Bridgwater United 2-2 Tunbridge Wells - We'll never lie down and we'll never say die even when we're down and out and we will pull ourselves out if it, says proud Tunbridge Wells boss Richard Styles

Saturday 15th January 2022
Bridgwater United 2 – 2 Tunbridge Wells
Location Fairfax Park, College Way, Bath Road, Bridgwater, Somerset TA6 4TZ
Kickoff 15/01/2022 15:00

(Tunbridge Wells win 5-3 on penalties)
The Buildbase FA Vase Fourth Round
Saturday 15 January 2022
Stephen McCartney reports from Fairfax Park

TUNBRIDGE WELLS manager Richard Styles says nothing will make him happier than to take his special group of players and give them the experience of playing at Wembley Stadium in The FA Vase Final.

The Wells were 2-0 down at Western League Premier Division highflyers Bridgwater United – but two special goals inside the final 20 minutes ensured there was to be a dramatic ending in Somerset.

Bridgwater United striker Jack Taylor scored twice – taking his tally for the season to 23 goals – to give Tunbridge Wells a mountain to climb before talented winger Regan Corke sprung into life to help get his team out of a hole.

With 20 minutes remaining, he hung over a cross towards the far post where Harry Hudson’s outrageous close-range over-head kick gave his side a lifeline and Styles’ men then had the momentum for the rest of the game.

With their Wembley dream slipping through their fingers, centre-half Robbie Bissett, 25, was thrown up front and within seconds, he rescued his home-town side with a clinical finish into the bottom far corner to take the game to a penalty shoot-out, something that looked beyond them after 69 minutes, as they struggled to get to grips of a poor playing surface at Fairfax Park, which welcomes Manchester United in The FA Women’s Cup Fourth Round on 30 January.

Styles revealed post-match that his side haven’t been practising penalties due to time restraints but all five of his players converted from the spot as they prevailed 5-3 after nine, with right-back Frank Griffin smashing home the winning penalty to the delight of the vocal travelling fans behind the goal.

“Completely lost for words but that’s the reason why I love this game so much for days like that, just incredible, absolutely incredible and that’s why this game is the best game in the world,” said Styles.

“The pitch isn’t great. It didn’t help us create an awful lot.  It didn’t help us play the game we like to play. I think it was touch and go whether it was on or not. They laid a lot of sand yesterday but I think they wanted the pitch more like that to suit them rather than us, so I’m even happier we won.

“But I always felt at 2-0 down there was still a long time to go and they didn’t really have a chance after scoring that.

“You get what you deserve, you get what you work for, you work hard enough you get those little bits of luck and then chances at the right times.”

Tunbridge Wells went into this game sitting in ninth-place in the Southern Counties East Football League Premier Division table, having collected 30 points from their 19 games.  They haven’t played since losing 3-2 at Crowborough Athletic on 27 December - but there was nothing wrong with their fitness levels here today as they dominated the final 20 minutes.

Tunbridge Wells – who lost 2-1 to now National League North side Spennymoor in the 2013 FA Vase Wembley Final – got to this stage of the competition by beating Roffey (4-2 on penalties after a 1-1 draw), Hilltop (3-2), Walton & Hersham (1-0) and Wallingford Town (4-2).

Dave Pearse’s side, meanwhile, were in second-place in the Western League Premier Division, having picked up 39 points from 22 games and were 13 points behind leaders Tavistock.

This was their third home tie in the competition having beaten Mousehole and Bashley 2-1.

Incidentally, 19 of the 20 outfield players went into this tie with at least one goal to their name, except for recalled Tunbridge Wells striker Richard Atkins, who replaced 17-goal striker Matthew Gething, who was ruled out with a groin injury.

Bridgwater United started the game with a narrow 4-2-2-2 formation and were keen to hit the channels with long balls – especially from the left-boot of their left-back Jake Llewellyn – as playing football was tough on a bobbly surface.

His brother Tom, incidentally right-footed, floated a deep free-kick into the Tunbridge Wells penalty area where holding midfielder George King rose at the far post to steer a deflected header past the near post.

Bridgwater United scored from the resulting corner, their first of the game, which went in via a crowd of Tunbridge Wells players, with only six minutes and 26 seconds into the game.

Jake Llewellyn swung in a left-footed corner from the right and Taylor found space at the near post to glance his header towards goal from eight-yards and the ball bounced over the line.

Styles said: “It was the first set-piece. We know they’re good from set-pieces.  We switched off, a lack of communication. It’s only bobbled in but at the same time we allowed him to get to the ball first and head it.

“It’s a very disappointing way to start, especially away from home at a place like this.  It was not a pleasing moment for sure but it was so early. I was never worried at that point.”

Tunbridge Wells thought they had hit the crossbar within 99 seconds of going behind but the offside flag was raised after Hudson hooked his shot against the crossbar after Bissett launched a long free-kick towards the edge of the box.

“I don’t know whether he was offside or not. Harry’s done really well there to be fair to him,” added Styles.

Hudson prodded a ball trickling to left-winger Kyron Lightfoot, who rode a sliding challenge from Bridgwater’s right-back Ross Edwards in midfield and strode forward before drilling a right-footed drive high and wide from 25-yards in the sixteenth minute.

Bridgwater suffered similar fate nine minutes later.

Winger Morgan Williams slid in to win the ball fairly from Lightfoot inside the Bridgwater half before hitting a diagonal pass over to the left wing for Taylor, who cut inside and once inside the D he evaded Ryan Cheek’s sliding challenge to lash his shot over the crossbar.

Griffin and Regan Corke linked up well down the right on the half-hour mark with Corke cutting the ball back for Griffin to unleash a first-time right-footed angled drive sailing over the crossbar from 16-yards.

“I just think they needed to get their foot through it.  I think they were trying for finesse and trying to put it in a certain area.  On the pitch the way it was and the game the way it was, just got to get your laces through it and let it go, there more than capable, I’ve got players who can do that,” said Styles on his side’s poor finishing from distance during the first-half.

After some poor quality in front of goal from both sides, Bridgwater United called visiting goalkeeper Aaron Lee-Wharton into action in the 37th minute.

Another long ball from Jake Llewellyn sailed over striker Sam Crumb’s head and fell to Williams just outside the box and he did well to dig the ball out from under his feet before slipping the ball inside to Taylor, who cut onto his right-foot to stroke a 20-yard drive towards the bottom corner, forcing Lee-Wharton to dive swiftly to his right to make a smart save.

“We know, especially first half what they were trying to do on the break and trying to reverse us and hit us on the break but I would’ve expected Aaron to save that,” said Styles.

Tunbridge Wells lacked composure just before the break when Hudson’s second long throw into the box was cleared out to Lightfoot, who took several touches outside the box before failing to keep his shot down from 25-yards.

It was to be a disappointing first-half performance from Tunbridge Wells and Bridgwater just about shaded a half lacking in quality.

“I felt that we had another gear, we had another gear to go and I felt get back to the way we did rather than forcing it,” explained Styles.

“I think we were trying to force a Hollywood ball too much in the first-half and it wasn’t really working out.  It was going to the keeper and it just wasn’t working and I felt we had to simplify things and go up a gear.”

However, the second half sprung into life with both sides creating clear-cut goalscoring opportunities inside the opening three minutes.

Jake Llewellyn drilled another long ball out from his left-back position down the channel and Crumb fed Tom Llewellyn, who strode forward before hitting a low right-footed drive across the keeper from just outside the penalty area.

Lee-Wharton smothered the ball, getting down low to his right to make the save and his centre-half Cheek slid in to prevent Taylor prodding the ball over the line in a goalmouth scramble.

“It was a hell of a block from Ryan Cheek. He blocked one on the line, which was what he does – he puts his body on the line – and it was a great block and Aaron’s managed to deflect it,” said his manager.

Tunbridge Wells squandered an excellent chance to grab an equaliser just 22 seconds later.

Lee-Wharton launched the ball upfield and Hudson fed Corke on the right-hand side of the penalty area and threaded a low cross towards the far post.

Striker Atkins (who appeared offside) didn’t touch the ball and let Lightfoot latch onto the ball from behind him to lash a first-time shot against the crossbar from five-yards, aiming for the top far corner.

“I felt it’s not our day and I cannot quite believe how he’s not hit the target and how he hasn’t scored,” admitted Styles.

“Nine times out of 10 that’s hitting the back of the net. At 1-0, going in to the second half and having that chance, that’s a game changer.”

Tunbridge Wells faced a mountain to climb as Bridgwater United increased their lead with eight minutes and 4 seconds on the clock.

King’s ball over the top was intended for Taylor to run into the left-channel and with Cheek slipping over on a tricky surface this sent the home side on their way.

The impressive Taylor cut into the box and his driven cross was blocked and came out to Williams, whose driven shot produced another fine block from Lee-Wharton, who got down swiftly to his right to push the ball away.

However, Taylor pounced onto the loose ball and smashed a first-time shot into the bottom near corner from inside the six-yard box to give the home side some breathing space.

Styles said: “It’s a poor goal.  Cheeky had Taylor on the right by the corner flag and I felt he had control of him.  Maybe he slipped, but a slip of concentration but Taylor’s managed to work his way back in and a player like him will always gamble on them and follow things in, which is what he’s done and it’s a big sucker punch for us.”

As the game entered the hour-mark, Tunbridge Wells were heading out of the competition as Bridgwater done their homework on their visitors’ threats and Jake Llewellyn kept Corke in his pocket – until the talented winger produced two moments of quality later on in the game.

Styles said he gambled by bringing Johnny Phillips into the game in the 56th minute and Josh Froggatt came on 12 minutes later to make it an attacking 4-3-3 formation.

“We’ve got nothing to lose and we’ve got to have a go. I’ve got to change something to try and change something and try to do something, which is hence why I brought Johnny Phillips on, just to try something new.”

Tunbridge Wells were given a lifeline and Hudson grabbed it with both hands by scoring a brilliant goal to notch his fourth goal of the season with 20 minutes remaining.

Corke finally broke free from Jake Llewellyn’s shackles and twisted and turned his nemesis down the right-hand side and hung over a precise cross towards the far post.

Hudson scored and outrageous goal, an overhead kick from a couple of yards out, which screamed into the near corner.

Bridgwater’s players’ protested as a man fell to the deck claiming Hudson’s feet were high – but that finish gave Tunbridge Wells’ players the belief that they could get something out of the game.

“We were getting in their half and we sensed maybe they were getting a little bit tired or something like that,” said Styles.

“They’ve got the second and then they felt they’d shut-up-shop but there was a long way to go.

“The best run and cross that Regan has done all afternoon, brilliant, superb, a great delivery in that area and Harry Hudson, you don’t want any other better player getting on the end of it than Harry because he’ll get on the end of things like that.  Harry’s superb.”

Bridgwater United were a threat from set-pieces.  Another delivery from Tom Llewellyn’s right-boot was floated towards the far post and up popped centre-half Jacob Spence within a crowd of players and steered his header into Lee-Wharton’s hands.

The Wells won the corner-count eight-to-seven and their final flag-kick came inside the final 12 minutes.

Corke floated the ball in from the right, the ball came out to captain Jordan Wells, who controlled the ball with his chest inside the D before flicking the ball to Phillips, who tried to whip a curler into the top far corner from the edge of the box, the ball sailing over the crossbar.

Bridgwater could have clinched the tie when Tom Llewellyn’s corner was glanced at the near post by Taylor across the face of goal and Edwards swept his shot just past the foot of the near post, past a couple of visiting players who slid in to attempt to make a block.

“We had to gamble because we were 2-1 down because we expected that (counter-attack) and try to deal with that and live with that and fortunately they didn’t score but I don’t think they threatened a lot if I’m being honest, plus they brought Jack Taylor off.

“As soon as he came off I thought that was a big, big risk with bringing him off. I don’t know if he had a knock or what?  Bringing him off at that point, I knew that we had a chance.”

Tunbridge Wells kept plugging away as they went in search for a dramatic late equaliser, pushing men forward and increasing their desire levels.

Froggatt set up Griffin on the edge of the box but his shot deflected off a pressing Edwards and the ball dropped into Jake Viney’s midriff before dropping down to his knees to kill even more time.

Bridgwater’s manager Pearse replaced Taylor with eight minutes remaining and seemed content to sit on their slender lead – and told his players to waste time by heading towards the corner flag with four minutes of normal time remaining.

Bisset suggested to Styles to play him as an emergency striker in a bid to keep his home-town club in the competition – and he produced a clinical finish any number nine would have been proud off.

The dramatic equaliser was timed at 47:41 – the final whistle was blown at 50:15.

Corke was inside Bridgwater’s half and hooked a first-time pass which split open Spence and played Bissett through on goal and he placed a left-footed shot across the keeper and into the bottom far corner from 15-yards.

“In the back of my mind I’m just thinking we’ll get one more, we’ll get one more chances,” hoped Styles.

“We sent (Robbie) Bissett up for the last four minutes and just went for it.  Regan’s found a ball in an area and he’s put a lovely ball over to him.

“What a finish, what a finish from Biss at that time, at that moment to score that goal, it was just superb – a fantastic goal.”

Tunbridge Wells had the momentum going into the penalty shoot-out.

Referee Paul Barber told a female photographer to move to the side of the pitch after she sat down inside the penalty area in an attempt to take action shots of the drama unfolding.

Despite the delay, Atkins kept his composure and rifled his right-footed penalty into the roof of the net, sending goalkeeper Viney the wrong way.

Jake Llewellyn placed his right-footed penalty wide of the foot of the right-hand post and Bridgwater failed to recover from that blow.

Jordan Wells received a huge slice of luck when his right-footed penalty was weakly hit towards the bottom left-hand corner.  Viney smothered the ball down to his right but the ball rolled apologetically over the line.

Tom Llewellyn rifled his right-footed penalty into the top left-hand corner, with Lee-Wharton diving the same way.

Bissett slotted his left-footed penalty into the bottom left-hand corner, sending Viney the wrong way.

Substitute striker Michael Duffy also placed his right-footed penalty into the bottom left-hand corner, sending the keeper the wrong way.

Phillips gave Tunbridge Wells a 4-2 lead, placing his left-footed penalty into the same corner, sending Viney the wrong way again.

Another Bridgwater substitute scored with Harry Horton drilling his right-footed effort in exactly the best place – straight down the middle as Lee-Wharton dived to his left.

Griffin held his neve and smashed his right-footed penalty down the middle of the pitch before all of his team-mates ran towards their fans that were celebrating behind the goal.

“I felt they were done. I felt we were fitter than them. I felt mentally we were in a better place than them because we’ve come back from two gown. We were on a high and they were on a low,” added Styles.

“I always fancy us in a penalty shoot-out, always since we’ve been here, we haven’t lost many.  We’ve got the best goalkeeper in the league and I’ve got players who will openly step up and take penalties and we’ve scored five from five, say no more.”

Reflecting on the celebratory scenes at the end, Styles added: “Absolute carnage and absolute scenes upon that point, an incredible moment for the club, for the boys. I’m over the moon for each and every one of them.

“We’ve had a long way to come here and it’s not an easy place to come but to pull it out the way we did but we’ve got that about us and we’ll never lie down and we’ll never say die, even when we’re down and out, we will pull ourselves out of it.

“I’m just so pleased that the boys scored every penalty so there was no heartbreak for any player then.”

When asked how reaching the last 16 rates in his footballing career, Styles replied: “The best, right up there. The best moment, the best feeling and that’s because of the boys and each and every one of them and I’m so proud of them, the staff, the committee, all of the hard work everything that goes into us being here today and the fans.

“Look how good the fans were, they’re just incredible. They’re the best fans around by far. We love them so much and to share that experience and to give them that elation, it means everything.”

The next round takes place on Saturday 12 February and Southern Counties East Football League First Division side Stansfeld are also in the hat on Monday after coming away from Raynes Park Vale with a 2-1 win. 

Goals from Ollie Milton and Macey Malyon saw Jamie Phipps and Billy Hamlin’s men knock out their third higher-league side in their longest ever run in the competition, which is an amazing achievement for an amateur outfit.

Jamie Philpot scored two goals but couldn’t prevent Glebe losing 3-2 to Poole based outfit Hamworthy United.

Can the class of 2022 replicate Martin Larkin’s class of 2013 and get to Wembley Stadium for the Final?

“Everyone keeps mentioning that and I try not to think about it and I’m trying to look and go game-by-game, like I always do but what I do know is I’ve got a special group of players in there – and that is character,” said Styles.

“But I maintain nothing will make me happier to take that group in that changing room to give them something like that and give them that experience in their footballing careers – and even my staff to do that would be absolutely pheomininal but we’ve still got games to play yet but last sixteen in the country, what a hell of an achievement that is and we’re really happy with that.

“Now it’s down to me and (my assistant) Dan Morrin to get our heads to work to go again and we’re in the draw on Monday.  All we wanted today and all the chat beforehand was to be in that draw and we’re in that so Monday is a big day now and let’s see where it brings.  It will be nice to be at home and keep our fans local this time.”

Tunbridge Wells return to league action on Tuesday night with a trip to Gravesend to play bottom-three side Punjab United.

Chippie Sian’s side have banked 15 points from 20 games and are three points clear of the relegation zone.

“It’s the bread and butter, it’s the league, it’s what we’re in week-in-week-out so it’s what we know, so we’ve got to take the high from today into our league performances now,” added Styles.

Bridgwater United: Jake Viney, Ross Edwards, Jake Llewellyn, Mark Armstrong, Jordan Greenwood, Jacob Spence, Tom Llewellyn, George King (Harry Horton 75), Jack Taylor (Ryan Brereton 82), Sam Crumb (Michael Duffy 63), Morgan Williams.
Subs: Cameron Gauci, Harry Durrant, Adnan Hiroli, Sam Hedges

Goals:  Jack Taylor 7, 54

Booked:  Jake Llewellyn 76

Tunbridge Wells:  Aaron Lee-Wharton, Frank Griffin, James Nurden, Connor Pring (Jonathan Shea 82), Ryan Cheek (Josh Froggatt 68), Robbie Bissett, Kyron Lightfoot (Johnny Phillips 56), Jordan Wells, Richard Atkins, Harry Hudson, Regan Corke.
Subs: Jack Hope, Frankie Leonard, Matthew Gething

Goals: Harry Hudson 70, Robbie Bissett 90

Booked: Kyron Lightfoot 45, Jordan Wells 77, Robbie Bissett 89

Attendance: 336
Referee: Mr Paul Barber
Assistants: Mr David Lilly & Mr Adam Wilson
Fourth Official:  Mr Alastair Thomas