Saturday 22nd January 2011
By Colin Brazier
Cup Drought Continues
The thrill of a second round walkover (Bywood had folded) coming after the full blown excitement of a first round bye meant that we were thrown into a quarter final with absolutely no preparation in the special skills needed in the Junior Challenge Cup. We took on Crofton Albion for the third time this season (honours even, following our surprise yet well-deserved win at Weigall Road last month). Crofton were nevertheless favourites for this tie, having lost only two league matches this season.
Last week’s great win at Charlton Athletic Deaf led the management duo of Des and Mark to name an unchanged team, despite the early arrivals of both Steve Blanchards.
Our line up, then, was…
Jez Allen – GK
Scott Barnes - RB
Todd Arnold – CB
Paul Bailey – CB
Colin Brazier – LB
Luke Allen – RM
Neil Barnes – CM (capt.)
Tom Smart – CM
James Foyle – LM
Graeme Barnes – CF
Connor Barclay – CF
Steve Blanchard snr, Steve Blanchard jnr, Mark Edwards - Substitutes.
It was a typically hard-fought quarter final, with chances at a premium. The Guild had an early scare when Albion’s young right-winger nipped in behind the defence but lifted his shot over the bar. After that we settled down and although the visitors had most of the possession we always looked dangerous on the counter attack. The highlight for me was the midfield battle between the two captains, neither Neil nor his opposite number giving any quarter whether contesting the ball in the air or on the ground. I would have to call that contest even. Half time, 0-0.
The second half started in the same tight vein. The wind, which Farnborough had to contend with in the first half, gradually became less influential (typical!) and Crofton were pushing their midfielders up to support their forwards at every opportunity. The home defence stood firm, led superbly by Paul Bailey, and we continued to look for opportunities to test the visitors’ rearguard, with Connor and Graeme’s tricky skills unsettling their tall centre backs.
Midway through the half Graeme was upended on the edge of the area, and Colin’s claims to the free kick were overruled by Neil’s suggestion Graeme should take it. Having got all the way up there I thought I may as well stick around and I followed in on Graeme’s low, scudding shot which had somehow sneaked below the wall. I was looking forward to an easy tap-in off the keeper’s save for my first goal of the season, but he had other ideas and let the ball squirm under him and trickle over the line, no doubt put off by my presence. Cue great celebrations, the deadlock had been broken! All we had to do was withstand 20 minutes of pressure and we would be in the semis!
Crofton were visibly deflated, and it was the home side who looked like increasing their lead rather than conceding an equaliser, not least when Colin’s cross was deflected on to the bar and over the heads of two onrushing Guild players.
So it was then, that the turnaround was all the more unexpected. With around eight minutes to go, a stray pass led to a Crofton raid, and a probing low cross was converted at the far post. 1-1. Extra time loomed, and some tired legs in the Farnborough defence were looking forward to being replaced with our hitherto unused subs at the end of the 90. No names, no pack drill, but if I say Scott was looking as fresh as at the kick off, you can draw your own conclusions!
Fate was to have other ideas though, and a speculative cross was taken down rather than cleared from in front of the home goal, and a forward pounced to blast the ball past Jez. The young player involved was heartbroken, but these things happen all the time. Watching the Football League Show from the weekend, experienced international Ian Harte did exactly the same thing playing for Reading. And as I said at the time, we would rather he was there to make the mistake rather than be leaving the forward unmarked for a tap-in.
I hate this phrase, usually trotted out by Andrew Strauss pre- and post- Ashes triumph, but we can take a lot of positives from this game. It confirmed we can compete on the same level as teams at the top of our division, with a decent brand of pass-and-move football. Maybe we didn’t reach the same heights as last week but the opposition was much tougher. We wish them well in the competition.
Our Man of the Match, with a runaway ten votes, was Paul Bailey. Jez Allen picked up a couple for another assured performance.
So we still haven’t won a cup match for four years, but we have another chance this week, in the Tom Cooper Trophy, a competition brought in because of our lack of league games this season. It comprises all the teams in our division only, split into two groups of 4 with semi finals and a final. We are in group A, with Latter Day Saints and two as yet unknown (by me) teams.
Man of the match: Paul Bailey