Canterbury City 2-1 Biggleswade - Canterbury City never had their day, suddenly it’s our day, it feels amazing! It’s my biggest achievement by a country mile, says FA Vase Semi-Finalist Ben Smith

Sunday 24th February 2019
Canterbury City 2 – 1 Biggleswade
Location Salters Lane, Faversham, Kent ME13 8ND
Kickoff 24/02/2019 15:00

The Buildbase FA Vase Quarter-Final
Sunday 24 February 2019
Stephen McCartney reports from Salters Lane

CANTERBURY CITY manager Ben Smith says he can’t put into words the feeling of guiding the club to The Buildbase FA Vase Semi-Finals.

Biggleswade arrived at Salters Lane sitting in second-place in the Spartan South Midlands League Premier Division table with 59 points on the board and scoring 80 goals in 25 league games. They are six points adrift of leaders Hadley but have five games in hand.

Canterbury City have saved their best performances for The FA Vase as they sit in twelfth-place in the Southern Counties East Football League Premier Division table with 37 points from 24 games.

The Kent side have knocked out Langney Wanderers (2-0); AFC Vardeanians (2-0); Saltdean United (2-1); Corinthian (4-2, after extra time), Southall (1-0 after extra time); Newport Pagnell Town (3-2) and Leicester Nirvana (2-1) and are now two games away from Wembley Stadium.

David Northfield’s men play an attractive passing brand of football and they deserved their seventh minute lead through striker Tom Cookman’s eighth goal of the season.

The Bedfordshire outfit arrived in Kent with only four defeats in 39 games in all competitions but Canterbury City were clinical in front of goal and pulled off an upset on their biggest day in their history.

Chris Saunders cracked a beautiful volley into the roof of the net to bring Canterbury City back into the game three minutes before half-time before striker Dean Grant raced through on goal to slot home the winner just 47 seconds into the second half.

Canterbury City join their league rivals Cray Valley (Paper Mills) – who came home from Devon with a 3-1 win over Willand Rovers yesterday - in tomorrow’s Semi-Final Draw, which also includes Northwich Victoria from Cheshire and Surrey-based Chertsey Town.

“It’s ridiculous! I can’t put it into words, amazing,” said Smith, in the post-match press conference.

“To think we’d ever get this far, I’d never thought it! Even today, I didn’t think it but we did it and that’s all that matters.

“I doesn’t matter how well we played.  Biggleswade are an excellent football side, we knew that. If we tried to play football, we’d get beat quite convincingly.

“We came up with a game plan to try to beat them. It wasn’t pretty, it was never going to be pretty but we did it!

“We’re now one of a few sides from Kent that have got to a Vase Semi-Final, which even saying it then, I’m flabbergasted!”

A record crowd since Canterbury City’s re-formation of 602 flocked through the turnstiles at Salters Lane in Faversham on a sun-kissed late February Sunday afternoon.

Biggleswade stamped their authority on the game from the first whistle as Canterbury City were without centre-halves Laurence Harvey (cheekbone/eye socket) and Liam Quinn (concussion), so Luke Wheatley was drafted in from Ramsgate to make his debut alongside Gary Sayer.

Canterbury City were also without winger Kyron Lightfoot and central midfielder Adam Woollcott having picked up two yellow cards in this competition but all bookings are now wiped out for the next round.

Biggleswade called Jack Delo into making a comfortable save after only 152 seconds when Lee Northfield fed the ball into winger Alex Marsh and his low right-footed drive from 25-yards was held by the Canterbury keeper low to his right.

“They’re going to have a lot of the ball. We knew they were going to be a very good footballing side. We let them dictate the play and we didn’t get amongst them,” admitted Smith.

“We didn’t start the game very well. We were overawed by their support, which was quite ferocious at times.

“If we tried to play out from the back it would’ve been a cricket score because they’re a very good side so we had to try to make it horrible.

“We played long ball football.  No one can come out there and say we’ve been a brilliant footballing side today, not at all. They’re an excellent footballing side but we’ve got to do what we’ve got to do to get us through and playing long was what I felt would be the best way of doing it.”

Biggleswade deservedly opened the scoring with six minutes and 18 seconds on the clock.

Dan Lawrence was guilty of a poor touch inside the final third and let in Alex Marsh, who cut the ball back to full-back Adam Hunt.  Lawrie Marsh cleverly flicked the ball over two Canterbury defenders for Hunt to get in behind and he crossed the ball across the face of goal for Cookman to slide the ball past Delo from four-yards out.

Smith said: “I said to the players’ before the game, red, amber, green and I said do not play any five-yard passes in the red zone! What do we do straight away? Bang!  We tried little turns and tried to take someone on directly.

“It’s frustrating because it’s all about us getting the balance right today and we started off the game playing passes where we shouldn’t be playing passes.”

Alex Marsh was making sure this impressive Biggleswade side ticked as they played a nice brand of passing football, which left Canterbury City struggling to cope with it for a good half-an-hour.

Canterbury City’s left-back Ryan Cooper looped a long throw into the Biggleswade penalty area and Wheatley rose in a crowd of players at the near post to loop his header wide in the 18th minute.

Biggleswade won the corner-count by six to one and they called Delo into making a save following their second flag-kick.

Ryan Inskip drove the ball in from the right and centre-half Benat Pena rose inside the box to guide his header into Delo’s hands from seven-yards.

Smith admitted: “They were going to have spells in the game and it was important we didn’t concede another.”

If Biggleswade did double their lead then during this spell of dominance then there would have been no way back for the men in burgundy.

Biggleswade were first to all of the loose balls during a dominant first half performance but all that changed as soon as Canterbury grabbed a 2-1 lead early in the second half as the tide turned.

Canterbury City took 30 minutes to create their first opening when left-winger Dan Lawrence picked up a loose ball inside his own half and burst forward some 40-yards with the ball but his shot from 30-yards was weak and Ross Tompkins made a comfortable save as he gathered a bouncing ball.

“I thought he was in between two minds there whether he gets a shot off or whether he plays someone in,” added Smith.

“I felt he should’ve played somebody in but disappointed really he didn’t put his foot through it and really have that confidence.

“We forget DL has been out for 10 months and this is his first 90 minutes since he's been back.”

Biggleswade produced another slick move when Hunt threw the ball into Cookman’s chest and Alex Marsh fed Ryan Inskip but his first time right-footed drive sailed just over the crossbar from 25-yards.

“They caused us no end of problems in the first half. Their movement was anything better than I’ve seen this season to be fair,” admitted Smith.

“It took us until half-time to get to grips with who was doing what, who was dedicating himself to certain positions but we did that.”

Canterbury City midfielder Saunders produced a moment of pure class to bring his side back from the dead with the equaliser with 41 minutes and 34 seconds on the clock.

Lawrence played the ball forward and the ball bounced up and Saunders saw keeper Tompkins off his line and cracked a right-footed volley dipping over the keeper’s head and looped into the centre of the goal from 30-yards out.

Big games and big players with Isthmian League experience come to the fore and Saunders scored a beauty.

“What a goal! He scored one in the last round like that,” said Smith.

“I’m a believer in fate and he’s come in, he got sent-off in the last round (and served his suspension in the three league games since) and he was desperate to make up for the sending-off today. What a goal, great goal!”

Smith added: “We had calm heads at half-time.  The goal was crucial. The players went in there and they knew they weren’t good enough in the first half.

“I told them to ‘liven yourselves up a little bit, we’re a better side than what we’re showing’ and we will get a chance and we just have to take it, simple as that!

“There have been games this year when we haven’t taken a chance and you get punished.  Today we were the ones that done that!

Grant, 28, scored his fifth goal for the club to win the game as Canterbury City caught Biggleswade cold.

Saunders was inside the Biggleswade half when his through ball put Grant through and he skipped past the last defender and kept his composure by slotting his left-footed shot past Tompkins from eight-yards out.

“Great goal – that’s why we’ve brought him in,” said Smith.

“He struggled with injuries since he’s came (from Bostik South East Division side Faversham Town).  He started off flying and maybe scored a number of goals we’d expect from him. I’ve left him out at times to rest him due to injuries but that’s why we brought him in.  He’s dropped the shoulder, away he went, great finish.

“It was a long time to hold out.  I thought can we catch them again on the break? But it was a case are we going to be fit enough to hold out and we were!”

Canterbury City then had something they could hang on to and they put in a resilient display against a Biggleswade outfit that had lots of possession.

Left-back Michael Simpson whipped in a deep cross which was met by Inskip’s looping header, which was comfortably gathered by Delo.

But Delo produced a fine save in the 48th minute to keep their opponents at bay.

Lee Northfield played the ball into Lawrie Marsh’s feet and the central midfielder drove at the Canterbury defence and from 25-yards his left-footed angled drive was beaten away by the keeper, diving to his right.

“A great save from Jack Delo! Some people may try holding that but he got good hands to it, strong wrists and pushed it well away,” said Smith.

“He was captain today, the curse of the armband.  He was outstanding, kicking, handling, everything that you want from an experienced player.”

Lawrie Marsh floated a free-kick into the Canterbury City box, the ball was flicked on by Alex Marsh but Northfield slicked his volley just past the near post from 16-yards when left unmarked on the right-hand side of the area.

Inskip floated a deep free-kick into the Canterbury box and holding midfielder Pat McCafferty rose at the far post but failed to keep his effort on target.

There was cause for alarm when referee Lloyd Wood awarded Biggleswade a free-kick in the 63rd minute just inside the D but Lawrie Marsh’s right-footed free-kick curled over the crossbar.

Biggleswade wasted a glorious opportunity inside the final 20 minutes when McCafferty chipped the ball in behind the Canterbury back four to put Alex Marsh in but all he could do was poke the ball straight at Delo from 10-yards, the keeper catching the ball as he rushed off his line.

Smith revealed he was impressed with Alex Marsh, who as captain leads by example.

“The one player you don’t want it to fall to there.  All the times we watched them he was excellent so he’s the one player you think anyone not to fall to, it was him and he fluffed his lines and I couldn’t believe it!”

Canterbury City didn’t attack often but a slip by Biggleswade right-back Hunt let in Mobolaji Dawodu, who charged down the wing before playing in a low cross, which flashed across the face of the box.  Substitute Renford Tenyue teed up debutant Phil Starkey, who lashed his left-footed drive over the crossbar from the edge of the box.

“Starkey and Ollie Lee were on it queuing up.  I just said to them as well I don’t need you getting on and next minute my two holding midfielders are on the edge of their box and I’m doing my nut in. However, it’s a good opportunity to get something and we didn’t quite take it,” said Smith.

You just knew it was going to be Canterbury City’s day when Biggleswade missed a clear cut chance inside the final 11 minutes.

Lawrie Marsh floated a deep cross into the penalty area for McCafferty to pull the ball across the face of goal to put it on a plate for Alex Marsh.  Out of the blue, Wheatley slid in to challenge the Biggleswade captain who poked the ball past the left-hand post from six-yards out.

Smith said: “It’s a great tackle.  You think our heart has been ripped out of our side and you bring someone in like Luke Wheatley with all of his experience.

"I thought Luke Wheatley was outstanding. It was his debut for us today. It was well publicised the injuries we've had with centre-halves ripped our heart out of our side.  Wheats came in and was excellent today.  He eat everything up, especially late on, organising people, pulling people around.  Luke and Gary Sayer were superb.

"You look around the pitch and there's so many players that have put their bodies on the line for us and I knew we'd get that from them.

"I didn't know we'd have enough quality against this side and they've shown me they have - they've been excellent.

“I thought Luke started the game shaky, I’ve got to be honest.  He was excellent. He seemed to be in the right place at the right time all the time, which is their job, I guess.”

Holding midfielder Ollie Lee played a clever ball over the top of Simpson to put Grant in down the right channel and he drilled in a cross from the by-line for Lee to place his downward header across the keeper and past the far post from 10-yards.

Simpson whipped in a cross from the left, which Delo punched poorly and substitute Abraham Eze could see the headlines but fluffed his chance by slicing his shot past the right-hand post from 18-yards as the Canterbury keeper came out to meet him.

There would be one final chance for Biggleswade inside stoppage time but Nick Henebery came up from the back to plant his header over after meeting Inskip’s corner.

So 638 clubs is now down to four and Cray Valley and Canterbury City are at least 180 minutes away from playing at Wembley Stadium on Sunday 19 May 2019.

The Semi-Finals First Leg are scheduled for 16-17 March and the winner-takes-all Second Leg takes place the following weekend.

“For us to get to the last 64 was huge.  We laugh about it now but it really was huge – we’re proper underdogs,” admitted Smith.

“For whatever reason any time we’ve played in the Vase, even when we came up against sides flying high in Sussex, we just find a way to win and it’s frustrating because in the league at times we’ve not found a way to win games. It just seems in the Vase we have.

“I can’t put a finger on it why that is because they’d be right up there in our league. They’re the best side we’ve played.

“In one way it would be nice if we did get Cray Valley in the Semi-Final because the Southern Counties East Football League would have a team in the Final and that’s amazing!

“Whether it’s us or them, I’m getting a ticket!

“The SCEFL is a really strong league this year. The sides in our league would hold our own in the Bostik League.  There’s a lot of sides that can do and I think that’s proven how far both sides have gone.

“My little girl had five days in intensive care and she’s just come home last night so what a weekend. I can’t put it into words – Semi-Final, get in there!

“It’s been fantastic for our football club but you can see we’re running a tight rope do we exist anymore? We’re in the Semi-Final of a national competition! That for our club is huge, no matter what it means for our players. 

“We’re the ones normally thinking let’s get a tight and let’s go and watch that big game at Herne Bay or Tunbridge Wells.

“Canterbury City never had their day, suddenly it’s our day, it feels amazing! It’s my biggest achievement by a country mile!”

Canterbury City: Jack Delo, Michael Turner, Ryan Cooper, Phil Starkey, Luke Wheatley, Gary Sayer, Dan Lawrence, Chris Saunders (Ollie Lee 73), Dean Grant (James Turner 90), Jordan Casey (Renford Tenyue 65), Mobolaji Dawodu.
Subs: Josh Froggatt, Rob Lawrence

Goals: Chris Saunders 42, Dean Grant 46

Booked: Dan Lawrence 16, Michael Turner 34

Biggleswade: Ross Tompkins, Adam Hunt, Michael Simpson, Pat McCafferty, Nick Henebery, Benat Pena, Alex Marsh (Abraham Eze 83), Lawrie Marsh, Tom Cookman, Lee Northfield (Justin Leavers 78), Ryan Inskip.
Subs: Joe Bradbury, Conor Inskip, Nathan George

Goal: Tom Cookman 7

Booked: Tom Cookman 53

Attendance: 602
Referee: Mr Lloyd Wood (Dagenham, Essex)
Assistants: Mr Aaron Farmer (Colchester, Essex) & Mr Karl Sear (Chelmsford, Essex)
Fourth Official: Mr James Simpson (Chatham)