Hartley reach Third Qualifying Round for the second time
A proud day as the lads matched the achievement of the 2011-12 squad by reaching the Third Qualifying Round of the FA Cup for only the second time in our history. Our win away at Eastbourne Town by a scoreline that gives the wrong impression - Eastbourne were no pushovers - bagged the club a massive £4,500 in prize money, leaves us as not only the only Combined Counties side in the FA Cup but the only Step 5 side in Hampshire still in the Cup, and sets up the chance of a plum draw in the next round, though it won't be against Basingstoke this time as they were beaten by Weston Super Mare.
Another proud day for our football club as we progress in the FA Cup.
I drove to the game as I needed to be back in time for a family event, but when I arrived at 2.30 I discovered the team coach had got caught up in the jams on the M25 that I'd heard about and managed to avoid. Nearly an hour passed before the squad and most of our support arrived, meaning a quick warm-up for a 3.45 kick-off - hardly the best preparation. In the end we kicked off just short of 3.55 and started well. Jack immediately set about tormenting the Eastbourne right-back with his footwork and was soon brought down. Another foul was committed and then a third which got the number 2 booked.
Hartley were looking very threatening going forward, with Jack Coventry and Carl Saunders attacking with pace down each flank, Ryan Stephens and Sam Argent spearheading the attack, with Shane Hollamby just behind them, at times giving us a 5 man attack - we were playing 3 at the back (Stuart Urquhart, Ashley Lloyd and Tom Walsh) making it a very attacking formation. The breakthrough came on the half hour when the ball was played into the path of Sam Argent and he got between the central defenders and slipped the ball low passed the keeper, who got fingers on it but not enough to send it wide.
We had looked pretty much in control - as much as that's possible in a Cup game away from home against higher league opposition - and we appeared to have too much pace and to be playing at a tempo that Eastbourne were not comfortable with. But then from what was a rare attacking move of any real threat from the home side they equalised through Billy Medlock after 'keeper Craig Atkinson had parried a fierce shot. The ball was sent high and as it dropped Medlock was able to get higher than Tom Walsh and headed the ball home. Officially the goal was timed at 32 minutes but it seemed a little longer than 2 minutes between goals. This visibly restored confidence in the home side and they began to have more of the ball going forward and it became a more even game.
The Eastbourne right-back had been warned after another free-kick was awarded for a foul on Jack, and then came the first moment of real controversy. Shane and the right-back went for the ball and Shane's long leg allowed him to get his boot first on the ball, the number 2 caught him and both hit the ground. After a few seconds' thought, the ref showed another yellow and the right-back got his marching orders. Frankly we all felt it was coming from the first minutes, but the challenge that got him the second yellow was the least bookable offence of all of them, but it wasn't a challenge to be making on a yellow card and further warning.
Clearly incensed that some kind of injustice had been done, the sending off seemed to galvanise the home side and they had their best spell and should have scored a second when their fast left winger got in behind Carl, skinned Stuart but dragged the ball wide of Craig's far post. 1-1 at the break.
Eastbourne started the second half the better of the sides and Hartley took a while to get back into a high gear. Clearly motivated and working hard, the ten men were attacking as if we were the team a man light, and for the first 15 minutes they looked a real threat, but gradually we began to play the ball around again and the next breakthrough came on 67 minutes when, after a spell of pressure, Sam was again put through as he split the centre backs and slotted the ball passed the keeper.
This settled us down and obviously hit the home side hard, as they knew they now had a mountain to climb and this was made all but impossible after a straight red for another Eastbourne player after a bad tackle on Sam Argent which eventually saw the young forward withdrawn. If I'm honest I can't remember for sure if our third came before or after that sending off but I'm pretty sure it must have been before Ryan lashed the ball home after being set through on the left and that all but sealed it. He looked across at me with that expression of "we've done it!" as I was doing cartwheels (in my mind) on the touchline.
The third had come on 82 minutes and meant we were spared the usual nail-chewing last few minutes of a big Cup game. Eastbourne were clearly a spent force, down to nine, and while I'm not going to suggest for one second that either red card wasn't justified, knowing the anguish the home side must have been going through I can't help but feel a little sympathy for them. We were then rampant and Ryan absolutely leathered another off the bottom of the bar three minutes later, before Zac Reynolds, who'd come on for Sam, fired another one into the net in injury time. The three goals in the last 10 minutes of play make it look an emphatic victory but this was no easy win; it was a hard-fought encounter like any other cup tie, and for 80 minutes Eastbourne Town were still in with a shout. But the boys were superb again today, and top marks to Lloydy, Stuart and Tom at the back because they had to work extremely hard as a three. [KOB]