NEIL Last’s first-half rebound ensured Bovey Tracey safe passage into the FA Vase First Round Proper on Saturday as they beat Welton Rovers 1-0 at Mill Marsh.

A slow start from the Western League visitors was punished with half-time looming, as Last poked home his sixth goal of the season on 39 minutes.

‘[It was] very pleasing,’ Bovey boss Will Small said. ‘Another clean sheet and I thought we were very well organised, very disciplined and we stuck to our game plan.

‘We should have taken more chances - we were a bit wasteful in the final third and it could have been a little more comfortable.’

Bovey flew out of the blocks and saw their first chance of the afternoon go begging within 10 minutes. A deep ball on the right found Mitch Thomas in behind the defence, and he pulled it back for Brad Crocombe, who was arriving at pace. Crocombe struck the ball well on his first-time effort but it flew just high of the crossbar.

Bovey 1 Welton 0 FA Vase
Mitch Thomas (left) gets past Welton full-back Matty Morris on the flank. (Alan Craig)

The Moorlanders’ trigger-happy shooting came agonisingly close to reaping its reward on 19 minutes, when left-back Lewis Perring rattled the woodwork from range. Perring initially struck the wall with a free-kick from 25 yards but, when the ball bounced up nicely for his favoured left foot, the 27-year-old unleashed a venomous half-volley which rifled off the crossbar.

The hosts finally pushed their noses in front six minutes from the break. A ball from Cal Leech on the left flank was steered on goal by a sly touch from Last, and goalkeeper Alfie Kelsey could only parry back into Last’s path. The full-back made no mistake on the second time of asking as he tapped into an unguarded net.

Bovey 1 Welton 0 FA Vase
Welton centre-back Will Hunter (left) sits as Bovey Tracey celebrate Neil Last’s goal behind him. (Alan Craig)

‘They had a young ‘keeper in so it was about whether we can test him,’ Small explained. ‘If we see the goal, start having a go.

‘We were a bit negative against [Plymouth] Marjon and were trying to score the perfect goal, but today we actually had a few pops from distance.

‘The game plan was to get the full-backs involved in the game - we knew from watching Welton that they didn’t necessarily like tracking the runners, they played quite narrow and their midfield three weren’t the most mobile. I thought if we had runners in there and we got people beyond the ball and a third man running off the ball we could cause them problems, and that’s what we did.

Bovey 1 Welton 0 FA Vase
Full-back Neil Last (behind) was a crucial part of manager Will Small’s game plan. (Alan Craig)

‘Ollie [Aplin] was the focal point to occupy the centre-halves and to press from the front and run the channels if possible but we got people beyond him today.’

The second half played out in stark contrast to the first. With Bovey legs starting to tire, Welton took charge and came close to levelling just eight minutes after the restart. An early cross found the head of Joe Ellis, but his glancing effort was saved well by Moorlanders gloves-man Dom Aplin.

Just past the hour mark, Bovey had the chance to put the game to bed as Leech stormed forward. Kelsey came out to close the angle and did well to save the initial effort, although he only managed to paw the ball back to the winger. With the goal at his mercy, Leech blasted the rebound high over the bar.

Bovey 1 Welton 0 FA Vase
Cal Leech (right) struck the ‘keeper with his initial effort. (Alan Craig)

Five minutes later, Welton should have equalised. A quickly-taken free-kick caught Bovey napping and offered substitute Joe Dali-Kemmery the chance to bear down on goal unchallenged. Pulling the trigger as he reached the edge of the area, the youngster dragged his shot wide of the far upright with Aplin beaten.

The Green Army squandered another gilt-edged opportunity right at the death. With men over on the counterattack, the guests looked certain to score. Lewis Russell was given the ball 10 yards out, in acres of space and with all the time in the world to find the net but his shot, quite unbelievably, was saved by man-of-the-match Aplin.

Upon full-time, Small said: ’Credit to Welton, they came out second half and had a proper good go at it but I think we deserved the win.

‘Leechy [Cal Leech] was unlucky not to score and even at the end we were running through and probably should have scored right at the death as well, that’s another great chance that we missed.

‘The lads are all buzzing in the changing rooms,’ Small continued. ‘We’re on a good run at the minute and, as I’ve said from the start [of the season], we’ve got the quality in here and we’ve just got to match it with work rate, which is what we’ve done for the last six games and we’ve proved on our day we can give anyone a game.

Bovey 1 Welton 0 FA Vase
Left to right: Bovey’s Lewis Perring, Andy Davis, Neil Last and Lee Hildreth exchange words with their opposition after taking the lead. (Alan Craig)

‘Today was a free hit for us. They’re probably coming here thinking “we’re only playing a team from the league below” and they probably didn’t know anything about us whereas we’d done our homework and been to watch them a couple times.’

For the first time since 2019, Bovey Tracey have their place in the First Round Proper booked. The draw is set to take place at 1pm on Monday, September 26, with the matches scheduled to be played on the weekend of October 22-23.

‘It’s always nice to have a home draw,’ Small said, ‘and to play someone we wouldn’t normally come up against would be nice.

‘We’ll wait and see what happens - it’s just nice to be in the hat.’