Tunbridge Wells 2-2 Highworth Town - They deserve to go through, admits Martin Larkin

Sunday 22nd March 2015

(after extra time – Highworth Town win 4-1 on penalties)
The FA Vase Fourth Round Replay
Saturday 24th January 2015
Stephen McCartney reports from Culverden Stadium

TUNBRIDGE WELLS manager Martin Larkin says his side have a responsibility to bounce back from their heartbreaking FA Vase exit.

HEARTBREAK: Tunbridge Wells lost the 2013 FA Vase Final to Spennymoor at Wembley Stadium - and they suffer elimination on penalties to Highworth Town today
Photo: www.thefa.com

Highworth Town, who went into the game sitting in eighth-place in the Hellenic League Premier, booked an all-Wiltshire Last Sixteen clash at Bradford Town after holding their nerve from the penalty spot, winning a seven kick penalty shoot-out 4-1 at Culverden Stadium.

Tunbridge Wells grabbed the lead late in the first half through former Folkestone Invicta striker Paul Booth, 38, who slotted home the rebound after his penalty was saved.

But Highworth Town, who arrived in Kent on a four-match unbeaten run, equalised through Terry Bohane’s 28th goal of the season early in the second half.

Tunbridge Wells faced a mountain to climb when Ryan King came off the bench to give Highworth Town the lead in the first period of extra-time, before Brendon Cass stroked home his seventeenth goal of the season to force a penalty shoot-out.

But visiting keeper Gary Stevens dived to save penalties from Booth and Jake Beecroft, as Highworth produced four quality finishes from the spot to progress to knock out the 2013 runners-up.

Larkin was a disappointed figure at the end of the two games against a Highworth Town side who deserved to go through after 240 minutes of football, after last Saturday’s game finished all-square at 1-1 after extra time.

He said:  “We’ve said as a group in there, fair play to them, they’ve come out and won it. We’ve had two pops at them, last week and this week and haven’t shown the quality that we know we’ve got in either of these two games so hats off.

“Although we huffed and puffed and turned it on at times, we didn’t put any consistent pressure over the two games and they deserve to go through.”

A crowd of 788 flocked through the turnstiles at Culverden Stadium to witness a tight first half.

Highworth Town created the first chance inside the opening six minutes when right-back Tony Joyce clipped the ball into Callum McGhee-Parsons, who cut inside and hit a shot from 30-yards, which deflected off Tom Davey and looped into Steve Lawrence’s hands.

But fourth-placed Tunbridge Wells suffered a major blow when central defender Perry Spackman was forced off through a calf strain after only 12 minutes.

On came seventeen-year-old Rory Head and Davey slotted in beside Brad Potter at the heart of the Southern Counties East Football League side’s defence.

Larkin admitted losing Spackman was a blow.

“Massive, because we work on Davey and Beecroft sitting there together.  There isn’t anyone better in our league doing what those two do - and the partnerships - and to break that up after eight minutes was disappointing especially after what we worked on in training on Thursday.

“I think if we’d have those two together over the two games it might have been difference – but we didn’t so you can’t really moan about it.

“Davey steps back (into defence) and Rory (Head) comes in. Rory’s only seventeen, he’s a fantastic prospect. It’s good for him to experience a big atmosphere and a big game.”

Tunbridge Wells’ first opening arrived in the 12th minute but Jake Beecroft’s speculative drive from 30-yards sailed harmlessly wide.

Highworth Town were edging a tight first half and winger Bradley Clarke cut in from the left and forced Lawrence to dive low to his right to make a comfortable save.

Highworth Town created the best chance of the first half halfway through the half when Joyce’s throw released McGhee-Parsons and his cross found Bohane, who drilled a powerful left-footed drive around the far post.

Highworth’s right-winger Dan Drewett then hit Tunbridge Wells on the counter-attack and his over-hit cross was retrieved by Clarke, who rolled the ball inside for McGhee-Parsons to flash his shot across Lawrence and past the far post.

Tunbridge Wells lifted spirits when left-back Tom Bryant played the ball into Booth, who cut in from the left and steered his right-footed drive towards the bottom corner, which Stevens held low to his right.

But the Kent side grabbed the lead through Booth’s 20th goal of the season (sixteen of them in the Ryman League Division One South for Folkestone Invicta) in the 37th minute.

Joe Fuller released winger Lee Bradford down the left, who cut into the box and was chopped down by Ashley Taylor, who otherwise had an excellent game at the heart of Highworth’s defence.

Booth stepped up and his right-footed penalty was superbly parried by Stevens, diving full-length to his left, but Booth maintained his composure to stroke his shot into the (opposite) bottom left-hand corner.

“A good save from the penalty and he’s reacted well and put it into the bottom corner,” said Larkin.

“Radders was a threat over the two games. He did well to win the penalty but we didn’t really kick-on from there really, which was disappointing.

Referee Gregory Read blew his half-time whistle and the Tunbridge Wells team sprinted down the tunnel.

Larkin said: “We were happy to go 1-0 up. It would have been nice to have a second if we could – but we didn’t.”

The home side created the first chance of the second half when Beecroft played the ball inside to Booth, who scuffed his shot into Stevens’ gloves, making a comfortable save low to his right.

But Highworth equalised in the 50th minute through route-one football.

John Davoile clipped a long ball in behind Jason Bourne and Brad Potter to release Bohane through on goal.  Keeper Lawrence’s hesitancy proved costly as he came off his line too late, diving in a desperate attempt to claw the ball into his gloves but Bohane rounded the keeper and slotted the ball into the bottom near corner of the net, right in front of the league’s most vocal and largest fan-base.

“They’re a side who put pressure, they’re quite direct, that’s how they scored their goal last week and I thought they replicated it, which they did,” said Larkin.

“The goals have been balls over the top and could Steve come? He maybe could have come for it but he chose not to and it was a good finish to be fair.”

Highworth Town created chances to put themselves in the driving seat.

McGhee-Parson’s played a sublime through ball to put Bohane through on goal but this time Lawrence dived low to his right to brilliantly tip the ball around the post.

“It was quite a wide angle, wasn’t it?” said Larkin.

“Steve stood up down at the near post and saved it.  That’s what he’s there to do, he’s there to save shots.  Keeper’s don’t get involved in much else, apart from distribution obviously, but he’s there to save the shots.  Steve’s a very talented shot-stopper so we expected him to save those.”

Clarke swung in the resulting corner and Taylor came up from the back to plant his header straight at Lawrence, who shortly afterwards made a smart save at his near post to prevent McGee-Parsons cutting in to score inside nine minutes.

However, after that flurry of chances, the game resumed into a tight affair before Tunbridge Wells were denied with thirteen minutes of normal time remaining.

Booth’s pass found substitute Cass, who drilled a right-footed shot from 18-yards, which was destined for the far corner, was brilliantly pushed around the post by the diving Stevens.

Highworth got down the left-channel and Jackson whipped in a low cross into the box where King cut the ball back to Drewitt, who drilled his right-footed shot across goal and past the far post from 25-yards.

Highworth could have won it when Bohane cut into the box down the right and flashed the ball across goal but Davoile slid in at the far post but failed to stab the ball over the line, flashing just past the foot of the far post.

A short corner routine ended with McGhee-Parsons laying the ball off to King, who drilled a low right-footed angled drive, which was collected by Lawrence beside his near post.

Tunbridge Wells could have snatched it at the end of normal time when Booth powered over a cross from the right towards the near post but Cass planted his header towards the top corner but Stevens palmed the ball over the bar high to his left.

These two sides could not be separated again so for the second time in a week the game went into extra-time.

Tunbridge Wells created the first opening inside the first period of extra time when Booth collected the ball after Beecroft’s corner was cleared and raced to the by-line but his shot from a tight angle was blocked by Stevens at his near post.

Lawrence then caught Davoile’s first time right-footed volley from 30-yards before Stevens produced a world-class save to prevent Tunbridge Wells scoring a 97th minute winner.

Booth laid the ball off to Cass, who smashed a right-footed volley towards the roof of the net, but Stevens dived high to his right and used a strong right hand to push the ball over the bar.

“He didn’t know too much about it, other than lifting it over the bar like that,” said Larkin.

“It’s just a reaction save, that’s what goalkeeper’s really work on short, sharp reaction drills that they do in training.

“If that goes in, we win the game to be perfectly honest, because both teams were on their last legs at that point.

“It looked really spectacular and great and it was a fantastic effort from Cass. It was just unfortunate really.”

But disaster struck Tunbridge Wells as Highworth Town took the lead with an ugly goal in the 100th minute.

King swung in the corner from the left and a couple of shots from Bohane were blocked and King came in from the back to steer his shot into the corner of the net.

Larkin admitted not having Spackman in his defence proved costly at that point.

He said: “You’re taking Perry out of that situation where he comes and wins his header and clears it time and time again.

“We didn’t seem quite clear at those particular points. It’s gone through someone’s legs and Jason’s (Bourne) cleared it and the fella closed it off his legs as well, which is unfortunate really.”

Cass cracked a right-footed volley high over the bar as Tunbridge Wells threw men forward.

The second period saw Fuller loop his header straight into Stevens’ gloves after Davey clipped a free-kick forward.

King flashed his right-footed drive wide of the Wells’ goal from 25-yards, before Davoile swept the ball out wide to substitute Nathan Blackford, who cut inside and his right-footed curler was saved by the Tunbridge Wells keeper.

But Tunbridge Wells took the game to penalties with exactly four minutes of extra-time remaining.

Davey clipped a free-kick forward from the half-way line, the ball skimmed off Booth’s head and Stevens failed to gather and Cass drilled a low shot into the net.

“I thought the way we reacted was sensational,” said a proud Larkin, who led his club out at Wembley Stadium in the 2013 Final, only to lose 2-1 to Spennymoor.

“We had a quick change shape wise and got someone else up top and it’s very easy for the boys after a heavy 120 minutes or so on the pitch to buckle but they didn’t!

“They picked themselves up and it was all us for the rest of extra-time and we deserved to get the second goal, I think.

“How we reacted to that goal going in, is fantastic.

“The FA Vase is special to us. They know the responsibility around it so we didn’t not expect them to pick things up and crack on with it.

“We’ve got a few late goals this year and when you’ve got people who can finish in the box like what Cass can, it’s a reason never to give up and anyone who’s in your team or side at this stage of the Vase that wants to give up really shouldn’t deserve to be there so we’re happy with what we did.”

Lawrence picked up a rolling shot from Davoile before Stevens was the hero in the shoot-out, after Larkin walking over to his supporters before the shoot-out to raise the volume once more.

Highworth Town substitute Aaron Maximen comfortably beat Lawrence from the first penalty, fining the bottom left-hand corner.

But Booth went the same way as he did in the first half and Stevens guessed perfectly, diving to his left again to make the save.

King smashed his right-footed penalty into the roof of the net, before Tunbridge Wells scored their only penalty when Cass expertly rolled his shot into the bottom right-hand corner to give the home fans on the bank of terracing behind the goal a glimmer of hope.

Bohane made it 3-1 when he sent Lawrence the wrong way with a left-footed penalty, before Stevens dived to his right to palm away Beecroft’s spot-kick.

And Blackford – a third Highworth substitute taking a penalty – rifled his shot in off the bar, into the top right-hand corner, to win it for John Fisher’s side.

Larkin said: “Penalties are difficult when you lose them at any time really and we’ve had two shoot-outs this year, Woodstock in the County Cup and they had five incredible penalties and same here today.

“Hats off to them. They put all of them into corners, side-nettings or the last one into the stanchion. They took their penalties very, very well.

“It’s exciting if you win and it’s awful if you lose on penalties but it is what it is.”

Tunbridge Wells travel to league leaders Phoenix Sports on Wednesday now sitting in fifth-place in the league, ten points adrift of Steve O’Boyle’s side, who have three games in hand.

Phoenix Sports lost their first game of the season at the 31st attempt when they went down to a 2-0 home defeat to Greenwich Borough in the Kent Senior Trophy Quarter-Finals today.

Larkin wants his side to bounce back and win as many games as they can for the rest of the season, although admitting the league title is out of reach at present.

“This (FA Vase defeat) will sit quite a bit in terms of getting over it,” he said.

“It’s a game that we don’t think we performed in over the two games to a level that would have meant we would’ve won it.

“They’re having an unbelievable season. Steve’s done an unbelievable job there and they’re fighting on so many different fronts.

“The league is there’s to take really.  The challenge now is can we be the first ones to beat them in the league and that’s the attitude that we’ll take there on Wednesday and see what we can do.”

“Can we win the league title? Probably not, no! They’ve got games in hand. They’ve got a big gap there so it’s there’s to go and win really.”

When asked what he wants from his side between now and the end of the season, Larkin replied: “To win every game we play. It’s all we can do now. Win as many games as we can.

“We’re in the quarter-finals of the League Cup against Deal, which will be good under lights. It’s a game that we know we hit the levels of quality that we’ve got that we might get something out of and win and that puts us into the semi-finals of that and then we’ll see who we get then if we get through.

“League games wise, we just have to keep winning because we’ve got an responsibility because of the size of the club we are, with the crowds that we get, we can’t afford to just say right we’re out of The Vase now, so just relax for the rest of the season.

“It’s just not fair on those that pay. We’re very, very lucky to play in front of the size of crowds we get and with that comes with responsibility.”

Tunbridge Wells: Steve Lawrence, Jason Bourne (Ian Parsons 104), Tom Bryant, Tom Davey, Brad Potter, Perry Spackman (Rory Head 12), Jack Goldsmith (Brendon Cass 70), Jake Beecroft, Paul Booth, Joe Fuller, Lee Radford.
Subs: Andy Boyle, Tolley Beatson

Goals: Paul Booth 37, Brendon Cass 116

Booked: Tom Bryant 90

Highworth Town: Gary Stevens, Tony Joyce, Chris Jackson, Ashley Taylor, Sam Wadieh, Jonathan Aitkenhead, Dan Drewitt (Aaron Maximen 86), John Davoile, Terry Bohane, Callum McGhee-Parsons (Nathan Blackford 106), Bradley Clarke (Ryan King 67).
Sub: Garry Eggleton

Goals: Terry Bohane 50, Ryan King 100

Booked: Ashley Taylor 35, Terry Bohane 102, Chris Jackson 109

Attendance: 788
Referee: Mr Gregory Read (Addlestone, Surrey)
Assistants: Mr Luis Pinto Nunes (Kingston-upon-Thames, Surrey) & Mr Gareth Mays (Epsom, Surrey)
Fourth Official: Mr Christopher Myatt (Dartford)