Hartley subdued but the draw is enough for another chance
I know we shouldn't get too used to seeing Hartley Wintney putting in classy and gritty performances in the FA Cup, or come to expect it, despite last season and previous recent big wins, but we certainly didn't see the best from the lads last night. We seemed strangely subdued for much of the game, perhaps down to having to make the trip to Oxfordshire for the 7.30 kick-off.
The Row have served us up some great performances in the FA Cup over the past three seasons - this wasn't one of them.
It looked like a few needed to recover from a hard day at work. If it wasn't for Atko (Craig Atkinson) between the sticks, pulling off three or four fine saves and handling crosses well, and the strong pairing of Noakes and Brown at the centre of defence, we may well already have said goodbye to the Cup for this season. I know some of the boys and management will say it's just me having my say, but I reckon most will quietly agree. I'm straightaway naming my Man of the Match as Carl Saunders, as Carl definitely doesn't fit into the 'we looked lethargic' category. His workrate, chasing down the Ardley defenders and midfielders for the full 90+ minutes, reminded me of the much-missed Sam Argent from last season. Coming from a player who is again clearly working hard to regain full fitness after his last injury set-back, Carl was a superb example to his team mates and we needed more of that. And again a nod to Noakesy, who worked very hard and did his best to keep the side's shape and focus, which seemed wasn't easy last night.
The first half is probably best left to dwindle into the mists of time... neither team impressed and 0-0 about summed it up. It took Ardley's opening goal - which came after we left ourselves stretched at the back - to spur the boys into some kind of action, and it wasn't long before Nathan Nurse delivered an excellent corner onto the head of the leaping Shane Hollamby, whose bullet header was the highlight of the night for us, perhaps run close by one of Craig's finger tip saves.
Elliot Hobden had come on for the injured Marc Vockins at right-back and did well, as did Walshy on the other side - we were stretched at the back when Noaksey was tempted to go up for set pieces, but apart from that the defence was strong and needed to be; the ball was given away ahead of them far too often. Ryan Stephens replaced Nathan Nurse and Max Elward came on for Craig Barker, who'd had a good game in the centre alongside Carl. Ryan saw quite a lot of the ball in the latter stages, and while the best work upfront throughout came from Shane, Ryan's introduction gave the Ardley defence something extra to think about.
It could have gone either way but the draw was about right, though I'm sure Ardley went back into the dressing room more frustrated at the draw than certainly we on the sidelines felt. From their body language it looked like the Hartley boys were also feeling frustrated - we just never seemed to get into our stride.
But I don't want to end on a downer - it's not the way they'd have wanted it themselves I'm sure, but the boys worked to get the result that sees us with another chance back at our place, and midweek away fixtures never allow for the best preparation: we'll put it down to that, hey lads. Another big game in the Vase on Saturday to think about now, against Holyport, who currently sit one place and 2 points below Ardley United in the Hellenic Premier after the early season league games.
I must just end by giving out a big thanks to the officials of Ardley United from the Chairman's wife, Elayne, and Vice Chairman Paul Charman for their excellent hospitality and very friendly welcome, and compliment them on what are very nice facilities there. We look forward to seeing them in a week's time for the replay. [KOB]