Bristol Rovers 1-1 Bromley - This is a magical day that everyone can enjoy - I'd love a full house at Hayes Lane with that ground pumping and jumping around, says proud Bromley boss Neil Smith

Sunday 10th November 2019
Bristol Rovers 1 – 1 Bromley
Location Memorial Stadium, Filton Avenue, Horfield, Bristol, BS7 0BF
Kickoff 10/11/2019 12:45

The Emirates FA Cup First Round
Sunday 10 November 2019
Stephen McCartney reports from Memorial Stadium

BROMLEY manager Neil Smith calls for a full house at a pumping and jumping Hayes Lane after his heroic players earned a deserved second chance after holding League One side Bristol Rovers to a draw in The FA Cup First Round.

Bromley’s FA Cup history usually ends in heartbreak and despair as their last win at this stage of the competition was back in 1945 – but they were the better side against the hosts that went into this game in ninth-place in the League One table with 25 points from 16 games.

Bromley centre-half Chris Bush (red shirt, left) hooks in a deserved late equaliser that sends Bristol Rovers to Hayes Lane for a FA Cup First Round Replay.
Photo: Ryan Tanner

Bristol Rovers manager Graham Coughlin could not afford to underestimate Bromley and he made just the one change to his side that won 2-1 at Rochdale last Saturday, especially as Bromley arrived at the Memorial Stadium sitting proudly at the top of the Vanarama National League table with 36 points from their 20 league outings.

Bromley showed tremendous character when things were going against them.  Key winger Luke Coulson hobbled off with a cut leg just before half-time but Bromley missed a glorious chance to change history when Adam Mekki went through on goal and skied his shot over the crossbar.

Left-back Rarmani Edmonds-Green replaced Sam Wood, who suffered a tight groin and was relegated to the bench but the pair swapped places on the hour after Edmonds-Green picked up a knock to his left knee.

Smith had made all three of his substitutions and striker Adrian Clifton suffered a twisted knee and Bromley played the final 10 minutes with 10-men.

Bristol Rovers grabbed what they felt was going to be the winning goal with just 13 minutes remaining when super-sub Luke Leahy tapped home from a couple of yards out to score with his first touch having just come off the bench just 56 seconds earlier.

Bromley deserved their equaliser when it came with seven minutes remaining when centre-half Chris Bush hooked in his third goal of the season from within a crowded goal-mouth, following Frankie Raymond’s trademark high-quality delivery from a corner.

“I thought we were very deserving of it as well,” Smith said of the draw during the post-match press conference.

“I thought we set a game plan out, which wasn’t to then go down to 10 men and try to see it out.

“I’ve just said in there, the boys gave me everything today and they’ve done it since the start of the season as well, so I’m proud of them.   They deserve to have another game against Bristol Rovers with hopefully a full house at Bromley.  They never gave up when they could’ve turned round, especially when they got the goal and Adrian Clifton’s had to come off, they just kept going.

“We work on our formation and our style of play and to show the guts they had, that comes from within, you can’t coach that and they never gave up today.”

Bromley chairman Robin Stanton-Gleaves paid for supporters’ travel and six coaches and 521 fans made the pilgrimage to Bristol in the hope that Bromley were going to end their run of 11 straight defeats at this stage of The FA Cup.

Reflecting on Bristol Rovers’ strength, Smith said: “We knew it was going to be difficult, you’re playing against a Bristol Rovers’ side that are sitting well in League One just outside the play-offs, so they’re organised and very strong and they put their full team out so we expected a difficult game.”

Bromley were given an opening after only 107 seconds when a back pass from Bristol Rovers’ centre-half Alfie Kilgour was poorly controlled by his goalkeeper Anssi Jaakkola and Bromley’s 10-goal striker Michael Cheek pressed but neither Cheek nor Reeco Hackett-Fairchild could punish sloppy play from the Finnish-born goalkeeper.

Bromley were playing well, keeping Bristol Rovers out of arms reach, as they were roared on by amazing passionate support from their travelling fans throughout the game.

Bromley went close to taking the lead in the 17th minute.

Raymond played the ball out to right-back Joe Kizzi, who whipped in a deep cross towards the far post where Mekki rose to plant his free header over the crossbar from the corner of the six-yard box.

The home fans started getting frustrated and restless at the halfway mark of the half as Bristol Rovers played with no tempo against a well-organised Bromley defence, who often left 10 men behind the ball with striker Cheek playing up front on his own.

Bristol Rovers produced a good move in the 25th minute when striker Tyler Smith played the ball into central midfielder Abu Ogogo, who slipped the ball through to winger Alex Rodman, but a poor first touch inside the Bromley box ensured the ball rolled into the hands of visiting keeper Ryan Huddart.

Bristol Rovers should have tested Huddart when they broke down the left two minutes and 41 seconds later.

Left-back Michael Kelly released striker Victor Adeboyejo, getting in behind Kizzi and he pulled the ball back some 25-yards to an unmarked Ed Upson, who was in space in the centre of the pitch some 25-yards from goal but all he could do was drill his shot over the crossbar.

Tyler Smith drew a foul after turning Bush and being tripped by the Bromley centre-half some 25-yards from goal but nothing was going to get past the resilient defence as Cheek needed treatment after taking the ball in the face after blocking Liam Sercombe’s powerfully struck free-kick.

Bromley created a half-chance on the stroke of half-time when Raymond floated a free-kick, left-footed, into the box from the half-way line and Kizzi’s glancing header from the edge of the box was comfortably caught by Jaakkola.

“We pride ourselves on our set-plays and the deliveries we have from Luke Coulson and Frankie Raymond, you know we’re going to have a chance and someone to get on the end of it.”

Despite there being 38 club’s between Bristol Rovers and Bromley in the pecking order, there was no gulf in class between the two sides as Bromley kept possession well and didn’t look out of place against a League One side.

It was time for someone with three Ravens on his shirt to end 74 years’ of FA Cup First Round hurt and Smith revealed that was the message that he gave his players during the interval.

“I told them just go and do it again, go and enjoy it, go and make history, go and make a name,” said Smith.

“We’ve never been here before, we haven’t been here for some years, be the first. I’ve always said it when I’ve come to this club be the first one of doing it and we’re in the hat and we haven’t had that for a long, long time. We’ve still got a game to play but it gives you the added incentive if you get a good draw.”

Bromley missed a glorious chance to grab all the FA Cup headlines after only 182 seconds into the second half.

The hard-working Cheek cushioned down a header back to Hackett-Fairchild, who controlled the ball before playing a sublime defensive splitting pass in behind Bristol Rovers’ winger Rodman (right-back Mark Little was out of his usual position) to put Mekki through on goal.

Mekki only had the keeper to beat but he lashed his left-footed drive over the crossbar from 15-yards, as he tried to drill a shot into the top left-hand corner. 

Smith said: “That was the moment and we’ve just spoken about it – just hit the target! Make it difficult, make the keeper work. I think he’s gone for the near post, just inside the near post.  Unfortunately, it was just a little bit off target.  I think we had a couple of moments and sometimes you look at that and you have to take those moments.”

Bromley kept plugging away and Raymond floated in another free-kick which was met by Kizzi’s glancing header and was comfortably caught by the busier of the two goalkeepers.

The entire stadium was lifted when Coughlin had seen enough and made a double substitution in the 56th minute, throwing on his leading goalscorer, eight-goal Jonson Clarke-Harris.

“It gave them a lift. It gives the (Bristol Rovers') supporters a lift to see him back after his injury lay-off,” said Smith.

“We knew about him, he’s a very good player, very strong, very physical, very direct but I thought Joe Kizzi, Jack Holland, Chris Busy and then Sam Wood in the end dealt with it very well.

“Sam Wood had a tight groin. I left it until this morning. I just made a decision that I’ll play Rarmani Edmonds-Green because I knew he was 100% fit.  Ironically he came off injured and Woody then comes on and sees us out.”

Bristol Rovers lifted their tempo and put Bromley on the back-foot.

Right-back Little found winger Alex Rodman in space and he whipped in a deep cross which was met by Sercombe’s far post header from within the six-yard box but the ball bounced down for Huddart to comfortably pick up.

Clifton was clearly struggling with his knee injury in the 68th minute, which may have been collected after being on the end of a clumsy sliding tackle from Rovers’ substitute Tom Nicholls five minutes earlier.

Smith said: “He’s just twisted his knee. We were just saying I actually turned round and actually said if there’s a corner or a free-kick in the last minute I’m going to have to put him on just to stand there, just to do something and he would’ve have and in the end we didn’t have to. I’m disappointed for Clifton because he’s got an injury that’s going to keep him out for a little while.”

Smith may be forced into the transfer market in the next coming days.

He said: “Well I’ll probably won’t have that conversation tonight but tomorrow morning that’s something that I’ll have to have a chat about. We’ll have to do something very frantically.”

Bristol Rovers just couldn’t deal with Raymond’s exquisite deliveries all afternoon. No team can in the National League either.

Cheek was unlucky to send his header just over the crossbar, the ball landing onto the roof of the net in the final 20 minutes.

Bromley just didn’t know whether to stick or twist as time ticked along – Bristol Rovers just didn’t look like scoring. The upset was on.

That was until Bristol Rovers GRABBED the lead following their first and second shots on target, with the goal coming with 32 minutes and 35 seconds on the clock.

They did, however, have plenty of possession, as Bromley sat back, and they kept patient before clinically taking the lead.

Little played the ball inside to Sercombe, who drilled an angled drive through a crowd of players from the right-hand side of the penalty area towards the bottom far corner.  Huddart dived to his right and parried the ball straight at Leahy, who smashed the ball into the roof of the net from a couple of yards out.

It was heart-breaking! It was the cruellest way of exiting the competition. So close, yet so far!

“You’re looking at it, did they deserve it and stuff like that. They did because they got the shot and I thought the keeper did well to get down to it and they get a rebound,” said Smith.

“Ryan’s got down well, he’s saved it. Ryan’s just disappointed he’s let a goal in. I thought he played well enough not to but you just hope that’s not the moment that’s not how we’re going to finish this after deserving something from the game.”

However, hopefully times are changing and Smith’s class of 2019 are made of character and quality and they deservedly equalised with 37 minutes and 17 seconds on the clock, following their fifth of six corners – Bristol Rovers only had one corner in the entire game!

Raymond swung in a perfect corner in from the right, underneath the crossbar and this was flapped at by keeper Jaakkola at the far post, flicking the ball up in to the air and the ball dropped to Bush, who hooked his left-footed shot over his shoulder and 521 Bromley fans sucked the ball in to the goal.  The ball had crossed the line by the time Cheek poked the ball over the line.

The equalising goal felt like the winner. It meant so much to the Hayes Lane faithful.

Players ran to the travelling fans behind that goal, some jumped over perimeter fencing to join in with the celebrations – not running on to the pitch – and Bromley live to fight another day!

“It was amazing! That was like getting a winner, it really was,” admitted Smith.

“There’s a belief in that club and that changing room now with the players. Give us a set-play, give us just one chance and we’ll take it and we did in the end.

“Chris Bush literally hooked it over his shoulder and we’ll take it however the goal comes but the delivery from Frankie gives you a chance.”

Bromley almost won it with three minutes remaining, Kizzi’s far post header – from Raymond’s corner – screaming across goal and agonisingly past the far post and Sercombe put in a dangerous free-kick that curled just around the far post at the other end as referee Daniel Middleton played seven minutes and six seconds of agonising stoppage time.

“It was a very long seven minutes! When they had the free-kick that just flashes across the goal you’re just hoping it goes wide and it does but I’ve also seen them go in,” added Smith.

Bromley return to Vanarama National League action when seventh-placed Harrogate Town visit Hayes Lane on Saturday (15:00), before Bromley welcome Bristol Rovers under the lights and on the 3G pitch on Tuesday 19 November (the date could be switched if selected for live TV coverage) in front of a capacity crowd of around 5,000.

“I’d like to think we can. I thought Bristol Rovers’ support was amazing today and we’d like to at least try to get that again,” said Smith.

“I thought the players deserve that and the supporters that came down today, on the goodwill of the chairman paying for their travel as well we’ll be going back very delighted and hopefully spread the word.

“I’m delighted for the supporters, the club, the chairman, the owners. This is a day that everyone can enjoy.

“The supporters are going home happy as well. It’s going to be a lovely journey for them. We’ll enjoy ourselves, dust ourselves down. We’ve got a few injured now. Harrogate is another massive game on Saturday and our full focus will be on that.

“I think we played our system a lot better and it was a magical day to score when everything’s worked against us. Yes, it’s going to be a great, great trip home for the boys and the supporters and the club deserve it.

“I’ll certainly he going down to the club on Monday night and watch the Second Round Draw with our supporters in there and we can enjoy the moment together.”

Top of the National League and sensing a FA Cup giant-killing under the lights at Hayes Lane – surely Bromley MUST be given a Live TV game?!

“It will be lovely to be on tele. I think the boys deserve it. I think the club deserves it.  You hope they pick it out as a game that might catch the eye as well.  I thought we played some attractive stuff.

“At the same time I’d love to have a full house down there with that ground pumping and jumping around with the supporters that we’ve got.”

Magic of The Cup. Anything can happen, they say. We’ll let’s make it happen and finally bury that ghost of 1945 once and for all and on today’s impressive performance it may finally be Bromley’s year in The FA Cup.

“We don’t know, hopefully, that’s all I’ll say, hopefully,” added Smith.

Bristol Rovers: Anssi Jaakkola, Mark Little, Michael Kelly, Abu Ogogo, Tony Craig, Alfie Kilgour, Liam Sercombe, Ed Upson, Tyler Smith (Jonson Clark-Harris 56), Victor Adeboyejo (Tom Nichols 56), Alex Rodman (Luke Leahy 77).
Subs: Jordi Van Stappershoef, Ollie Clarke, Kyle Bennett, Rollin Menayese

Goal: Luke Leahy 77

Booked: Alfie Kilgour 67

Bromley: Ryan Huddart, Joe Kizzi, Rarmani Edmonds-Green (Sam Wood 60), Frankie Raymond, Chris Bush, Jack Holland, Luke Coulson (Josh Rees 44), Billy Bingham, Michael Cheek, Reeco Hackett-Fairchild, Adam Mekki (Adrian Clifton 62).
Subs: Alan Dunne, Ollie Tanner, Michael Klass, Tarek Najia

Goals: Chris Bush 83

Booked: Joe Kizzi 62

Attendance: 3,649 (521 away)
Referee: Mr Daniel Middleton
Assistants: Mr Grant Taylor & Mr Paul Hobday
Fourth Official: Mr Robert Dabbs

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