Canterbury City 2-1 Leicester Nirvana - We're huge underdogs now we're in the last eight of The FA Vase but I tell you what there won't be many sides with our heart, determination and belief at the moment, says Canterbury City boss Ben Smith

Saturday 02nd February 2019
Canterbury City 2 – 1 Leicester Nirvana
Location Salters Lane, Faversham, Kent ME13 8ND
Kickoff 02/02/2019 15:00

The Buildbase FA Vase Fifth Round
Saturday 2 February 2019
Stephen McCartney reports from Salters Lane

CANTERBURY CITY boss Ben Smith says his side are saving their best form for The Buildbase FA Vase after reaching the Quarter-Finals for the first time in the clubs history.


Canterbury City will join their Southern Counties East Football League rivals Cray Valley – who beat Combined Counties League Premier Division side Abbey Rangers 3-1 – in the last eight (23/24 February) knowing that a maiden appearance at Wembley Stadium is on the horizon for both Kent sides.

Canterbury City went into their seventh Vase tie of the season sitting in tenth-place in the table with 33 points from 22 games, while Dave Clay’s Leicester Nirvana were in the top nine of the United Counites League Premier Division with 37 points from their 23 league outings.

Canterbury City got off to a dream start with former Whitstable Town midfielder Chris Saunders opening his account in only his second game for the club, via the underside of the crossbar inside the opening eight minutes.

Striker Dean Grant, 28, scored his fourth goal in 10 games to put Canterbury City in the driving seat ten minutes before the break.

Leicester Nirvana pulled a goal back through substitute midfielder Adam Swain just before the hour-mark and Saunders was controversially sent off nine minutes before time after picking up a second booking when he was deemed to dive just inside the penalty area by referee Wayne Cartmel.

“It means everything to so many people at the club,” said a delirious Smith, on reaching the last eight of the national competition.

“For so long we’ve been a nothing club really, a nice club and suddenly we’re doing something, we’re being successful.

“This group of players are saving their form for The FA Vase. We’ve been inconsistent in the league and I still maintain we’ve got a squad there that’s strong enough to compete in this league but inconsistency has let us down.

“You look at us over the course of the season and we haven’t been good enough but in these one-off cup games we’re as good as anyone so I don’t care who we play in the next round!

“We’re now in the Quarter-Finals of a national competition, not many Kent clubs can say they’ve got to a Quarter-Final of the FA Vase but we can say that!

“It will take a while to sink in and I think to myself as I did last time, let’s worry about who we get on Monday when the draw’s done and we’ll go over it again and try to get through.

“There’s something about us at the minute. We’ve got the belief that we turn up to these Vase games, we’re not nervous, we’re confident. We blew them away in the first half with the early goals and then it’s a mountain to climb for them.”

Leicester Nirvana started the game on the front foot and called goalkeeper Jack Delo into making his first save of the game inside the opening five minutes.

William Gonga played the ball into the feet of impressive left-winger Aboubacar Cisse, whose pace was causing Canterbury City right-back Michael Turner problems for the first 20 minutes of the game.

Cisse drilled an angled left-footed drive from the edge of the box to force Delo to save low to his left before grabbing hold of the ball at the second attempt just in time before striker Tariq Wilson could pounce.

“Jack made a smart save. It shouldn’t trouble him from that distance,” said Smith.

“As it transpired, he (Cisse) looked to be their main threat really him and Chris Anastasi (the other winger), they looked like their dangermen.”

Canterbury City grabbed the lead – against the run of play – with seven minutes and 59 seconds on the clock.

Adam Woollcott looped a free-kick into the Leicester Nirvana penalty area where Laurence Harvey came up from the back to knock the ball back across goal and the ball came out to Saunders who cut the ball on to his right foot to sweep his shot in off the underside of the crossbar, as he aimed for the top right-hand corner from 25-yards.

“When I talk about we’ve got belief in the squad and we’re confident, when you’ve got momentum things like that go in,” explained Smith.

“If that was a league game that would’ve bounced out and we’ve had games when it’s done that. It’s something about us at the moment, things are falling for us.

“But what a great start!  It’s hit the underside of the bar and gone in.  It was a great start and exactly how we started against Newport Pagnell and I’m sure they would’ve had information from Newport Pagnell about us to nulify our threats early on and that’s really when the game was won.”

Smith gave left-back Ryan Cooper his debut, having signed him from Bostik South East strugglers and landlords Faversham Town.  His first of four long throws clipped the outside of the near post and went behind for a goal-kick.

Woollcott swept the ball forward to put Grant clear as he ran down the left channel and as goalkeeper Michael Antkowiak rushed off his line, the keeper was thankful to his centre-half Mahmoud Juma for clearing his lines as the ball went past him in the fourteenth minute.

Canterbury City squandered a glorious chance to double their lead ten minutes later.

Saunders split open Leicester Nirvana’s two centre-halves Richard Gerald and Joma to put Grant through on goal and all that was needed was a dink to put the ball over the advancing keeper, who made the block and used his chest as his left-back Deen Master clipped the ball back towards him before the keeper cleared the ball to safety.

“He was causing them no end of problems,” Smith said of Grant.

“He’s on the run and he’s stretching and he didn’t quite get enough on it.  If the truth be told he should’ve scored there but it was a big of a let-off but an early warning that their two centre-halves were going to have a torrid time.”

Leicester Nirvana cleared Kyron Lightfoot’s free-kick and Woollcott recycled the ball back into the box for Saunders to hook his shot on the turn sailing harmlessly over the crossbar from 16-yards.

Canterbury City created a better chance when Mobalaji Dawodu put Grant through on goal, bursting past two defenders but his touch took him wide and he dragged his left-footed shot across the keeper and bouncing past the far post.

“We’re happy getting those chances, yes, he’s dragged it wide but it’s a tough chance on his left-foot, going away from goal,” said Smith.

“But that’s three chances, sooner or later you can’t keep giving us two or three chances. Players of that quality will punish you and that happened very quickly after.”

But Grant showed great composure to deservedly double Canterbury City’s lead with 34 minutes and 56 seconds on the clock, just 37 seconds after his miss.

Antkowiak took the resulting goal-kick and just seconds later Dawodu’s fine pass put Grant charging down the right channel and he cut into the box and as the keeper came off his line to narrow the angle, Grant slotted his right-footed shot under him to find the bottom near corner.

“He was maybe a yard away on two or three occasions before that with his runs, this one was spot on,” said Smith, who revealed he was in “dreamland” being two goals in front in such a big game.

“Bola’s found him, the two lads combined really well and Granty’s still got a lot to do. To be fair to the keeper was very right off his line and narrowed the angle but Deano just literally blasted it through him.  This time the keeper’s had no chance. He just hit it side of his legs. He hasn’t had time to react, he’s so close. It’s a great finish!”

Leicester Nirvana captain Gerald was starting to lose his cool and he gave away a free-kick as he tussled with Grant but Lightfoot’s 30-yard free-kick went straight into the keeper’s midriff for a comfortable catch.

Canterbury City were then thankful to their goalkeeper Delo, who made a couple of vital saves just before the interval.

Leicester Nirvana produced a sweeping move which saw central midfielder Yaegan Gore play the ball inside to Chris Anastasi, who played the ball in behind Cooper to put Cisse through on goal but Delo made himself big at his near post to make a vital block.

“Delo has been outstanding for us this season. He was great last year, he’s got better this year,” hailed Smith.

“He talks of retirement but he’s getting better with age. Since Christmas he’s been our best player, consistently been out best player, outstanding, so a real credit to him to find this form at 33 or 34 when he’s thinking it could be his last season.  I don’t see how he can retire with this purple patch so I don’t think he’ll be retiring soon!”

Ryan Calver released Cisse, who put over a cross for Gonga to hit an acrobatic overhead kick towards the roof of the net from penalty-spot range, which Delo flicked over with his outstretched left-hand.

Smith added: “I think he could’ve taken it with two hands but in these games with his experience he does the right thing and tips it over and then we regroup from there. There’s no point taking any chances in these games, mistakes can happen can’t they?”

At half-time, Smith said: “Don’t get complacent and learn from the previous round! I remember sitting here with you and talking about us dropping off and sitting off and it was important we didn’t do that but it’s hard when you’re 2-0 up and you’ve got something to hold.

“They put more bodies forward, it becomes a bit of a weird game when we see changes in shape drastically. As it transpired we did sit in a little bit so whatever gets you through, I’m happy to get through.”

Leicester Nirvana went close to pulling a goal back just 120 seconds into the second half.

Left-back Deen Master played the ball inside to Swain, who was given space to flash his shot past the foot of the left-hand post from 25-yards, which a diving Delo just about had covered.

Delo pulled off a brilliant save to deny his centre-half Gary Sayer scoring an own goal in the 55th minute.

Deen Master whipped in a great cross from the left towards the near post and Sayer sliced his clearance towards his own goal, forcing Delo to dive full-length to his right to push the ball behind for a corner.

Smith hailed the save Premier League class, it was that good!

Smith said: “Jack Delo, I’m saying about his form, what a save!  How he’s clawed it out there at the speed it came, outstanding!

“As an Arsenal fan going back that’s David Seaman against Sheffield United in The FA Cup Semi-Final.”

Leicester Nirvana deservedly pulled a goal back with 13 minutes and 36 seconds on the clock.

Swain played the ball into Calver’s feet who found right-back Jhaden Harper, who played Cisse on the overlap and he reached the by-line before cutting the ball back for Swain to sweep his first time shot into the roof of the net from six-yards at the near post.

“Disappointing.  Young Kyron (Lightfoot) made a couple of mistakes, a couple of errors in a row and you can’t make basic errors two or three in a row because they lead to goals and that’s exactly what happened there,” said Smith.

“We had two or three chances to get rid of it, we made the wrong decision, we’re then out of shape.

“I told the boys before the game the wide areas are going to be the areas that cause us problems. That’s where they were strong and we ended up with our full-back Ryan Cooper and Kyron Lightfoot high up the pitch.

“Kyron’s made a poor decision on the ball, 15 seconds later it’s in the back of our net so I wasn’t too happy with that at all.”

There was little goalmouth action following Leicester Nirvana’s lifeline as Canterbury City’s defence learnt lessons from their 3-2 home win over Newport Pagnell Town in the last round, when they panicked and almost threw a 2-0 lead away.  Today they were resilient and shut the door in their opponents faces.

Canterbury City should have been awarded a penalty in the final nine minutes when substitute winger Jordan Casey put Saunders through on goal straight through the heart of the pitch and he went over following Juma’s challenge.

Referee Wayne Cartmel failed to award the penalty and pulled out a yellow card for Saunders (which he collected for a sixteenth minute foul on Calver) and then a red for diving.

“Oh my god, it’s embarrassing, it’s embarrassing, for The FA that’s embarrassing,” said Smith.

“They were four officials here today, people from The FA here.  For a FA competition to have that standard of officiating is just horrendous!

“I don’t want to jump on the bandwagon they need to improve and they need funding. I know the VCD manager (Keith McMahon) has banged on a bit. Honestly, that’s incredible how they get that type of decision making out from it.

“He’s clean through on goal! Why on earth would he dive? It’s outrageous! You talk about the respect campaign, it’s hard to have respect. That decision was so bad! At this stage of the competition you expect the referee to get better, it’s not!”

Leicester Nirvana showed no quality to make their advantage count as Canterbury City were the team that created two late chances to kill the game off and Smith was delighted with Casey’s contribution after coming on in the 66th minute.

Woollcott whipped in a quality free-kick into the penalty area towards the back post for Casey to rise to plant his header over the crossbar.

“Jordan was disappointed to be on the bench but he came on and was outstanding for us, slotting him in left midfield,” said Smith.

“He’s a target man and slotted in the left-hand side and was great for us. He kept his shape well and was disciplined. He’s normally a starter for us and he’d be very disappointed he was on the bench but he’s come on and in crucial moments he held the ball up, won flick-on’s and it was desperately needed and he did it for the team.

“I get that people in these games want to start but sometimes it’s about having that team ethos and he came on and he done that and I’m really pleased for him.”

Woolcott swung in his side’s fourth and final corner kick of the game at the death, the ball was cleared out to substitute holding midfielder Ollie Lee, who hooked his volley just over the crossbar.

“He connected really well. It’s one of those, sometimes you don’t want to connect that well but I’m pleased it didn’t take a deflection and it came back out and they counter-attacked us. He’s caught it clean and to be fair he was very unlucky not to score a great goal.”

To have two Kent sides in the Quarter-Finals is a great achievement for Smith and his Cray Valley counterpart Kevin Watson.

This is the stage of the competition when you start belieiving that you’ll be playing at Wembley Stadium on Sunday 19 May 2019.

“It’s getting closer, it’s still a pipe dream but I fancy us to cause someone some problems,” said Smith when asked about following in the footsteps of Deal Town and Tunbridge Wells (FA Vase) and Dartford, Ebbsfleet United and Bromley (FA Trophy) and gracing the iconic Wembley Stadium.

“We’re huge underdogs now, now we’re in the last eight, we’re huge underdogs.  I think we were 6-5 or something to win today, we’re going to be massive outsiders but I tell you what there won’t be many sides with our heart and determination and belief at the moment.

“I’d like Cray Valley in the Semis and then at least the SCEFL get a team in the Final. If we get Cray Valley in the Semis, no matter what happens I’ll have a ticket for that final, wouldn’t that be lovely? Guaranteed one of us getting through.

“But ideally we play somebody we’ve never played before. I’ve said it since the first round of this Vase it’s such a great competition because it makes it so much more exciting going to do research on a team, play somebody different or them travel down here.

“It felt like a proper football match. About two percent of people in non-league go on and have a professional career as a player or in management but in these days it feels like you’re there. It gives you a taste of it and it’s something the boys have had a taste for since the first game.

“We’ve got players in the squad that have been to a Semi-Final (with Simon Halsey’s Herne Bay in 2012) and they know how much it hurts to lose a semi-final but they also know what it takes to get there so we’ve certainly got that belief and knowhow.

“I don’t think a side will want to play us. Yes, on paper they might think it’s an easy tie but believe me we’re dying out on that pitch, we’re giving everything for it.

“It will be nice to have a home tie because for our club to have the support that we had today etc is outrageous. It just shows the club is well thought off by people in the local areas,” added Smith after being told the club attracted a personal best crowd of 334 since reforming.

Canterbury City: Jack Delo, Michael Turner, Ryan Cooper, Adam Woollcott, Gary Sayer, Laurence Harvey, Kyron Lightfoot (Ollie Lee 73), Chris Saunders, Dean Grant (Josh Froggatt 90), Mobalaji Dawodu (Jordan Casey 66), Renford Tenyue.
Subs: James Turner, Rob Lawrence

Goals: Chris Saunders 8, Dean Grant 35

Booked: Chris Saunders 16, Dean Grant 39, Adam Woollcott 45, Kyron Lightfoot 61, Jordan Casey 70

Sent Off:  Chris Saunders 81

Leicester Nirvana: Michael Antkowiak, Jhaden Harper, Deen Master, Ryan Calver, Richard Gerald, Mahmoud Juma, Chris Anastasi, Yaegan Gore (Adam Swain 28), Tariq Wilson (Suleman Nassor 64), William Gonga (Shaquille Master 83), Aboubacar Cisse.
Subs: Joshua Rock, Davis Glover

Goal: Adam Swain 59

Booked: Richard Gerald 39

Attendance: 334
Referee: Mr Wayne Cartmel (Luton, Bedfordshire)
Assistants: Mr Michael Begley (Ealing, London W5) & Mr Deryll David (Edgware, Middlesex)
Fourth Official:  Karl Sear (Chelmsford, Essex)