Hartley heartbrokenly dumped out of the FA Cup in the 94th minute
Cruel! Cruel! Cruel! With a replay in sight in the 4th minute of stoppage time we are heartbrokenly and bravely dumped out of the FA Cup by Conference South side Eastbourne Borough in a dramatic finish to the game, after proudly fighting our way back into contention.
It did not seem this was possible in the first half because, whether it was nerves or the wind, we did not perform as we know we can, with many passes going astray, and it was only three or four fantastic saves from our keeper, Atko, that kept us in the game. Even the only goal they scored in the first half was controversial, as we had a blatant penalty turned down by a very weak ref and the ball went up to the other end and into our net.
Eastbourne scored a second early in the second half and everybody thought that was that, but no, back came the boys.
Eastbourne scored a second early in the second half when the wind carried a looping header into the goal and everybody thought that was that, but no, back came the boys in a fighting spirit determined to give it everything, and after Noaksey had two headers that could have gone into the net, his third header was powerfully turned in by Liam. Then a few minutes later, a great individual run from Sam shot us back on level terms.
Even after that we had a couple of chances to win the game when we hit the bar and a couple of shots went close, as did Eastbourne, until that dreaded final minute. This was a fantastic second half performance from the lads, which made the gulf and professionalism between the two teams very small indeed. I thought, going on holiday tonight, I would be bitterly disappointed, but I am not. As an old man I can only say I am very proud of the team, very proud of the supporters and very proud to be a member of this football club. [NV]
Nick has said it all really, but I'll add my congratulations too. It's difficult to find the words to describe yesterday and do justice to the team's performance. Heroic. Astonishing. Memorable. Proud.
When Sam Argent raced with the ball towards the right edge of the penalty box, with the score at 2-2 late in the game, for a moment I could already read the astonished headlines of the next day. It was a very difficult chance, from distance and with the angle narrowing and a defender bearing down, and Sam's drive went wide of the keeper's near post. But to have even been in that position against a side three levels above us, having been two down, away from home, almost defied belief. It had been the same Sam Argent who had drawn us level; picking up the ball to the left, just outside the penalty box, he took it passed one defender on the edge of the box, then a second, then a third, still travelling along the line of the penalty area, before unleashing a drive with his right that powered high into the right corner of the goal. After the game I'm one of the quiet ones, it's just my character; during a game I'm usually a little more animated! I hadn't felt that elation since the same Sam Argent scored the winner in the same round of the FA Cup at Clevedon a couple of seasons back, and frankly I hadn't imagined anything could have matched that night. But yesterday was another of those games that, whether a player, coach or supporter, you're just so glad you were there to live it.
The defending was truly heroic. Three times Tom Walsh got back to clear off the line. Craig Atkinson in goal has received huge praise from Borough supporters, let alone our own, and it's impossible to measure the commitment and authority that Steve Noakes gives to the side. But this had to be about all the squad playing their part and they did, with players like Liam Eagle coming off the bench at 2 down, defending wonderfully and getting upfield to nod home Noaksey's headed cross to put us back in the game.
Of course we felt crushed at the final whistle - the boys deserved to return home unbeaten, and the anguish lasted for a while, but not too long because I think we all soon realised just what we'd done and how close we'd taken the hosts. Some of the home support suggested we had been lucky not to concede three or four in the first half - it was great defending and great goalkeeping, not luck. Adam Everiss had his shot hit the bar in the second half - that was our 'luck' or lack of it. At the same time, Borough are a quality side, with quick thought and quick movement going forward, tough (but fair), fit and strong. They put huge pressure on us all afternoon - we can't say we were robbed by any means. But we can point to several chances of our own that, on another day, would have crept in. But the main thing is that the boys can have no regrets - true, as Nick said, we didn't start well and were overhitting passes and didn't settle. It had looked all over at 2-0 and less than an hour played, but what happened after that was special. After yesterday, I will never, ever again let myself think it's all over while we have this squad of players together. 'Well done!' doesn't begin to express what I'm sure every supporter felt after the game. In recent seasons, Hartley Wintney FC has surely become one of the great lower league FA Cup sides. We're truly proud of you boys. [KOB]
Greetings from a relieved Eastbourne fan... Yes it was a cruel, cruel end to what was a great FA cup tie, and praise is given to you and your team on a battling display, and special mention must be given to the guy with the number 1 on his back - simply breathtaking show of goalkeeping today. It was nice to see so many of your fans had travelled too, and on today's battle back, I can only see you being in a higher league in the very near future. All the best for the rest of your season. [Jim Stewart]