Hartley fall behind twice but win FA Vase opening round tie
Hartley almost literally gifted the visitors, Longlevens AFC, the lead twice in the first half with unfortunate slip-ups at the back, which certainly made it a harder task, but we created a lot of chances and their keeper, Ollie Hall, did very well on several occasions, including an early one-on-one with Sam Argent and instinctive stops of several Ross Cook efforts. It was Zac Horkan who drew us level in the first half with a neat finish after ghosting into space in the visitors' penalty box following a delightful pass by the excellent Aaron Parfitt.
I doubt many of us knew much about Hellenic Premier Division side Longlevens football club before yesterday, but we certainly now know what a spirited, talented and thoroughly well organised outfit they are.
Hartley were well in the game and perhaps on top in terms of possession and chances, though it was a close contest. They'd gone a goal behind slightly against the run of play and found themselves behind again after another copycat defensive mistake allowed Steve Jackson to fire home his second, and so it was a disappointing 1-2 HT scoreline that didn't really reflect our overall play.
We picked up the pace well from the start of the second half but Longlevens were playing well too, hitting searching balls up to their powerful forwards, clearly looking to cause another slip at the back. Steve Noakes had had a good first half but really stepped up to the plate in the second, planting himself in the central back position, with Callum Eagle alongside to back him up. Callum didn't appear to let the first half slips play on his mind and he had a good second half, which is great credit to him. Noaksy afterwards got the Man of the Match nod and I can't disagree with that - he was the rock at the back - but Aaron would have been a close second. Our two full-backs, Tom Walsh and Marc Vockins, both had good games too, Vocks hitting a string of terrific passes, particularly first half.
As the half went on, Ian Jones replaced the returning and impressive Joe Paris. Both sides looked dangerous going forward. Our pressure finally paid off when Zac - or it may have been Sam but I seem to recall 7 on his back - was clipped in the box and Ross Cook struck home the penalty. And then the best move of the game resulted in a peach of a winner. Aaron Parfitt slid a perfectly weighted ball inside the right-back for Steve Duff to run on to. Duffs sent a superb cross in to the far post where up rose Ross Cook. With the ball seemingly curling slightly away from him, he got above the full-back and had the height to be able to twist his back and get good contact with his head and direct the ball down with power, beating the keeper at the near post. A superbly made and supremely executed goal.
Max Elward replaced our hard-working captain, Sam Argent, for the final stages as we looked to close the game out. There was a fair amount of injury time owing to a lengthy pause in the second half due to referee Richard Letheren carrying an injury. Longlevens did have a claim for a penalty which a few who were closer to the incident than me said we were perhaps fortunate to survive, but overall I felt we deserved the win against an impressive Hellenic Premier side who I fully expect to do well this season if they can avoid injuries and suspensions. On behalf of everyone at Hartley Wintney FC, I feel I ought to take the opportunity to thank the players and officials of Longlevens AFC for giving us a great game and being a very sporting outfit, and we wish them well for the rest of the season. [KOB]