Ascot United 2-2 Tonbridge Angels - Let's get through to the next round and today can be just a distant memory, says Tonbridge Angels coach Justin Luchford

Sunday 04th September 2016
Ascot United 2 – 2 Tonbridge Angels
Location Racecourse Ground, Winkfield Road, Ascot, Berkshire SL5 7LJ
Kickoff 04/09/2016 15:00

The Emirates FA Cup First Qualifying Round
Sunday 4th September 2016
Stephen McCartney reports from Racecourse Ground

TONBRIDGE ANGELS coach Justin Luchford hailed the character of his goalkeeper Anthony Di-Bernardo for keeping the club in The FA Cup.

The Angels arrived in Berkshire sitting in second-place in the Ryman Premier League, while Ascot United were in tenth-place in the Hellenic League and were playing in the First Qualifying Round for the first time in their history.

Ascot United’s ground is situated adjacent to furlongs seven and six on Ascot Racecourse and a crowd of 430 flocked through the turnstiles to see a game that Tonbridge Angels dominated on a small pitch.

But Jeff Lamb’s side snatched the lead inside 17 minutes when Di-Bernardo was struck down with the curse after winning the Ryman Premier League Goalkeeper of the Month award after conceding two goals in six league games – both coming in the 90th minute against Burgess Hill and Metropolitan Police – when he dropped a cross and Ascot striker Charlie Samuels accepted the gift.

But Nathan Elder’s trademark bullet header – his fifth goal of the season – restored parity, before the targetman was pulled back in the box and central midfielder Luke Allen gave the Kent side a deserved lead by tucking home the 61st minute penalty.

Samuels’ scored his eighth goal of the season with a deflected strike to equalise and Tonbridge Angels were just one kick from suffering an embarrassing FA Cup exit at the first attempt but Di-Bernardo pulled off an excellent save to deny Paul Coyne grabbing the headlines with a last-gasp penalty.

“Sunday afternoon, FA Cup, away from home, a side two levels below you, it’s The FA Cup isn’t it and it’s what happens,” said Luchford afterwards.

“It’s a roller coaster of a game. If you look at possession, if you look at their chances, we’ve given them a goal, a deflection, it might’ve had three different turns of deflections to go in the goal and we’ve waited for a penalty save from Tony to keep us in The FA Cup.

“We’re all expecting to play yesterday – same for them I know that – but that’s how shocks happen.  The gaffer mentioned in the changing room shocks happen at every level in The FA Cup for whatever reason. No one can put a finger on it. It happens to everyone and fortunately it didn’t happen to us today.

“We did dominate the whole game. I think from start to finish. Apart from their keeper banging it long to the nine (Samuels), I didn’t think they had any real set-up play. They didn’t really hurt us, they didn’t get behind us. Tony hasn’t had too much to do apart from picking the ball out of the net a couple of times. They had two corners in the game so there wasn’t a lot going on.”

Tonbridge Angels set the tone straight from the off, creating their first opening after only 129 seconds.

Allen rolled the ball into Elder, the ball went through his legs and Tommy Whitnell smacked his right-footed drive over the crossbar from 25-yards.

Allen’s bulldozed his way through the heart of the pitch before playing the ball out wide to Damien Scannell, whose low ball into the box was cut out by keeper Carl Dennison.

Scannell didn’t have his most influential game out on the right wing as he struggled to come to terms with the smaller pitch.

“It was very small,” said Luchford.

“We like to get the ball wide and we like to get our wide players into the game. It’s a little bit harder when you bring the ball out from the back sometimes and your centre halves have got it you see less space so you’re almost get more nervous about putting the ball where we want to put the ball because you’re worried because maybe that space isn’t there.

“When I did the warm up at the beginning and measuring out the cones etc I said to the gaffer ‘this is tight! This is a real tight pitch,’ so it did have a bearing on the game and it’s bobbly. I thought we dealt with the conditions well, no-one moaned about it and we got on with it.”

But Ascot United forced Di-Bernardo into making a smart low save to his right inside eight minutes to deny Samuels scoring with a left-footed drive from the right-hand side of the penalty area.

“Just a shot out of nothing,” added Luchford.   “We knew what he was like, we’ve watched these a couple of times now so we know he likes to get a shot off early.  We made a bit of an error at the back, George (Beaven) got caught a little bit flat-footed and he’s got his shot away, which was a good save.”

Ascot United were gifted the lead, timed at 16 minutes and 39 seconds, through a bad howler from Di-Bernardo.

Theo Jones put the ball into the Tonbridge Angels box and Di-Bernardo plucked the ball out of the air, only to drop the ball at Samuels’ feet, who steered the ball into the back of an empty net.

“It’s a good strike in play but at the end of the day we’ve got to do more to stop the cross in the first instance,” said Luchford.

“Tony’s held his hands up, he’s made a mistake, he’s dropped the ball. It’s not something he does regularly. Why did he do it today? You never know. These things happen and we responded well.”

Tonbridge left-back Jack Parter’s cross was knocked down by Tommy Whitnell and Scannell cut the ball back to right-back James Folkes, who took a touch before whipping in a cross for Elder to loop his header over the crossbar.

It was inevitable that Elder’s fifth goal of the season would come from his forehead as the targetman equalised with the clock showing 26:55.

Wheeler floated in a corner from the right and Elder made space to plant his towering downward header into the right-corner from eight-yards.

“We had eight corners before half-time. We had plenty going on in the box. We felt we could score from any set-piece,” said Luchford.

“Nathan was a handful as he always is in any game.  I just felt any chance we got, a set-piece, we had a chance.

“Once he’s up in the air, if you’re not close enough to him, he’s going to score, it’s as simple as that. He’s scored at every level in the non-league, so don’t leave him spare in the box – and they did and we punished them!”

Ben Knight fed Samuels down the right channel, the Ascot striker held the ball up, cut inside but his cross flashed across the face of goal and past the far post.

Ascot United keeper Carl Dennnison pulled off a great save in the 35th minute.

Folkes’ cross was chested down by Elder, Tom Parkinson swept the ball out wide to Wheeler, who cut inside and cracked a right-footed drive from 18-yards, which was palmed over the bar by the keeper’s outstretched right hand.

“Good shot from Wheeler, I think it took a slight deflection, which is why it was a better save than you probably think, so it was a good save,” came Luchford’s reply.

Ascot United missed a great chance to take the lead for the second time. 

Right-back Jack Smille floated in a free-kick from the right which sailed behind Sonny Miles and Jesse Wilson came up from the back to send his free diving header straight at Di-Bernardo from 12-yards.

Wheeler, who was tripped by Ascot central defender Jones, went close with a right-footed dipping free-kick from 28-yards, which only just cleared the top of the post.

Tonbridge Angels created the final chance of the first half, when Ascot cleared the ball off the line, not for the first time.

Parter’s hanging cross from the left was flicked on by Elder and Whitnell’s looping header was hooked off the line by Steve Deverall as the ball dropped.

“I said to Barry (Moore, assistant manager) as we were walking across, the last thing you need to do in these games is give teams hope and we gave them hope twice today,” said Luchford.

“The first one we gave them hope but we responded well and we got the goal back and it was good to go in at one-all.

“The gaffer wasn’t happy, there was a lot of things we weren’t doing particularly well and we needed to iron them out.

“We had a few words at half-time and we came out second half and it was as you were.   We must’ve had 90% possession, the only time they had possession was when we gave the ball away.”

The Angels created their first opening within the first minute of the second half when Dennison held on to the ball after Elder’s header came down off the crossbar after Wheeler swung in Tonbridge’s ninth of 12 corners.

Luchford said: “We just had to start bright and we did start bright. It was a matter of time before we got the second goal. We were comfortable we were going to get the second but we just didn’t know how long it was going to take.”

Wheeler sped past a tiring Smille down the left again and wrapped his foot around the ball to find Elder’s head but his downward header was comfortably gathered by Dennison at his near post.

But Tonbridge started to lose their shape in midfield and Ascot United went close from a set-piece when Coyne drilled his right-footed free-kick just past the foot of the right-hand post from 35-yards.

Tonbridge Angels felt the game was won in the 61st minute when Allen notched his second goal of the season from the penalty spot.

Elder was pulled down by Ascot’s central defender Wilson inside the penalty area and Allen sent Dennison the wrong way from the spot, putting his right-footed penalty into the right-hand corner.

Luchford said: “Nathan was getting pulled back all day long. He could’ve had 20 fouls today, I don’t think anyone would’ve had batted an eye lid (Ascot made 13 fouls, Tonbridge 10).  It was slightly embarrassing in terms of that but let’s try to refrain talking about the referee!

“We were a little bit open at that point because it was almost like we wanted to go for the throat and go for the kill and get the third so we just made sure we brought everything back in, made sure the midfield tightened up a little bit and we’ll break them down.

“We knew we would get more chances but we dominated the game but we played the game at the same tempo. We didn’t want to drop the tempo because they tried to do that a few times and we didn’t score the third.”

Tonbridge Angels’ play became inevitable – get it out wide to Wheeler, to run on the outside of a tired Smille and deliver a cross onto Elder’s head, his next effort from eight-yards was caught by Dennison.

Parkinson drilled a first time volley high over the crossbar, over the race track and into the trees some 50-yards away, while a quiet Scannell hit a first time drive past the far post from 30-yards.

There was a sense of shock when out-played Ascott grabbed an equaliser with 73 minutes on the clock.

Samuels played a one-two with Knight on the edge of the penalty area and two blue shirted defenders closed the Ascot striker down, his left-footed drive from 18-yards deflecting and deceiving the keeper as it nestled inside the bottom left-hand corner of the net.

“I didn’t think it was in or not until I heard the crowd,” admitted Luchford.

“It was one of those wasn’t it. Tony’s wrong-footed, it’s gone, I don’t know how many people it hit and it’s just spun and spun and spun and it’s just crept in the corner.

“If you look at the two goals today we’ve given them one and the second one’s taken loads of deflections, other than that I don’t think they’ve had a shot on target.  The first one, early on, which was a half-chance from 20-yards, other than that they’ve not threatened us at all!”

Ascot skipper Wilson powered a header just past the right-hand post of his own goal as he put behind Wheeler’s corner from the right, only just though!

There was outrage when referee Andrew Williams waved play on after substitute striker Luke Blewden was clearly fouled by Wilson inside the box.

Referee Andrew Williams had a poor game and assistant referee Keith Kennett seemed more interested in how many of the Tonbridge management team were standing up in their technical area.

Luchford said: “I’m dumbfounded how, how it can’t be a penalty. I mean he’s almost rugby tackled him to the floor!  He’s going to get to the ball in front of the goalkeeper, whether he scores or not is irrelevant, he’s going to get the ball in front of the goalkeeper and he’s been completely wiped out!

“Now, anywhere else on the pitch it’s a free-kick and it’s a yellow card for doing something like that. How that’s not is beyond me and then you start thinking as soon as that happens you start thinking in your mind is it not going to be our day?”

Acsot rallied during the final 10 minutes and had chances to send Steve McKimm’s side crashing out of The FA Cup.

Coyne swung in their second and last corner from the left, Tonbridge failed to clear their lines and Ascot substitute Remi Meyers directed his header straight at Di-Bernardo.

And at the other end, Allen, from the right hand corner off the Ascot penalty box, floated in a cross and Elder looped his header onto the top of the roof of the net.

Tonbridge Angels then got away with it on two occasions late on.

Samuels was played in down the left channel and he floated in a deep cross towards the unmarked Knight, whose looping header sailed over Di-Bernardo’s right shoulder – the ball clipping the crossbar.

And when Luke Wilson cut inside Folkes and referee Andrew Williams pointed to the spot, Tonbridge Angels were staring an embarrassing exit straight in the face.

But Di-Bernardo turned from villain to hero when he pulled off a brilliant save high to his right to deny Coyne scoring with a right-footed penalty – timed at 48:10.

Luchford said: “Again, I don’t know what the penalty was for? I still don’t know what the penalty is for!

“I mean he hasn’t pulled him back from what I could see. He wasn’t pulling him, he might’ve just rubbed into him and bumped into him as he cut in but he stays on his feet, he still has the ball and he was still a threat on our goal. What was the penalty for? I don’t understand and you’re thinking we’re in the 92nd minute and you look at your watch and you’re thinking ‘that’s us gone”, but Tony’s probably thought to himself ‘I’ve made a little bit of a mess up with the first one, maybe it’s time to make amends.’

“He’s had a mixed day. Today’s a character right, most goalkeepers are. They’re up and down, they’re in and out. You’ve got to be some kind of character to play in goal in the first place but Tony’s been good for us last year and he’s earnt the right to be at this club.  The gaffer backs him, the players’ back him. He’ll beat himself up, we don’t need to tell him how bad he’s done because he knows it himself but he’s made amends and he’ll grow now and come Tuesday he’ll be back to his best.”

Lower league sides tend to only have one chance to beat the big boys, so Tonbridge Angels will be confident of getting the job done at Longmead Stadium on Tuesday night.

“We weren’t at our best but we dominated the game,” added Luchford.

“Sometimes what more can you do apart from have that little bit of luck. They had that little bit of luck to get the two goals, we had that little bit of luck when Tony made the save but then is it luck or just great goalkeeping? Probably great goalkeeping and we’ve got to give him credit for that.

“It’s The FA Cup right, anything can happen. The form book goes out of the window, old clichés, it’s true, right?” said Luchford.

“They’re going to walk in our ground on Tuesday night and go ‘I’ll have some of this’ but we’ve got to back ourselves because they were dead on their feet after 60 minutes. They suddenly found a spring in their step after they got their second goal. They’ve got to recover well, we’ll recover well.  We’re a fit side and we’ve got the luxury of making a couple of changes if we need to.

“We’ll go into Tuesday with the same mindset as today. We have to work as hard as them and our quality will shine through.

“We haven’t done particularly great in The FA Cup since the gaffer’s been here and I’ve been with him and Barry Moore.  We haven’t been lucky in the Cup and we haven’t played particularly well and the club deserves a little bit of a Cup run if I’m honest.

“The gaffer made a great point before the game. It was the best draw for us because they’re the lowest ranked side and the worst draw for them because they’re playing probably one of the highest ranked sides at this stage.  We’ve now got to make that pay on Tuesday. Let’s get through to the next round and today can be just a distant memory.”

Ascot United: Carl Dennison, Jack Smille, Steve Deverall, Wes Harrison, Jesse Wilson, Theo Jones, Jake Parsons (Remi Meyers 52), Paul Coyne, Charlie Samuels, Ben Knight, Luke Wilson.
Subs: Samir Pegragui, Gavin Brainch, James Brazier, Luciano Venturini, Sean Ajayi-Obe

Goals: Charlie Samuels 17, 73

Booked: Theo Jones 45, Jack Smille 52, Charlie Samuels 52, Remi Meyers 74

Tonbridge Angels: Anthony Di-Bernardo, James Folkes, Jack Parter, Tom Parkinson, Sonny Miles, George Beaven, Damien Scannell (Bradley Fortnum-Tomlinson 81), Luke Allen, Nathan Elder, Tommy Whitnell (Luke Blewden 69), Nick Wheeler.
Subs: Tashi-Jay Kwayie, Tom Phipp, Stewart Copeland

Goals: Nathan Elder 27, Luke Allen 61 (penalty)

Booked: Jack Parter 58, Sonny Miles 90, James Folkes 90

Attendance: 430
Referee: Mr Andrew Williams (Pinner, Middlesex)
Assistants: Mr Keith Kennett (Eastcote, Middlesex) & Mr Steven Williams (Pinner, Middlesex)

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