Town head for the semi finals

Photo courtesy of Chris Gregory (@chrisgregs)

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Saturday 12th March took a long time to come around. Taking you back around a month before Littlehampton Town had overcome Brockenhurst on penalties in the FA Vase 5th round, a competition they had been knocked out of but re-instated after Athletic Newham had fielded an ineligible player.

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Golds Wembley dream a step closer

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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Vase exit for Littlehampton despite strong second half

I’ve been lucky to have seen some great games of football since September and even since re-starting again in December goals, fine performances and of course drama! With restrictions and tiers forever changing where I can go to see a game the choice is becoming less varied, not that it bothers me, going to watch the game as a neutral is far easier to analyse.

Sometimes though a game sticks out as one that should or could be the best of the weekend or midweek action. Littlehampton Town vs Hanworth Villa stood out in the FA Vase, both sides unbeaten in their respective leagues, Town having disposed of a very good Sheppey Utd side in the previous round, plus it’s not often I can walk to and from a game either.

On a pretty windy afternoon which stayed for the whole game and helped both sides at times, we were treated to a pre-Christmas treat, the full works as I shall explain!

Despite the hosts hailing from Step 6 and the visitors from Step 5, the early exchanges wouldn’t have given the neutrals in a decent sized crowd any clues, Town had the better attacking intent although Villa were certainly pressing hard making Littlehampton move the ball quicker than they might have wanted.

As it was though, the visitors took the lead in the 18th minute with their first penetrating attack, Dan Thompson heading past James Binfield to put Villa in front. The goal gave the away side more impetus and began to see more possession of the ball, particularly down the left wing and more control across the midfield.

Villa struck again on the half hour, despite Binfield saving the initial shot, Joe Leslie tapped in the rebound to double the visitors lead and looked comfortable having repelled Town’s efforts.

Dan Swain went close on 39 minutes having broken away from midfield but couldn’t hit the target, however it wasn’t to be long before the home side were back in the tie.

Three minutes before half time, Joe Benn won a penalty after the centre half clattered all over the back of the striker and the referee pointed to the spot, Jordan Layton making no mistake and dispatching the penalty past keeper Terry Buss to halve the deficit going into half time.

Villa seemed content to soak up as much Littlehampton pressure as was being thrown at them across the second half and content to use the pace of Sam Merson and Leslie on the counter to fashion chances and relieve the pressure.

The visitors were lucky not to be reduced to ten men midway through the half, Bryant Akono-Bilongo kicking out at an opponent whilst on the ground and escaping with just a yellow card.

Town were certainly the team with more attacking purpose, both Swain and Dan Hegarty getting more control of the midfield ball, feeding George Gaskin and Joe Benn interchanging between the left wing and central striker.

The moment then came nine minutes from time for the drama, a corner from Mitchell Hand on the right swung into the box appeared to end up in the net only for it to be kept out by a Villa defender’s hand and the ball to then finish up as a goal.

Quite rightly the referee awarded a penalty, sent off the Villa defender after much deliberation between the opposing players, substitute Dave Herbert coolly putting the resultant spot kick into the net to level the scores.

The final five minutes saw relentless attacking from the home side, Buss making two good saves while Tom Biggs saw a shot cleared off the line when Buss was beaten which took the game to penalties.

Nine of out the ten penalties found the net, Hand blasting his effort over the bar giving the visitors the win and a place in the fourth round drawn on Monday.

Despite the windy conditions and torrential downpour for the final 15 minutes of normal time both sides worked hard to control the game with or without the wind and Town might well feel they did enough in the second half to win the game outright but as we all know not finding the net doesn’t win you games!

Lancing for me on Tuesday evening in the Southern Combination Premier Division versus Newhaven and then back to The Sportsfield on Boxing Day for the derby against Wick, very lucky I still have football to watch…………

The night before lockdown

The final hurrah! Well, till December football is now suspended unless you are ‘elite’ and if you are then you can’t be watched inside a stadium! 26 games in two months and a day is not a bad return considering I normally do 20-25 in a complete season.

Being that lockdown started on Thursday, classed as a key worker delivering for Amazon won’t see much change for me apart from the likelihood of getting much busier!

I made sure however that I got games in on Monday, Tuesday and Wednesday this week for the first time, trips to AFC Varndeanians and Three Bridges in the Sussex Senior Cup followed by the final road trip for now to AFC Porchester to watch United Services Portsmouth take on Bournemouth Poppies to conclude things before the midnight deadline.

The first choice venue was Farnborough but with the Southern League calling all games off the FA Vase took centre stage with two sides I’ve never previously watched at a ground I’d never previously been to, winners all round!

AFC Porchester is certainly a spacious ground, no trouble with getting enough people in safely to watch the final game for a few weeks. Not knowing too much about Wessex League football meant this was very much an unknown quantity to watch and sometimes they can turn out to be the best games.

What I’ve got to do is make mention of the travelling Poppies support! Around 12 of them singing and chanting the whole way through, non-league songs and adapting others, these guys were fantastic throughout the 90 minutes and much to credit to them, it was great to hear, made us chuckle, thank you!

The game itself played on a sloping pitch was certainly very possession based from both teams trying to play football and out from the back as well, Services though used the ball better when they had it whilst Poppies although playing their part struggled to play a penetrative ball when it was back with them.

However, it was Poppies who took the lead on eleven minutes, a cross from the left hand side from winger Jack Kinge-Phillips looped over the head of Services keeper Tom Price to give the visitors the lead.

That early goal was pretty much as good as it got for the Poppies, relentless attacking from the hosts ensured the night was going to be a long one. There were however one or two good chances to increase the lead but none were taken and each time the hosts pressed forward for an equaliser they threatened to score.

That goal did come in the 33rd minute through Dec Seidon, a thumping shot Jones was unable to keep out despite getting a hand on it. Worse was to come just four minutes later as Andy Todd put the hosts in front and turn the tie on its head in a matter of minutes to send Services in at the break with the lead.

Services kicking down the hill in the second half tried to put the game beyond the Poppies in the opening fifteen minutes, but Jones was in the way and when he was beaten the bar came to his rescue more than once.

Just before the hour mark Services did put the game out of reach of the visitors, James Franklyn neatly played through and he slotted past Jones for the hosts third goal, on the balance of play no more than they deserved.

Both sides traded shots over the final ten minutes but neither did enough to really trouble either keeper, Services fully deserved to progress into the next round whenever that might be played.

Overall, 184 happy souls saw a game of football, the last time for 28 days, we’re keeping everything crossed that on 2nd December we’ll all be rejoicing again that football is back for good this time and no more interruptions………