Bridgwater United 2-2 Deal Town - We're two rounds from Wembley, you have to believe, says proud Deal Town manager Steve King

Saturday 17th February 2024
Bridgwater United 2 – 2 Deal Town
Location Fairfax Park, College Way, Bath Road, Bridgwater, Somerset TA6 4TZ
Kickoff 17/02/2024 15:00

(Deal Town win 6-5 on penalties)
The Isuzu FA Vase Fifth Round
Saturday 17 February 2024
Stephen McCartney reports from Fairfax Park

PROUD Deal Town manager Steve King says it hasn’t sunk in that his club have reached The FA Vase Quarter-Finals for the first time in 24 years’ after holding their nerve in a sudden-death penalty shoot-out.

Deal Town – FA Vase winners underneath the iconic Wembley Twin Towers under legendary boss Tommy Sampson back in 2000 – raced into a two-goal lead inside the opening 21 minutes in Somerset.

Impressive right-winger Tom Chapman notched his seventh goal of the season to give the Kent side the lead after only 89 seconds, before striker Rory Smith swept in his 16th goal of the season before immediately being substituted with a hamstring injury, as King’s men went into the interval with a comfortable lead.

However, Bridgwater United pulled a goal back following a mistake from recalled goalkeeper James Tonkin, 25, which saw winger Ben Griffith capitalise by chipping a sublime shot into the roof of the net from 35-yards.

Referee Harrison Blair sent-off Deal Town’s holding midfielder Macauley Murray for two yellow cards in the 59th minute as momentum shifted to Andy Llewelleyn’s side, who deservedly levelled through Jack Thorne’s free header to score his 27th goal of the season.

There were 14 penalties in the shoot-out with Bridgwater having match point with the penultimate kick.  Tonkin revealed that he studied the home side’s penalties online and he dived to his left to prevent Jack Taylor scoring the winning penalty.

Ben Chapman volunteered to step up to send Deal Town through to the last eight, where they will travel to United Counties League Premier Division North side Lincoln United on Saturday 9 March.

Chris Funnell’s side – second-place in the table and 10 points behind the league leaders Sherwood Colliery – also won 6-5 on penalties after their tie at Sheffield based Hallam also finished 2-2 after 90 minutes.

The two-legged Semi-Final dates are scheduled for 30 March and 6 April, with the Wembley Final being played on Saturday 11 May. 

It will take a very good side to send this Deal Town side crashing out of the competition.

“Mad wasn’t it, mad! It was a game we expected. We knew they were a good side. They score a lot of goals, especially at home and we knew it was going to be open and we knew we’d struggle to keep a clean-sheet,” said King.

“Really pleased to get a 2-0 lead. We started the game brilliantly.  I feel their first goal is a mistake from us.  Tonks (James Tonkin) should’ve cleared it into Devon and he tried to keep it in.

“We then obviously had the sending off and then you’re right up against it but I’m really proud off the boys.  At two-all with 10 men here for 31 minutes plus six added on, I thought we were outstanding.

“Penalties are in the lap of the gods but I back our takers. I thought our penalties were very good and obviously Tonks in goal, Deal Town, The FA Vase, I don’t have to say anymore do I.”

When asked how it feels to reach the Quarter-Finals of this national cup competition, King replied: “It’s not sunk in yet but it probably will tomorrow. 

“We’re still focused on everything. We’ve got a promotion charge.  We’ve got a cup semi-final (first leg) at home to Erith Town on Tuesday, so it’s not sunk in.  I don’t think it will sink in.  You just don’t realise we’re now 20 games unbeaten because you’re so focused on the next game and that’s all we did throughout.

“It hasn’t sunk in. I’m a proud man. I love the club. I live in the area (Dover), I’ve grown up in the area and I was at the 2000 FA Vase Final at Wembley.  I’ve been at the club for eight years’ now, through some difficult times to start with. It means a lot but we’ve still got a lot to play for haven’t we.”

Bridgwater United went into this Fifth Round tie sitting in third-place in the Western League Premier Division table, having picked up 46 points (15 wins, one draw and six defeats) from their 22 league games and are 10 points adrift of league leaders Helston Athletic.

Andy Llewellyn’s side have beaten Longwell Green Sports (5-2), Royal Wootton Bassett Town (7-6 on penalties after a 2-2 draw) and pulled off a shock 2-1 win away to much-fancied side Farnham Town to reach the Fifth Round for the second successive time and the third time in their history.

Deal Town arrived here sitting in second-place in the Southern Counties East Football League Premier Division table with 55 points (17 wins, four draws and three defeats) from their 24 games and have games in hand on all of their promotion rivals.

Three of four of Deal Town’s FA Vase ties this season have been away from home, with away wins at Newhaven (4-1) and Lingfield (2-0), followed by a 2-0 home win over Cobham, while the side extended their unbeaten run to 20 games following this draw after 90 minutes.

Tonkin reclaimed his place in the side with Henry Newcombe ruled out for the rest of the season with a serious knee injury and fellow keeper Adam Molloy was cup-tied.

Bridgwater United were punished for their nervy start, as Deal Town opened the scoring after only 89 seconds.

Left-back Alex Green threw the ball into striker Aaron Millbank, who rolled the ball back to Green, who drilled a left-footed angle switch over to Tom Chapman on the right.

The winger took a couple of touches before unleashing a right-footed shot screaming across debutant goalkeeper Luke Purnell from 25-yards, the ball bouncing off the top of the far post before dropping into the goal.

“A great strike! That’s what you want after two minutes. We wanted to start the game the way we did, brilliant, really happy,” said King.

“A great strike, 25-yards in off the post.  A worldy strike.  They’ve just brought a keeper in from Weston-super-Mare, Step Two (National League South), so you’re not going to get shots past him easily but I thought it was a brilliant strike.

“Look, when you come to a difficult place like this, to get in front, I was really pleased.”

Bridgwater United produced a well-worked slick sweeping move and should have equalised with six minutes on the clock.

Thorne and Griffith started the move off before holding midfielder Tom Llewellyn played the ball into Morgan Williams inside the final third before Tom Llewellyn swept the ball out to Jay Murray on the right and right-back Joshua Phillips got in behind to cut the ball back for Tom Llewellyn to last his first-time shot over the crossbar from a central position six-yards from goal.

“I think they’re the best attacking side that we’ve played all season in our League or in The Vase.  I thought going forward they were really dangerous, inter-changed really good, lots of good movement and we got caught out there,” said King.

“I thought that was probably their best chance of the first half.  I thought we contained them quite well after that.  They did have quite a lot of the ball but didn’t really create much.

“He’s lashed it over. It’s a difficult pitch to finish. It’s really difficult out there.”

Deal Town were their usual threat from set-pieces and Green’s long throw from the right was flicked on by centre-half Alfie Foster, which sailed across the keeper before trickling past the far post.

A long ball forward from Bridgwater centre-half Jason Quick was headed away by Deal Town centre-half Billy Munday before Williams smacked a right-footed hooked volley past the far post from 25-yards.

Deal Town produced a well-worked move to double their lead with 20 minutes and 31 seconds on the clock.

Miller was some 35-yards from goal and he played a first time pass which released Tom Chapman in behind Bridgwater’s left-back Jake Llewellyn and the winger put it on a plate for Rory Smith, to nip in front of a pressing Mark Armstrong at the near-post to sweep his first-time right-footed shot into the top right-hand corner from three-yards.

“I’m going to be honest and claim a little bit of luck.  He felt his hamstring just before that and we were getting a sub ready and we left him on for a couple more minutes and he scored,” said King.

“On another day, you make the substitution a couple minutes earlier and he’s not there.  Look, today was really important for us and we’ve got a lot to play for and we can’t risk losing lots of players with injuries so as soon as he felt that tighten up, we were sensible.

“Once he got the second goal and we were 2-0 up, it was a little bit easier to do that.  We’ve brought on Jack Penny, whose literally played every game for the last two years, so it was just a precaution with Rory but we can’t afford to lose him for six weeks. He’s such a big player for us, so we’ll claim a little bit of luck that he was still on the pitch. 

“Great move, what a great move. A great cross, great finish, cousin to cousin, love it!”

A strong tackle from Phillips on Macaulay Murray produced the second of five cautions for the home side and Macauley Murray took the resulting free-kick from the left after receiving treatment.

His right-footed free-kick was met by an ambitious overhead kick from Foster, which flew across the keeper and past the far post.

“We thought we had a chance with set-pieces today and I was hoping we might nick a third.  I thought that was the way we looked like nicking a third but it was just slightly wide,” added King.

Referee Harrison Blair awarded the home side a non-contested drop ball just outside the corner of the Deal Town box where Jake Llewellyn floated a left-footed cross into a crowded penalty area, which was met by a glancing header from centre-half Jason Quick, which sailed past the far post from eight-yards.

Quick almost gifted the away side a commanding three-goal lead with 44:31 on the clock.

Macauley Murray’s right-footed free-kick from the left was of quality and Quick’s diving header at the near-post flew over his left-shoulder and over goalkeeper Purnell before clipping his own crossbar.

“I forgot about that one. I think if we got a third in the first half, I think we probably go on and win the game,” admitted King.

“Our set-piece delivery was good. A little bit of luck, I’m talking to you about a bit of luck where Rory ends up being left on for an extra couple of minutes and scores and that one hits the bar and goes over.”

Deal Town went into the interval with a comfortable 45 minutes behind them – far too comfortable for a Last 16 FA Vase tie.  There was a lot more to come from Bridgwater United in the second half and the introduction of striker Taylor for the ineffective Josiah McKayle had the desired effect for the West Country outfit.

“We were sorting stuff out tactically with their midfield diamond and their rotations, so we basically spent the whole of half-time working that out,” said King.

“You probably saw me have a long conversation with Macca (Macauley Murray) before we came off so we had the players’ perspective of their shape, so we sorted that out at half-time. That was it really. I thought we started the second half really well. We didn’t look under much danger.”

Tom Chapman drew a free-kick from Williams down the right and substitute left-back Jack Penny swung in a left-footed free-kick, which was cleared out to Ben Chapman, who unleashed a first time drive towards the roof of the net from 20-yards, which forced Purnell to raise his right-hand to tip the ball over his crossbar (6:33).

“I thought up until 2-0, I thought we started the second half and we actually looked move comfortable than we looked in the first half.  But look, a goal and a sending off, that’s going to make it hard for everybody,” admitted King.

Bridgwater United were given a lifeline when a mistake from visiting goalkeeper Tonkin gave the home side a way back into the game, the goal coming with eight minutes and 45 seconds on the clock.

Bridgwater keeper Purnell launched a big kick straight down the middle of the pitch.  The ball was flicked on by Taylor, the ball landed inside the box on the left-hand side and Tonkin rushed out to close down Jay Murray.

Tonkin swept his clearance down the line but the ball went straight to winger Griffith, who swept his sublime right-footed from chip from 35-yards, which sailed over three defenders to drop in underneath the crossbar into the centre of the goal.

“I don’t need to tell Tonks what to do.  He was trying to be clever with his clearance for the goal. It should be over that green netting over there and we should be defending a throw in at 2-0 but he’s tried to clear it down the line, not got it and to be fair, a great finish from the boy,” said King.

The home crowd within a low attendance of 445 now started to believe that their side could get back into the game and their chances increased when Macauley Murray slid in to bring down Thorne, as the attacking midfield cut inside him inside the Deal Town half of the pitch (13:28).

“He’s so unlucky but it’s a red. He slipped twice. Macca doesn’t male tackles like that but he slipped twice,” said King.

“He slipped the one first half and slipped on the one second half. On this pitch, they looked bad.  I thought they were two yellows. I haven’t got a complaint about it.  I just feel sorry for him.  He’s not gone flying in and nailed somebody. He’s slipped twice.”

Deal Town were now hanging on and Tonkin excelled when called upon as the second half reached its halfway point.

A long ball was played in behind Foster to play in Taylor, whose left-footed angled rasping drive was beaten away by the visiting keeper at his near-post.

“Tonks’ hasn’t been playing. I thought he was outstanding! He’s made some brilliant saves, done brilliant in the shoot-out and he knows he made three or four great saves,” added King.

“Momentum changes can be hard to turn it back then on a boggy pitch up the hill, into the wind then when you go down to 10, it’s hard, isn’t it.”

Tom Llewellyn floated in a corner from the left and Quick came up from the back to glance his header across the keeper and past the far post, as Bridgwater United kept knocking on the door.

The home side’s deserved leveller finally arrived with 24 minutes and 51 seconds on the clock, following a raid down the right.

Williams cut the ball back from within the channel to Jay Murray, who whipped in a first-time cross towards the near-post where Thorne glanced his header past Tonkin at his near-post to score from 10-yards.

“It looked a bit disappointing but I haven’t seen it on the video so I’m not going to really comment,” said King.

“It’s not the sort of goal we concede. I don’t know if it was a really good header and a really good cross or whatever.  We didn’t really mark as well as we could’ve done but I’m certainly not going to name anybody in this interview without having seen it and I don’t know.  I’ll have a little reflect on it tomorrow and see whether we could’ve done better.

“It may have been a really good goal from their point of view, good cross, good header.”

The home fans were on their feet in the 75th minute but celebrations on and off the pitch died when Bailey Walker’s offside flag was raised after Taylor buried a free header past Tonkin.

“I saw the flag before he headed it.  The flag went very early. They didn’t seem to complain. It looked worse because they all gone off and celebrated because they didn’t see the flag but I’ve seen the flag so no panic from me,” added King.

Deal Town worked a glorious chance to snatch the victory with 33:17 on the clock.

Penny broke forward down the left before feeding Billy Munday and he floated a great cross towards the edge of the six-yard box for Penny, whose diving header went straight at Purnell, who made a comfortable catch.

“I actually thought the last 15 minutes we looked quite threatening on the counter-attack,” said King, who held a Bridgwater side that have lost once two league games at home this season.

“I thought our fitness was outstanding.  We kept going right to the end and I thought we created, Penny’s header was a good chance.

“I thought our character was outstanding.  How many teams roll over there in the last 15 minutes to get beat?  I thought we were outstanding.  I said before the game went to penalties, I’m so proud of them of what we’ve got coming in the league.  Sixteen big games. If we show that character, we will go very close and I said that to them.  I said ‘so proud’ that you’ve given yourselves a chance with a penalty shoot-out.”

Deal Town created another counter-attacking chance through Foster, who operated in midfield after his central-defensive role was taken by substitute Kane Smith.

Millbank charged forward on the break before playing the ball into Foster, who hit a left-footed angled drive from 30-yards, which was held by Purnell, diving low to his left.

“I thought the last 10 minutes we had a bit of a go.  Our fitness levels were really good. I’m really proud of them, really, really proud of them.  I know what they give me. We never roll over, we never die and another day we lose on penalties and we’re really gutted but it’s our day isn’t it, so I’m not going to complain.

“I think we were due a bit of luck with all of these away draws we’re getting, so we’ll take it by winning penalty shoot-outs.”

Tonkin was called into making a great save in the 81st minute when Griffith launched a deep diagonal cross into the box, the ball was cushioned down by Taylor’s head and dropped for Jay Murray to crack a rasping drive from a tight angle, which was superbly clawed out by Tonkin, stretching high to his left.

Lightening could have struck twice for Tonkin, who found himself in a similar position to Bridgwater’s first goal and his clearance went straight to industrious Tom Llewellyn within the centre-circle but he lacked composure and scuffed his speculative shot along the soft pitch and Tonkin was untroubled as the ball rolled into his penalty area.

Deal Town created the final opening of the game (50:11) when Penny’s deep cross from the left touch-line sailed all the way over towards Munday, whose towering header was comfortably plucked out of the air by the former Weston-super-Mare stopper.

The referee blew the final whistle (51:20) and the game was settled by a penalty shoot-out with Bridgwater United going first.

Substitute George King drilled his right-footed penalty straight down the middle, with Tonkin diving to his left.

Deal Town captain Millbank’s driven right-footed attempt was saved by Purnell, going to his right to make the save, the ball looping off the keeper towards safety.

Bridgwater United were 2-0 ahead when Jay Murray’s right-footed chip found the top left-hand corner, with the keeper going the other way.

Penny stepped up and emphatically drilled his left-footed penalty into the top left-hand corner, sending Purnell the wrong way.

Bridgwater United were 3-1 up when substitute Adam Wright kept his composure after the ball moved on the penalty spot thanks to the wind and once repositioning the ball he placed his right-footed penalty into the bottom left-hand corner, despite Tonkin diving low to his right and getting his right-hand to the ball but he couldn’t prevent the ball nesting into the net to give the home side a 3-1 lead after five.

Tom Chapman found the bottom left-hand corner with his right-footed penalty, with the keeper diving to his left.

Bridgwater United eased into a 4-2 lead with the seventh penalty, Tom Llewellyn driving his right-footed kick straight down the middle, with Tonkin diving to his left.

Munday stepped up to score with his right-footed penalty, the ball nestling into the bottom left-hand corner, with the keeper diving to his right.

Bridgwater United were now on match point and Thorne appeared destined to send them through with the ninth penalty.  The penalty was drilled right-footed and low and Tonkin smothered the ball by diving to his left and using his legs to make a big block.

Deal Town substitute centre-half Liam Hark kept Deal Town in The FA Vase by the skin of his teeth. His right-footed penalty was placed towards the bottom left-hand corner and Purnell dived low to his right and made the save but the ball somehow squirmed underneath his body and crossed the line.

Griffith held his nerve as penalty number 11 was rifled into the roof of the net with his right-boot, as Bridgwater United made the score 5-4.

The next penalty was keeper-versus-keeper, as Tonkin’s right-footed penalty nestled into the bottom right-hand corner, with Purnell going the other way.

Deal Town had a sinking feeling with penalty number 13. The second Match Point for Bridgwater and it was 16-goal striker Taylor to send them through.

However, Tonkin dived to his left and kept out Taylor’s right-footed penalty and up stepped Ben Chapman to send King’s men through, his right-footed penalty creeping into the bottom corner, despite the keeper getting a hand to the ball.

Reflecting on the shoot-out, King admitted: “I thought we were done! I don’t like taking penalties second and when you miss your first one, you’re like double behind it because you have to save one just to get level and then you’ve got to keep scoring.  I thought we were done but sometimes look, I’ve always been a believe you earn your luck like, you earn luck. I thought we earnt our luck.”

When asked about his order of his penalty takers, King replied: “We got to sixth, so we didn’t have seven decided so Ben stepped up.  We had Tonks at six, that was always planned so Ben stepped up at seven.  I wouldn’t have wanted anyone else on it.

“Who was at number eight? I don’t know. I leave it up to the players after six because no one wants them then, so it’s who’s in there that fancies it the most.

“How we hung on with 10 men for 30 minutes at the end, I thought we were winning that. It was our day, wasn’t it?”

King will have his side fully prepared for their trip to Lincoln United.

“Know nothing about them. I know they’re second in their league but that’s the only thing we looked at when the draw came out. Look, it’s the Vase Quarter-Final, they’re going to be very good. Don’t know much about their League. I don’t think it’s traditionally produced lots of sides that go a long way in the Vase but I know they’re right up there as you’d expect for a FA Vase quarter-finalist.

“I will know everything we need to know by that point and we’re in a Vase Quarter-Final and I’ll be on the phone.

“We’re two rounds away from Wembley, you have to believe. What are we? Twenty unbeaten, two defeats in 31.  I think any side that looks at us on our form, Bridgwater knocked out Farnham in the last round, who we know are a really strong side and we have come down here and knocked them out.”

Erith Town reached the Kent Senior Trophy with an 8-2 home win over Larkfield & New Hythe today and Adam Woodward’s side stand in the way of Deal Town reaching the Challenge Cup Final.

The Semi-Final First Leg takes place in Deal on Tuesday (20 February), with Bayliss Avenue staging the Second Leg seven days later.  The winners play AFC Whyteleafe or Corinthian in the Final.

“Congratulations to them for reaching the Kent Senior Trophy Final.  They’re a well-run club. I like them.  Woody’s been around a long time, like I have, so congratulations to them.”

“It will be an interesting semi-final because they have got the play-offs to go for and they’re already in the Final and we’ve got a Vase Quarter-Final.

“We’ll see how people come out of it (today’s game and post-match celebrations) and then we’ll pick the strongest side that we’ve got available.  We’re not going to risk people with injuries and knocks and stuff like that and it might be three or four players who come out of today really stiff and we leave them out on Tuesday.”

Bridgwater United: Luke Purnell, Joshua Phillips (George King 72), Jake Llewellyn, Tom Llewellyn, Jason Quick, Mark Armstrong, Ben Griffith, Jay Murray, Josiah McKayle (Jack Taylor 46), Jack Thorne, Morgan Williams (Adam Wright 82).
Sub: Fran Sousa

Goals: Ben Griffith 54, Jack Thorne 70

Booked: Jack Thorne 12, Joshua Phillips 28, Morgan Williams 51, Jake Llewellyn 62, Jay Murray 85

Deal Town: James Tonkin, Ifeoluwa Oni, Alex Green, Macauley Murray, Alfie Foster (Jamie Kennedy 82), Billy Munday, Ashley Miller (Kane Smith 75), Ben Chapman, Aaron Millbank, Rory Smith (Jack Penny 22), Tom Chapman.
Subs: Liam Hark, Joe Reeves, Connor Coyne, Kieron Hollier

Goals: Tom Chapman 2, Rory Smith 21

Booked: Macauley Murray 23, Jack Penny 64, Ben Chapman 74

Sent Off: Macauley Murray 59

Attendance: 445
Referee: Mr Harrison Blair
Assistants: Mr Mark Hickson & Mr Bailey Walker
Fourth Official: Mr Cain Collins