FA Vase First Round
Saturday 18 October 2003 at Winch's Field
by Peter Guise
For a couple of hours at Winch’s Field it seemed more like 1963 than 2003. Supporters poured through the turnstiles in their droves. This historic stadium, now being readied for a return to its rightful place in a higher level of football, resounded to the noise and excitement generated by a thrilling cup tie. True, in 1963 most of the 1,920 that were here would have been singing their hearts out for the home side whereas in 2003 the majority were from the visiting Wimbledon camp.
It mattered little though. Once Herne Bay had overcome the shock of the larger than normal crowd they settled down and proceeded to show the Dons that life outside the Combined Counties League is a little tougher. Wimbledon, with their contingent of players garnered from the upper echelons of non-league football, have it much their own way in their own league. But Bay matched them and became only the second team this year to score twice against the south London outfit.
Herne Bay caused panic in the visitors’ defence as early as the sixth minute when Lee Jones run from the half way line produced a corner that met with mayhem in the six yard area before being hacked to safety. It was Wimbledon who drew first blood, however, when Bay indulged in their own version of sloppy defending to allow Matt Everard to squeeze a shot home at the near post from a long throw by Danny Oakins. Not surprisingly, this gave the visitors a boost and a succession of attacks might have added to the lead. From another long throw, Jason Hughes advanced only to flap at the ball and turn to see it cannon off the upright. Hughes redeemed himself on 28 minutes when he dived at Sheerins’ feet to deny the big striker a chance and then 8 minutes later tipped a header from the same marauder round the post.
But Bay weathered the storm and scored a deserved equaliser four minutes before the break. Jones was upended outside the box as he powered forward. The offence earned Steve Gibson a yellow card and cost his side their lead. Lee Jones took the free kick, Wimbledon failed to clear and Peter Cirillo was quickest to react as the ball bounced high in the six-yard box, nodding home to restore parity.
Six minutes after the turnaround Wimbledon regained their advantage through a defensive error. Mick Heather’s nod back to the advancing Hughes was far too weak and Joe Sheerin nipped in to score. Again Herne Bay came back. The second equaliser, perhaps, a contender for goal of the season had it been scored on a more glamorous stage. With 15 minutes to go Lee Jones collected the ball on the half way line, jinked past two opponents and unleashed an unstoppable drive from all of 35 yards that rose above Matt Martin in the Wimbledon goal then dipped and curved in to the back of the net with the bemused ‘keeper groping thin air.
On the stroke of 90 minutes Robbie Summers headed off the line to save Herne Bay and then just when extra time looked most likely Matt Everard, two minutes in to added time, rose above the Bay defence to shut the door on Bryant’s Vase campaign by burying a header in the far corner out of the reach of Hughes’ outstretched hand.
Wimbledon’s exuberant celebrations were testament to their relief but it was a cruel blow to a Herne Bay side that had matched their opponents with the illustrious name for 90 minutes on the field and to a backroom staff that had shown how to stage a big match without fuss, arrogance or pomp.
Agony and ecstasy, all in the space of two seconds; such is football. As Simon Bryant said after the game, “This was a great advert for non league football, I wish it could be like this every week.” Yes, it would Simon, but until Herne Bay do return to where they belong, it will be crowds of 200 for a while longer.
Herne Bay: Hughes, Smale, Summers, Heather, Lloyd, Manning, Cirillo, Cook, Pollard, Hossick (Eastwood 62), Jones.
Subs not used: Hammond, Hickman, Thompson, Bathgate.
AFC Wimbledon: Martin, Gibson, Dobinson, Oakins, Everard, Sullivan (Sidwell 79), Fevata, Bolger, Sheerin, Cooper (Scott 69), Gray.
Subs not used: Bassey, Frankum, Readings