Thursday 01st September 2005

Wells come through epic FA Cup tie


Wednesday 31st
August 2005
FA Cup
Preliminary Round Replay
Stephen McCartney reports from 
Culverden Stadium
Tunbridge Wells 2 Dave Hassett 60
Buster Beaney 114
Littlehampton Town 2 Peter Brackley 67 (pen)
Alahska Kamara 93
After Extra Time Tunbridge Wells won 16-15 on penalties, of which 40 were taken  

The top Premiership clubs tell us the FA Cup has died - try telling that to the players, management team, officials and supporters of Kentish Observer League side Tunbridge Wells tonight, writes Stephen McCartney.

They have just witnessed the most dramatic FA Cup tie in the history of the competition - anger, anguish, pride, passion, and jubilation - all rolled into three hours and fifteen minutes of an adrenalin rushed match at Culverden Stadium.

First the anger.  Everyone of the 122 souls in the ground, who witnessed this dramatic game of football will agree with me about this.  Referee Mr Ian Thomson wasn't worthy to wear the three lions on his shirt.  He should have stayed at home!

Anyway, we all know he wants to steal the limelight from these excellent footballers that deserve all the credit for producing this mammoth epic.  So we won't waste time writing about him!  Although we all know he wants us to!

What we will talk about, however, are the two shocking penalty decisions he gave, awarding the visitors two penalties.

The first one was awarded in the 28th minute when Wells' central defender, Simon Joynes was harshly penalised for handball.  However, goalkeeper, John Whitehouse dived to his left to save Gary Young's penalty kick.

Wells were relieved to come off the pitch at half-time still on level terms, as Littlehampton's direct style - with striker Steve Davis impressive throughout - causing them all sorts of problems.

The Sussex side created numerous chances to put the game behind the home side's reach, with Davis' twice heading just over the home side's crossbar.

They say managers earn their crust during the half-time interval, and Wells' trio of Kevin Metcalf and coaches Martin Telford and Dave Rice sparked life into their players.

And within six minutes of the re-start, visiting goalkeeper Wes Hallet was lucky to stay on the field, only receiving a yellow card from the grey-haired  referee, for picking the ball up outside his penalty area, in a central position, following Joynes' through ball.

However, from the resulting free-kick, Dave Hassett fired just wide of the left post.

Wells' midfielder, Buster Beaney then twice shot from distance before the home side stole the lead on the hour mark.

Whitehouse launched the ball upfield, which was flicked on by Dave Batt, into the path of Dave Hassett, and with only the goalkeeper to beat, the former Sittingbourne striker slotted home inside the foot of the left post.

However, Mr Thomson made another one of his shocking decisions - please let this be his last ever game at this level -  when he awarded Littlehampton their second penalty of the night after 67 minutes.

Kevin Skinner was harshly penalised for handball but Peter Brackley fired the penalty into the bottom left hand corner to bring Littlehampton back on level terms and to sink the home side's hearts.

Neither side could find that elusive winner so the game went into extra time.

But Littlehampton took the lead inside 183 seconds of extra-time when Davis - who got the better of Ben Hilden down the right - was denied by a fine block from Whitehouse.  However, Davis got a second bite of the cherry and squared the ball to substitute Alahska Kamara who tapped the ball home from close range.

Littlehampton had the better of the first period, but after the referee went over to the home dug-out to make a complete fool of himself, this seemed to spark even more passion into the committed and charged-up heroes of Tunbridge Wells.

The Kent side won themselves another free kick on the edge of the penalty area, courtesy of Hallett taking too releasing the ball and Beaney drove a free kick straight into the bottom left hand corner to send the home faithful - and players - wild.

A sense of justice against the man in black, one feels!

Tunbridge Wells' coach, Telford wrote down the five players that were going to take penalties - little did we know there were going to be 40 spot kicks in the shoot-out.

Tunbridge Wells' goalkeeper, John Whitehouse, however,  was their hero, saving four penalties in the shoot out.

The 28-year-old stopper, who made the summer switch from Ryman League club Ashford Town, was obviously very delighted at the final whistle.

"In the end there was more drama than Eastenders," he said in an EXCLUSIVE interview with as he was mobbed by his teammates and covered in water on the pitch after he saved Grant Vanson's penalty.

"We played a good game tonight," he added.  "We played a new formation, a lot of new players came in from Sunday's 1-1 draw, so they haven't played together all season, and I think we thoroughly deserved it in the end."

And speaking about the referee, he added: "I thought the shocking two penalties that went against us were quite harsh at the time.  Sometimes you get bad luck at this level."

But having played for Ashford Town against Metropolitan Police, Whitehouse knows what to expect in their first qualifying round tie at Imber Court on 10th September.

"I've played in some good games before but I've never been in a penalty shoot out like that before.  There's always a first with everything!

"I've played against them (Met. Police) last year as I was in their league and we've got nothing to fear against them.  They are a bit physical but nothing more than we can handle."

But in all penalty shoot-out's there has to be a loser.  All credit though for Littlehampton for playing their part in tonight's epic.

"Littlehampton played really well tonight," he praised.  "They've come down here tonight showed that they can play really well.  

"They played a good game on Sunday but at the end of the day they got beat, undeserved at times, but there you go, that's football."

His manager, Kevin Metcalf, couldn't bare to watch the majority of the penalties being taken, but was jubilant at the end.

"What a remarkable night," he said.  "We dug in and ground it out again.  A great result.

"We had a couple of good chances and so did they.  That's how tight the game was but we're pleased to go through.

"Full credit to both sides, 40 penalties, how many we're missed?  I don't like penalty shoot-outs especially this round of the FA Cup.  I think we could have had another replay to be honest, but we're through."

Looking ahead to their trip to Ryman League division one outfit Metropolitan Police - who won their replay 2-0 at Bracknell Town on Tuesday night - Metcalf added: "We know all about them - we'll give them a game."

However, with the players training on Thursday night, Metcalf will have a job bringing his players down from the ceiling ahead of their home Kent League game against Sporting Bengal United on Saturday (3pm).

"We've said all along the league is our priority," he insisted.  "We have to sit the boys down tomorrow and we're going to get them ready and professional for Saturday," he said.

"It's a possible banana skin but they're games we should win if we are going for the league.

"It's been a good month, taking Beckenham away from the league, Maidstone have slipped up a little bit so we're still in there.  The league is important so we are pleased with our season so far."

Metcalf admitted he was delighted with Whitehouse's showing in between the sticks tonight - and he still has Matt Bromby waiting on the sidelines injured.

"As I've said all along, we've got possibly two of the best goalkeepers around.  They like is here, they are happy here and it showed tonight."

So instead of watching Sven's men in a pub on a wide screen TV, pop along to Culverden Stadium on Saturday.

"What can we say?  The fans have to come along," pleaded Metcalf.  Nights like this don't come around alot.  I've never been involved in a penalty shoot-out with that many penalties.  I couldn't watch some of them and I lost my voice as well."

Who said the FA Cup has died?  Thank you Tunbridge Wells for a great night!

* Please credit if you use any of this article.

Tunbridge Wells:  John Whitehouse, Dave Eckersell (Kevin Brown 26, Scott Thomas 90), Ben Hilden, Simon Joynes, Aaron O'Leary (Capt), Buster Beaney, Danny Barham, Kevin Skinner, Dave Batt, Joe Fuller, Michael Ward (Dave Hassett HT).  Subs: Steve Ward, Lee Porter

Littlehampton Town:  Wes Hallett, Paul Williams, Russell Kirby, Gary Young (Capt), Mark McCallum (Ben Torode 90), Grant Vanson,  Billy Rayner, Peter Brackley, Steve Davis, Mark Windsor (Alahska Kamara 77), Lee Gibbs (Phil Turner 78).  Subs:  Jan Miller, James West

Attendance: 122
Referee: Ian Thomson (Waterlooville)
Assistants: Roger Wells (Swanley) & Phil Townley (Swanley)