We entered the game with full knowledge that a win would see us establish a new club record in the FA Vase. A record that has stood since 1992. This was a big game, a huge occasion and a great opportunity. It was vitally important that we utilised the energy that surrounded the game and understood its importance, but when it came to kick off; we stripped it right back to it simply being 'another match'. We were confident, we had every right to be, based on our season so far, but as with every other game we refuse to be complacent, in a bid to improve each and every week.
The explosion of joy and relief when the ball sailed in told its own story; it offered an opportunity to screw our heads back on.
We are all too aware of Colliers Wood's threats. They play possession based football with explosively fast forwards that interchange pretty seamlessly throughout. They have potential match winners that can create chances out of very little. We had already beaten Colliers once this season, but with the added effects of Cup competition mentally, we couldn't read too much into that performance or result. Despite being saddled with problematic home form, we had to perform to win, there was no doubt about it.
It was a lively opening to the game as Colliers started on the front foot. There was a brief period here when nerves gripped and those nightmarish memories of recent surrender of points to Badshot Lea reared disconcertingly in our dug out. Within those minutes of madness, Atko produced a fine save that pushed a shot from distance over the bar; he was also quick off his line to prevent another opportunity. There was also a great strike that left Atko with severe staple foot, but it thankfully bounced off the post and away from the goal.
Ten minutes passed with relatively continuous pressure but, against the run of play, Aaron Parfitt, calm amid the jitters, threaded a pass into the penalty area that forced the neat run of Cook, whose excellent turn allowed him to bypass three players, evade the goalkeeper and send the ball into the far corner. The explosion of joy and relief when the ball sailed in told its own story; it offered an opportunity to screw our heads back on. That passage of play was not reflective of the early stages of the match, but it shaped what was next to come.
It was just over 10 minutes later when Hartley doubled their lead. Some great work down the right hand side, as a combination between Ian Jones and Aaron Parfitt released an adventurous run from Callum Eagle. Callum still had a lot of work to do but with some great footwork, managed to jink past two defenders and deliver a dangerous cross. The Colliers defender couldn't get enough on the cross and it fell into the path of Sam Argent and our skipper slotted the ball home into the near post. It was great work by the impressive Callum Eagle and capped off by the sheer relentless endeavour of our skipper.
It took just 13 minutes for Hartley to extend their lead. Aaron Parfitt picked up the ball in an advanced area of midfield, Sam's intelligent movement invited Parfitt to play a lovely reversed ball. The pass left the defender looking for his own legs, in a similar fashion to Dillian Whyte scrambling after Joshua's winning strike, but it was Argent who smashed the knock-out blow past the keeper. Half Time 3-0.
The game could have been very different had it not been for the saves Atko had made in the opening exchanges. We were aware that in the last fixture at Colliers that we took our foot off the pedal and allowed them back into the game. We were determined not to repeat that.
It was a pretty even second half. Colliers continued to keep the ball for long spells but with very little penetration; the shape of our side limited the space that they could play into. Credit to the work of Joe Paris, who was industry personified in the heart of midfield. Notably, although not necessarily his most prolific within an attacking sense, Adam Everiss worked incredibly hard down the flank and his defensive work was influential in gaining the right result.
The back four that has remained relatively unchanged throughout the season were solid throughout. Winning important headers and intercepting potentially dangerous through balls, backed wholeheartedly by Craig Atkinson who was faultless throughout. I thought Hollamby was very unlucky to receive a yellow card despite other opinions saying he was lucky not to get a red. For me, he clearly won the ball before the striker took a tumble over his legs.
Hartley did have the ball in the net but it was ruled out for offside; it was a terrific move that ended up with Sam Argent playing a great pass around the corner to Ross Cook, who finished well.
Colliers continued to dominate possession but couldn't find a clear cut chance; Hartley defended in numbers and a little too deep that we ended up inviting the pressure. Although, with lots of bodies forward for Colliers, meant there was space in behind. Cook utilised the space in behind after being put through by Ian Jones, but the keeper saved well from relatively close range.
A superb strike from distance from a Colliers midfielder rattled the crossbar. The bar was set to rattle again five minutes later when their striker turned and struck a fierce shot in one motion. Colliers deserved their goal but it was a shame for the Hartley defence as they'd worked very hard throughout to keep them at bay. The deflected shot looped over Atko after the striker was shown inside.
It was a good game of football on a great pitch. Credit to Colliers Wood, who always play a nice brand of football and always provide tough tests despite our good record against them. Lots of positives to take away from the game, obviously progression into the next round but also to get Cook and Coventry more valuable minutes since their absence, and another appearance for young Louis Paget, who continues to impress. We now await the draw which will be held on Monday afternoon.
A great weekend including a win for the reserves and the thirds! #OneClub [DB]