FA Vase Semi-Final Second Leg
Dean Street, Shildon
Tunbridge Wells win 4 v 3 on aggregate
Match Rating: 4
After being buoyed by watching Tunbridge Wells earn a two goal lead in the first leg of this FA Vase Semi-Final tie, and knowing the opportunity of 'being there' for an occasion of such magnitude for one of my local clubs probably won't come along too often, if ever again, as soon as it became clear that there were coach tickets available to go to the game, I was never going to miss this occasion, even with it meaning I would miss a Charlton home game.
Having paid a very reasonable £25 for a seat on one of two coaches laid on by Tunbridge Wells Football Club, we set off from the Culverden Stadium at 7.15, with the journey to Shildon taking just under six hours. On arrival, I had quick tour around the town, which is pretty sleepy and unremarkable, as one could also describe the town's football ground. As one enters the ground behind a goal, there is a large uncovered flat area for standing. Behind the other goal is also uncovered standing but with a couple of terrace steps. Straddling the half way line is a tall, imposing but slightly claustrophobic looking all-seater stand, whilst along the other length are a few rows of rather uneven grassy terrace steps, behind which is cover for standing along the middle two thirds. Houses surround the ground to complete the bland overall appearance. The 36 page programme was on the expensive side and looks slightly better than it turned out to be, with plenty of colour and a glossy finish, but with 19 pages of advertising, little information on Shildon's season, although it did contain plenty of information on the visitors.
Both teams have played since last week's first leg, with wildly contrasting fortunes. Shildon were hammered 1-8 at Bedlington Terriers on Monday, whilst on Tuesday Tunbridge Wells won 3-2 in what was technically a home game but was switched to the opposition's ground at Rochester United, in front of a crowd of 35 - 1719 less than three days previously. Whilst Tunbridge Wells would start today's match with clear daylight of a two goal lead, Shildon showed enough in the first leg to suggest this game was far from over, as they looked the better side for long periods, Tunbridge Wells scoring on the break after withstanding sustained pressure.
On a surprisingly sunny and relatively mild afternoon, the opening exchanges were fairly even, until the blue touch paper was well and truly lit when Shildon took the lead on 11 minutes when the ball was drilled home from just inside the box by Jamie Owens. Daylight on the scoreline was scrubbed out on 21 minutes when Shildon scored their second on the day when a cross was headed into the top corner of the net via the woodwork by Chris McCabe. Tunbridge Wells hadn't played that badly nor had fallen into the trap of sitting on their lead, but Shildon certainly had all the momentum now and one feared for Tunbridge Wells. As the game approached half time, Tunbridge Wells did come back into the game and fashioned a few half chances.
The second half started much as the first had ended, and it looked like Tunbridge Wells had scored a crucial goal to retake the lead in the tie, only for it to be ruled out for offside. A few minutes later, Shildon scored their third to take the lead in the tie for the first time. Sam Garvey suddenly managed to break free of the Wells defence opening up a one-on-one chance, and Garvey kept his composure to slot the ball cool low past the keeper. In all honesty, it was hard to say Shildon did not deserve the lead, and just as time seemed to be running out for Tunbridge Wells, they scored to level matters overall,with a lovely goal, when Andy Irvine curled a shot from the edge of box, over the keeper, hit the underside of the bar and bounced over the line. That was to be the end of the scoring after 90 minutes, and with the score locked at 3-3 and away goals not counting in the FA Vase, the match entered extra time.
The first period of extra time was surprisingly quiet, and with no further score, the spectre of penalties loomed ever larger. The second half of extra time saw more chances for either side, and on 115 minutes, it was Tunbridge Wells who scored what was surely a crucial goal when a cross across goal was headed in at the far post by Perry Spackman. There wasn't much time left for Shildon to save the game, but it didn't seem that they needed it. Moments after Tunbridge Wells scored, their keeper spilt a low shot and the ball was tucked home, but wild celebrations were cut short when the goal was ruled out for offside. That seemed to knock the stuffing out of Shildon, as they barely threatened to equalise again, and it was the amateurs of Tunbridge Wells who celebrated at the final whistle, having booked their day out at Wembley, meaning that Tunbridge Wells would become only the second Kent League side to reach the FA Vase final, although arguably the better side in both legs was knocked out. But such is cup football....
Video highlights at http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ArvqIboFgx0