It’s not often I get to a Saturday afternoon game at the moment but I’m certainly making the most of every Tuesday night available. A change of plans however this weekend meant I had the rare opportunity to make a 3pm kick off and headed for The Sportsfield in Littlehampton to watch the home side take on Brockenhurst in the FA Vase 5th round.
Both sides are embroiled in title races in the Southern Combination Premier Division and the Wessex League so on paper it looked like a very good match up which is generally the case when you get to this stage and only three games from a Wembley final.
Town were missing two or three regulars but as I’ve seen throughout this season they can rotate as many as four within the squad and it doesn’t weaken things. There was also an added bonus for the home side with striker Joe Benn returning for his first game since the Vase exit last month and a dislocated shoulder for the 58 goal marksman.
I say Vase exit because there is a story behind that! Athletic Newham comfortably put five past the Golds and trotted into the next round to host Brockenhurst. It was subsequently discovered they had played a suspended player during the win and were subject to an FA investigation which they lost and Littlehampton were re-instated days before this game was played.
So, it was certainly a case of making second chances count on Saturday afternoon and in the bright but cold Sussex sunshine the opportunity was there to take the season onto the next stage.
There was very little between the sides in the opening moments, the biting wind behind the home side for the first forty-five and both sides testing each other out.
As both were struggling a bit to get to grips with the conditions a goal appeared out of nowhere. The ball came into Benn around five yards outside the penalty area and on the half volley sent the ball fizzing past the visiting keeper James Mayo to open the scoring.
Clear cut chances were at a premium, the visitors were controlling possession but lacked a cutting edge to trouble the Littlehampton back four whilst the home side were content to allow the ball to be played in front of them and to deal with any breaks down either flanks.
That seemed to work well until a minute before half time when Brockenhurst levelled the game, Silvano Obeng finishing well past James Binfield after some good wing play, the game by no means a classic to watch but still another half to come.
The second half really saw the game come to life as early as the opening ten minutes with both sides seemingly deciding attack was going to be the way to win the game and on the hour mark the home side were back in front.
A free kick from the Town left found its way to Zack Harris in the penalty box who drilled the ball across for new signing Aaron Capon to tap in from a few yards out. There was drama however as the assistant referee had flagged for offside only to be overruled by the referee and the goal stood.
Ten minutes later the tie looked to be won as another Town free kick wasn’t cleared and Lee Garnham on the half volley sent the Littlehampton fans into raptures with a third goal for the home side.
The visitors had other ideas that this tie was over though as Christie Ward scored with a little over 14 minutes to play and you could sense a few nerves returning to The Sportsfield crowd. Unsurprisingly the impetus was now with Brockenhurst and Town were defending a lot of needless free kicks being given away, one such foul ending with a second yellow card for midfielder Dave Herbert and an early bath one minute from time.
Just moments earlier Binfield pulled off a fantastic save to keep the home side in front, flying to his right to push the ball out for a corner from a shot destined for the top corner had he not made it.
With five added minutes the ten men Golds did their best to hold out but another needless free kick given away saw the ball bounce around in the Town box and was poked towards goal by Alex Haynes in the final minute of stoppage time with the last touch coming from Binfield to level the tie once again and with no extra time it was straight to penalties.
Just when you thought you’d seen enough drama inside 90 minutes, more was to come. Benn scored the first for the home side while Binfield then saved the first Brockenhurst penalty. Both sides converted their second penalties followed by Town scoring their third and the visitors putting their kick the wrong side of the post leaving Capon to score Gold’s fourth kick and a place in the quarter final draw as the Sportsfield erupted to a pitch invasion.
To see 1,276 supporters inside to witness all of the above was a figure I wasn’t expecting at all to see. Crowds for Littlehampton this season have been on the increase all year and are currently averaging 178 per league fixture at Step 5, cup games have been very well attended and it’s great to see the town getting involved and behind the side as they aim for promotion to the Isthmian League.
The visitors really played their part in an entertaining second half as well and the season isn’t over for them, a race for the Wessex League title awaits them for the remainder of the season. Great to see when sides play the ball on the floor and want to pass through teams rather than play over them, two players stuck out for me in Ronan Moore and Seung Woo-Yang who looked every inch calm and composed throughout.
Nice to catch up with some old friends as well, namely Terry Gaunt, Simon Ediker, Kevin Playle-Howard and Jack Croft, guys who get around to local football as well but just not as much as me! I purposely waited until the draw was made on Monday afternoon before posting this blog and what a mouth-watering tie for the Golds, favourites North Shields are the visitors to the Sportsfield on the weekend of 12th March and with only two rounds now till the Wembley date comes around you can almost taste the glory……….
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