Canterbury City winger Dan Lawrence: It’s lucky that I’ve got another shot of a Semi-Final. It hurt last time so we’ll give it everything that we’ve got
CANTERBURY CITY winger Dan Lawrence says experience got them past an impressive Biggleswade side on Sunday.
Ben Smith guided the homeless club to The Buildbase FA Vase two-legged Semi-Finals after beating Biggleswade 2-1 at Salters Lane.
The second-placed Spartan South Midlands Premier Division side took a seventh minute lead through Tom Cookman’s eighth-goal of the season, sliding in Adam Hunt’s cross after Lawrence lost possession to Lawrie Marsh in the final third.
But Chris Saunders scored a sublime 30-yard volley to level things up just three minutes before half-time, before striker Dean Grant latched onto Saunders’ through ball to slot home the winner just 47 seconds into the second half.
“Who would’ve thought it? Especially at the start of the season and on our league form but it’s something about The FA Vase and we turn up and we feel confident,” said Lawrence, 31.
“The lads have a lot of experience and a bit of the knowhow to win and we haven’t played at our best, we didn’t play anywhere near our best but we managed to dig in, especially going a goal down early but we re-grouped and got going. It took us half-an-hour to get going.”
Canterbury City are in twelfth-place in the Southern Counties East Football League Premier Division table, having banked 37 points from 24 games – but they turn it on in The FA Vase.
“If I knew (the secret) I’d probably have the managers job,” added Lawrence.
“I don’t know, I really don’t know. I think we have played well in league games but we’ve got experienced players for the Vase games. It seems to happen for us. Even yesterday, without playing well, we stuck in there and ground out a result, probably playing 70-80% of what we’re capable of.”
Lawrence held his hands up and admitted he was at fault for Biggleswade’s early opener.
“I’ve been out for a while and even warming up I felt a bit heavy. I didn’t feel like I was quite at it and it took me 20 minutes to get going,” admitted Lawrence.
“I sometimes refuse to kick the ball long because I like to play football but in certain areas it has to go and I probably overplayed a little bit and we didn’t pick up the second balls from there. I had my head in my hands when it went in!
“The first goal goes in and you’re think if they score again it’s going to be an uphill battle but we stuck in there, we grafted and it took half-an-hour to get going and we found a way to get through.”
Saunders has scored two goals in two games for the club – scoring and getting sent-off on his debut during the 2-1 home win over Leicester Nirvana in the last 16 tie on 2 February.
Saunders served his three-match ban in the next three league games and scored a stunning 30-yard volley to bring Canterbury City back from the dead.
Lawrence said: “He saves himself for the Vase. The last game he scored on his debut. It’s something about this competition, players seem to step up. He scored another goal and ran himself into the ground.”
Grant kept his composure to win it for Canterbury City and it was a case of remaining resilient and keeping their shape for the remainder of the game.
“I had a word with Granty afterwards, he could’ve saved it for the 87th minute and give us less pressure but we’ll take it,” said Lawrence.
“Biggleswade are a young side so maybe they took their foot of the gas coming out. It was a great finish from Granty. He doesn’t miss them so I’m glad he took it!
“They had a lot of the ball but we knew if we kept our shape and shuffled well, they’ll find it hard to break through us.
“We had a couple of chances but on the whole they didn’t have too many clear-cut chances so we held on a bit towards the end. We knew we can catch them on the counter with Granty and Jordan Casey so it was a case of holding.”
The 14 players that took to the field yesterday all have Isthmian League experience with Luke Wheatley (centre-half) and Phil Starkey (holding midfield) making their debuts having come in from Ramsgate and Folkestone Invicta.
“The gaffer brought Luke in because he’s an out and out defender and he reads the game well and he’s an experienced lad and he’s in the right place at the right time.”
So, a Kent club will reach The Buildbase FA Vase Final on Sunday 19 May after today’s live radio draw paired Cray Valley and Canterbury City together and the winners will meet Northwich Victoria or Chertsey Town in the showpiece once in a lifetime visit to Wembley Stadium.
The Semi-Final First Leg is expected to be played at Badgers, Middle Park Avenue in Eltham on Sunday 17 March, with the Second Leg at Salters Lane in Faversham on Saturday 23 March.
Lawrence, meanwhile, was part of Simon Halsey’s Herne Bay side that lost 4-3 on aggregate to Northern League club West Auckland Town in the Semi-Finals in March 2012.
Lawrence said: “I’ve been in a position before with Herne Bay. My dad said to me ‘I’m proud of you but remember how much it hurt,’ so I’ll get that message across to the boys.
“It does hurt but if you go out there and give it everything that you’ve got over two legs, hopefully we’ll make our way to the Arch.”
Both Kent club’s have players with vast amounts of experience and big games call for big time players as was with the case at the weekend.
Cray Valley came home from Devon with a 3-1 win over Willend Rovers on Saturday.
“That’s what got us through yesterday. We went 1-0 down, we’ve got experienced heads out there so let’s not panic,” said Lawrence.
“There was a long way in the game to go so we can get ourselves back in it. If you look around that dressing room and there’s experience all over. There’s a few lads in that Herne Bay side, there’s big Bostik experience as well. There’s a few that have played at a good level.
“It’s good to look round the changing room and see faces like that. It instils a bit of confidence.
“It’s lucky that I’ve got another shot of a Semi-Final. It hurt last time so we’ll give it everything that we’ve got.”
It is remarkable that Canterbury City have fought all against the odds to reach the last four of a national competition that started with 638 clubs.
Lawrence said: “The club has had its own battles off the field. There’s so many volunteers that do so much for this club. It’s great to take them on a run like this.
“No one would’ve thought that at the beginning of the season, even Biggleswade fancied themselves against us when you look at our league position but we’re hard to beat in this competition so long may it continue!”
Canterbury City return to the Southern Counties East Football League when Bearsted visit Salters Lane on Saturday 2 March (15:00).
Visit Canterbury City’s website: www.canterburycityfc.net