Monday, 27 January 2014

Hanworth Villa 2 v 7 Eastbourne United Association (aet)

Saturday 25th January 2014
FA Vase Fourth Round
Rectory Meadow, Hanworth
Admission: £5.00
Programme: £1.00
Attendance: 210
Match Rating: 3

With heavy overnight rain falling on still waterlogged ground, this game, which was postponed last Saturday, was doubtful until a 9am pitch inspection declared the pitch playable. And so I made my way to south west London to see the last remaining club from East Sussex in this year's FA Vase competition.

Rectory Meadow is about a half hour walk southwards from Feltham train station, adjacent to a constantly busy and noisy dual carriageway. On approaching the ground, it was surprising to notice that the boundary fences around the ground are see-through, making it no problem to watch the game from the other side, and with plenty of gaps to be found to get in without paying. Rectory Meadow certainly doesn't fit the idyllic image that the name conjures up - it is a rather soulless place lacking in character or charm. Adjacent to the turnstiles is the clubhouse, which is something of an eyesore on the outside and rather claustrophobic on the inside.Straddling the half way line after entering is a modern metallic all-seater stand, and along side it is a similar metallic stand for standing. Along the opposite length and behind one goal is just hard standing, and behind the remaining goal is just a muddy footpath snaking through trees.

This fixture would seemingly be a tough encounter for the visitors, of the Sussex County League Division Two, a step below the Combined Counties League Premier Division where the hosts - who conquered last season’s FA Vase finalists Tunbridge Wells away in the last round - ply their trade. Eastbourne United are certainly in great form though, top of their division by four points having played two games less, winning fifteen and losing just one of their 19 league games this season. Hanworth Villa were in 13th place in their 22 team division, but had not won in their previous six league games. To reach this stage of the FA Vase, Hanworth Villa defeated East Grinstead Town 3-1 at home and then Tunbridge Wells 0-1 away after entering at the second round stage, whereas Eastbourne United entered at the Second Qualifying Round stage, beating Arundel 3-0 and then Phoenix Sports 5-4, both games at home, before travelling to and beating Combined Counties Premier Division sides Chessington and Hook (2-3) and then South Park (1-2).

This match turned out to be one of the liveliest and most unpredictable games I have witnessed in a long time. There would be little sign of that in the first half, with mostly sunny conditions – although with occasional very strong gusts of wind - as Eastbourne United opened up a two goal lead. This might have been considered surprising before the match but was well deserved on the balance of play. On 20 minutes, a corner was floated close to the goal and Sean Ray, who managed Hastings United all the way to the FA Cup Third Round last year, managed to get the decisive header to the ball from a few yards out for the ball to drop over the line. Four minutes later and it was two to the visitors, Joe Dryer latching onto a knock-down and drove the ball across the keeper and into the net. They could have made it three on 33 minutes, when a shot came back off the bar and a follow up shot drew a fantastic save from the keeper.  0-2 to the supposed underdogs was how it remained at half-time, although really Eastbourne should have put the game to bed in the first half, so poor were Hanworth Villa.

Into the second half and finally the home side sprang into life. On 47 minutes, they saw a cross shot come back off the post, and on 55 minutes, a shot deflected off Ray’s leg just rolled wide of the goal with the keeper stranded. On 63 minutes, the home side pulled a goal back when Adam Turner drilled the ball across the keeper and into the net. The weather soon deteriorated, with increasingly heavy rain arriving, and on 75 minutes, Hanworth Villa completed a comeback to equalise when a slide rule pass through the defence found Ross Cheatham, who hit the ball past the onrushing keeper from just inside the area and into the net. All the momentum was suddenly with the home side who now looked the likely winners, but nature was to dampen down that momentum as a sudden storm arrived, with hail driving across the ground horizontally in the by now exceptionally strong wind, which was enough to lift the roof off of a marquee erected for today’s game. With visibility reduced to zero in the driving hail and the arrival of thunder and lightening, the referee led the players to the changing rooms with 13 minutes left to play, with spectators cramming into the clubhouse or toilets portakabin. About ten minutes later, conditions relented sufficiently for the game to restart, and Hanworth Villa continued their domination of the second half,  and they had a great chance to win the game in the final minute of normal time, when the Eastbourne keeper pulled off a fantastic save, to force extra time.

Two minutes into extra time and Hanworth Villa were reduced to ten men, as the scorer of their first goal, Turner, had to go off injured after they had used all three subs already. On 96 minutes, the visitors went back into the lead when a looping cross was stabbed in at the far post by Ryan McBride. On 103 minutes, the visitors restored their two goal cushion with a really fabulous goal. Scott Dartnall picked the ball up close to the half way line and went on a jinking run, evading countless defenders, before eventually shooting low past the keeper.

Hanworth Villa really had a mountain to climb again now, but on 112 minutes, Eastbourne United made the game safe. Following a quick counter attack, Wes Tate ran towards goal with the ball, before laying it off to Dryer, who rolled the ball low inside the post. What followed was a shocking capitulation from the home side. Dryer ran with the ball down the left and with no team mates in support, he just kept on running towards goal before firing at the keeper, who couldn’t prevent the ball going into the net. A minute later and Eastbourne scored their seventh, when Richard Greenfield was pulled back as he ran into the area, resulting in a penalty and a red card for the defender Lee Morely. Tate drove the ball into the net to complete an emphatic away victory, and Eastbourne United’s reward for reaching the last 16 of the competition is a home tie against Northern League Morpeth Town in the next round. It was a deserved victory for the East Sussex club - even if the final scoreline was very flattering - however Hanworth Villa were unlucky that their momentum was thwarted by a freak weather storm and were reduced to ten men after using all three subs when the game was still 2-2. This was quite an amazing game of football which, despite the foul conditions experienced for quarter of an hour in the second half, more than made up for a venue that will not live long in the memory.

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