And so another great cup run comes to an end. Bitterly disappointed but, in my opinion at least, we shouldn't have any regrets that we went out and didn't perform on the day. Others have suggested we didn't play quite at our best and allowed Hereford to dominate us, but for me it was simply that, on the day, Hereford were just too good for us and didn't let us get any kind of foothold. Their tempo, short passing accuracy even on our less than perfect surface because of recent weather, and immediate closing down whenever and wherever we received the ball, had all the hallmarks of a team that could be playing at least two levels above us.
Hartley in the 5th Round of the FA Vase, playing in front of a 1,300 sell-out crowd - we should be so proud.
I didn't get the chance to ask any of the players but I would imagine they'd agree Hereford were tougher to play against than Eastbourne Borough from Conference South, who we played earlier this season in the FA Cup - we certainly seemed to have less time on the ball, less space to work into (though Eastbourne's pitch was bigger of course) and were closed down much faster. Hereford's tempo and closing down caused us to make mistakes - yes we made mistakes but they weren't unenforced errors, it was the result of tremendous and relentless pressing.
Hereford's 7, who played on the left, Mustapha Bundu, was too much for us to handle, one of several Hereford players clearly playing well below his level, and the opening goal from him was an ominous sign of what was to come. But at just 1 down we were very much still in the game as the 2nd half started. But two quick goals and we were no longer in it as a contest. Ross Cook won and converted the penalty very neatly to put something on the board. Both teams were later reduced to 10 men following a 'coming together' between Ross Cook and Hereford's Ryan Green, Green getting a straight red card and Cook a second yellow. Apart from that it was a game played in a competitive but good spirit, and the officials showed they were also a step up in ability to what we often encounter in the league.
I don't know if that was as good as Hereford can play but they were very good and we barely got a look in. Full marks to the boys for competing with them till the end - the very late 4th goal was unkind to us but brilliantly worked and very well finished.
The whole day was like a whirlwind overtaking our small club, on and off the pitch. It has been said already by several but Elayne and Luke Mullen, everyone on the committee involved in the logistics, and our ground staff with the support of those from Aldershot FC on helping to get the game on, all deserve a huge amount of praise. As Luke said in his programme comments, it's "days like this that you are aware of what a small club we are." True, but that makes it all the more staggering what the club has been able to achieve over recent seasons.
I was looking back through the results of the various rounds in the Vase this season on the FA website and it hit me just how many teams compete in this national competition and how far we came. Hartley made it through to the last 16, it's a fantastic effort. Hereford was the plum draw, some say, but not in my book it wasn't, not until the final! We were unfortunate to draw them when we did but the boys can be proud of what they achieved, setting a new club record in the FA Vase. [KOB]