition.
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Bethnal Green became the first team in Tower Hamlets history to progress through the qualifying rounds of the tournament on Sunday as they bounced back from their first defeat of the season in style.
The Greens had surrendered their undefeated record a week earlier in a 2-0 loss at Bowers & Pitsea that boss Justin Gardner branded "humiliating".
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But United returned to form for their trip to Oxfordshire as striker Stephenson scored twice to overturn an early deficit and Marvin Abegunde added a third goal to set up a first-round meeting with London Colney.
For Gardner, the outcome was evidence that his squad had learned some painful lessons from the Bowers defeat.
"I'm over the moon because we've not only put the club into the first round, but the players have also proved to me that last week's defeat was a one-off," he said.
"I told them that I would never accept that level of performance again and they responded by showing me the pride, the commitment and the hunger that were missing a week ago.
"It was a great result, we've raised some money for the club and we're the first team from Tower Hamlets to reach the first round proper, so it was a good day's work."
The United manager reserved special praise for Stephenson, whose two-goal haul illuminated the cup clash and took his tally to three goals in as many games this season.
The 25-year-old, who plundered 45 goals for Eton Manor in his previous Essex Senior League campaign and had a loan spell at Blue Square Premier outfit Thurrock last year, is still working his way back to fitness after an injury-ravaged pre-season and Gardner estimates he is operating "at only 50 or 60 per cent of his best".
The Bethnal Green boss has high hopes for the striker when he regains full fitness.
Gardner said: "He is a top signing - he knows what this level is about and he's proved he can score goals here.
"His second goal against Woodstock was world class and he's not even match fit yet - I told him it will be five or six games before we see the best of him, but he's already scored three times and he hasn't played a full 90 minutes yet. He can be a huge for us."
Stephenson underlined his quality with a sublime double on Sunday after the home side had beaten Bethnal Green's offside trap to take a 10th-minute lead.
United drew level midway through the first half when Stephenson capped a one-touch move involving Ainsley Gaspar and Marvin Abegunde by drilling a first-time shot into the bottom corner from the edge of the area.
It was a fine strike, but the Bethnal Green forward produced a more dazzling effort to give his side the lead eight minutes before the break.
Receiving a long clearance from Ashley King on the left of the area, Stephenson shrugged off a Woodstock defender and defied a seemingly impossible angle by curling a right-foot shot into the top corner.
Woodstock never recovered as the Greens dominated the second half, extending their lead when Abegunde exchanged passes with Gaspar before firing in a low shot.
United should have extended their lead when Abegunde and the impressive Danny Sabroche (inset) were both brought down for apparent penalties, only for the referee to wave away their appeals, while Woodstock were awarded a spot-kick late on but shot wide as United advanced.
There were also positive results for the club's Under-18 sides as Bethnal Green secured a 2-2 draw against Brentford CST in the Eastern Junior Alliance, while United's Echo League side recorded an 11-1 triumph.
Bethnal Green United host Barking on Saturday (3pm).