Larkfield & New Hythe 2-3 Epsom & Ewell - The lads are devastated but if you can't defend corners properly you're going to get punished at any level, says gutted Larkfield & New Hythe boss Kris Browning

Saturday 11th September 2021
Larkfield & New Hythe 2 – 3 Epsom & Ewell
Location The Community Stadium, 251a New Hythe Lane, Larkfield, Maidstone, Kent ME20 6PU
Kickoff 11/09/2021 15:00

The Buildbase FA Vase First Qualifying Round
Saturday 11 September 2021
Stephen McCartney reports from New Hythe Lane

LARKFIELD & NEW HYTHE manager Kris Browning says his players’ were feeling devasted after falling victim to a smash-and-grab raid by Epsom & Ewell as their FA Vase debut ended in a heartbreaking last-gasp defeat.

Larkfield & New Hythe were in a commanding position when striker Caine Smith and right-winger Hicham Akhazzan gave them a comfortable 2-0 lead but Clive Gartell’s side showed enormous character to snatch an unlikely victory at the end.

Epsom & Ewell’s three-headed goals were timed at 44:07, 45:43 and 47:46 to send them through to a home tie against Mile Oak in two weeks’ time, as Tommy Smith, Jordan Martin and Ellis Cormack scored to seal the deal.

“We’re absolutely gutted (losing it) towards the end there but we had chances to clear the three crosses, three set-pieces,” admitted Browning.

“We’re gutted, of course, it was a bolt out of the blue. I thought we dominated the game for 85 minutes, 87 minutes. The lads are devastated in there but it’s one of those things.  If you can’t defend corners properly you’re going to get punished at any level.”

Larkfield & New Hythe went into this First Qualifying Round tie in fourth-place in the Southern Counties East Football League First Division table with four wins and two draws from their eight league outings.

The home side were without centre-half Stuart West, who was serving a one-match suspension, while right-back Sam Welch and striker Charlie Smith were given permission to attend a stag-do.

Epsom & Ewell were also in fourth-place in their division, the Southern Combination League Division One (the Sussex County League in old money), with five wins and a draw from their eight games.

Both sides enjoyed spells of possession during the opening exchanges before Larkfield & New Hythe started to dominate proceedings after 15 minutes.

A strong tackle from Jake Beecroft on Cormack saw the home side win the ball in midfield before Caine Smith drove towards the Epsom & Ewell penalty area before laying the ball into Ellis Green, whose right-footed angled drive was comfortably saved by visiting keeper Matthew Bishop into his midriff at his near post.

Epsom & Ewell had a goal chalked off for offside in the 21st minute, following a set-piece.

Josh Uzun floated the ball into the Larkfield & New Hythe penalty area and assistant referee James Grimley flagged before Cormack knocked the ball across the face of goal and Jamie Byatt tapped the ball into the net.

Bishop was called into action just before the half-an-hour mark after Caine Smith was tripped by Cormack.

Right-back Chris Webber’s free-kick was punched away by Bishop, who commanded his penalty area, and Green put the ball back into the box where Caine Smith’s far post half-volley from the corner of the six-yard box was tipped around the post by the visiting keeper.

Poor goalkeeping from Larkfield & New Hythe’s Nathan Carter should have given Epsom & Ewell the lead.

Cormack’s ball along the deck should have been gathered by the calling keeper but he failed to pick up the rolling ball and winger Cory Rose went to pieces inside the box as his square pass towards striker Byatt was intercepted and the home side escaped.

That mistake ensured Carter lost his confidence and he almost gifted Epsom & Ewell the lead in the 34th minute.

Carter’s poor kick opened the door for Byatt, who charged towards the penalty area before a superb last-ditch tackle from centre-half Lewis Mingle got his goalkeeper out of jail.

“He’s been decent for us, Nathan. He had a bit of a sticky patch but he recovered quite well, which we were looking for,” said Browning.

“Lewis Mingle has been brilliant for us since we put him centre-half. He’s been absolutely brilliant for us.”

Brett Ince, who has scored four goals for Larkfield & New Hythe this season, drilled a left-footed free-kick into the side netting from 35-yards, before Green’s pass forward allowed winger Jake Bates to put in a cross from the left and Caine Smith’s flicked shot at the near post was cleared off the line.

There was a flashpoint just before the break when Caine Smith lunged in with a bad challenge on Epsom & Ewell left-back Tariq Straker, who reacted and pushed over Smith.

Referee Zac Moules booked the pair of them and refused to issue Caine Smith a second yellow card early in the second half for a bookable foul on Byatt just outside the home side’s penalty area, which should have reduced the home side down to 10 men.

The referee also refused to award Epsom & Ewell a clear-cut penalty when Jack Clark clearly fouled Uzun within the left-hand side of the penalty area in the build-up to the home side’s counter-attacking second goal.

With the quality of footballer vastly improving in the two divisions of the Southern Counties East Football League due to the investment put in by its member clubs, the standard of the match officials sadly isn’t up to the same level and nothing ever gets done about it!

Epsom & Ewell were to be denied on the stroke of half-time when five-goal Uzun stroked his right-footed free-kick towards the far corner from 30-yards, which Carter clawed the ball onto his post and Mingle reacted to scoop the ball over his own crossbar and behind for the first of five Epsom & Ewell corners.

Browning said: “I thought first-half was quite even, anyone could have gone into the lead.  Obviously, we were sloppy in areas but they didn’t take advantage of it.  We had a couple of good chances. I think it was even-Steven at half-time, which I was happy with.”

Larkfield & New Hythe created their first opening of the second half after only 20 seconds.

Beecroft’s fine low through ball split open centre-half Tommy Smith to put Caine Smith in behind a static defence and he cut the ball back for an unmarked Green to smack his volley, which keeper Bishop did well to tip onto his post.

Browning added: “He made some great saves, yes, he made some great saves.  We started very well. We dominated the second half, what else can we say? They hit us with three goals in the last five minutes.”

Green clipped a diagonal pass which released Bates down the left and he put over a left-footed cross towards the near post where Akhazzan got in behind to flick his shot rolling across the keeper and into the bottom far corner albeit from an offside position.

Then came another controversial moment as Uzun went down inside the penalty area and Larkfield & New Hythe broke away to deservedly take a 52nd minute lead.

Green initially trod on the ball inside the centre-circle but kept his composure to slip the ball in between the two centre-halves (Jordan Martin and Tommy Smith) to put Caine Smith through on goal and the ball sat up for him to stroke his left-footed shot across the keeper and into the bottom far corner from 16-yards to score his second goal of the season and the club’s first goal in the FA Vase.

“Very good finish from Caine. He deserved that with all of his work-rate today and it’s the first time Ellis Green and Caine have played up front together so they were chucked in together today because we’ve got Charlie Smith out so I thought they complimented each other really well up there,” said Browning.

Ince, now playing as a holding midfielder, clipped a diagonal to put Green in behind visiting right-back Louis Chin and he was sent to the ground by Bishop, who rushed outside his penalty area but a yellow card was the right decision as Green was running towards the corner flag than the goal.

Green stroked his resulting right-footed free-kick towards the bottom far corner from 30-yards, the ball bouncing just in front of the keeper, who dived to his left to push behind for a corner in the 59th minute.

Larkfield & New Hythe were miles better than Epsom & Ewell and they really needed a second goal to kill the game off.

Webber put in a low cross from the right and Caine Smith turned his man inside the D and stroked his shot towards the bottom far corner, which forced Bishop to dive to his right to grab hold of the ball.

The turning point of the game, meanwhile, came in the final 17 minutes when Larkfield & New Hythe missed a sitter on the counter-attack.

Martin lost possession of the ball in midfield and Green charged forward and put it on a plate for an unmarked Ince, who lashed his shot over the crossbar when aiming for the top right-hand corner just 12-yards out.

Epsom & Ewell weren’t creating much in an attacking sense but their three substitutions made an impact for their comeback.

Chin played a free-kick short to Tre Trowers in the middle, who played the ball back out to Chin, who whipped in a cross and the ball came back out to Trowers, who lashed his first time shot looping high over the goal from 20-yards.

Larkfield & New Hythe seemingly had won the game by finally scoring their second goal, through route-one football, with 11 minutes left.

Keeper Carter launched a big kick straight down the middle of the pitch, Green flicked the ball on to put Akhazzan through on goal and he kept his composure to slot past Bishop to score another one-v-one goal.

“It was a good finish. I think if we defended then we go on to win the game.  We just don’t give them any chances and we go on to win the game,” said Browning.

However, Epsom & Ewell found some belief from somewhere and Larkfield & New Hythe lost their heads as the Surrey side used theirs, helped by home goalkeeper Carter not commanding his six-yard box on all three occasions.

Substitute winger Luke Miller put two sublime inswinging corners from the left, right on the money and Tommy Smith’s near-post header flew into the net over a crowded goal-mouth to give what seemed like a consolation goal at the time.

“We weren’t expecting that, no one expected that did they? It was just freak,” admitted Browning on his side’s last-gasp capitulation.

“We haven’t defended the first corner well, which the lads have said it wasn’t a corner but you’ve still got to defend it and credit to Epsom & Ewell, they’ve popped up and put the ball in the net twice from corners.”

Daytroy Thomas was then released down the right and played the ball inside to Miller, who pulled the trigger on the edge of the box and two home players put their bodies on the line to ensure the ball looped over the crossbar.

Miller’s second corner, the away side’s fourth of the game, was also on the money and this time central midfielder Cormack’s header flew in off the underside of the crossbar.

Browning said: “He’s put some decent balls in there and we’ve just haven’t defended it well.

“It was a similar goal, again, we’ve not picked up. I think we were on our heels and he’s popped up there with another header.

“I think when they were on the front foot like that, the lads were shattered, the lads were on their knees so I was trying to galvanise them.”

All FA Vase ties other than the final go straight to a penalty shoot-out when games are level after 90 minutes but Epsom & Ewell snatched victory when Larkfield & New Hythe’s defenders went missing.

Straker was given space on the left to whip in a great cross with his left-foot towards the far post where an unmarked Cormack buried his header past Carter inside the right-hand corner of the net to win it with inside injury time.

Browning said: “We had a chance to clear, we’ve under cleared it and it’s gone out wide and then another decent ball has come into the box and we haven’t picked up again and he wins the game for them.

“Obviously, we’re disappointed to concede three goals at the end in five minutes.  I think it was one of our best performances of the season but like I’ve said to them in there, we’ve got a young goalkeeper, youngsters at the back. We have just got to learn from these mistakes. I don’t think it went wrong. I just think they got in the game, we haven’t defended set-pieces that well.

“I thought we played well in large periods of the game. It’s just at the end there, it's just three set-pieces and they’ve gone away into the next round.

“We’ve got to learn from that, take that and work on it and just make sure we’re better organised with set-pieces in the future.”

Back in 2004, Epsom & Ewell finished bottom of a 24-team division in the Isthmian League Division One South, playing against the likes of Bromley, Dulwich Hamlet and Tooting & Mitcham United, while Larkfield & New Hythe were runners-up in the Kent County League Division Two West.

This is the first time that the club are competing in the FA Vase and are now in the tenth-tier of English football for the first time, after playing two levels lower in the Kent County League Division One Central & East last season, where they played eight games before the season was curtailed.

Browning said: “It was our first time in the Vase. It’s been a great occasion for the club. We’re disappointed with the result but it just goes to show how far this club has come in two years.  You’ve seen the crowd (187) we’ve had here today, so we’re just bitterly disappointed but the occasion and everything else, I think the lads worked their socks off. It’s just they’re disappointed with the result.”

Larkfield & New Hythe welcome Stansfeld – who beat Bagshot 3-1 in The FA Vase today – to New Hythe Lane next weekend.

Croydon are top with 19 points from eight games, while Stansfeld (17 points from seven games); Sutton Athletic (15 points from five games); Larkfield (14 points from eight games) and Bridon Ropes (13 points from six games) follow.

Browning admits he has to pick his players up ahead of the game against Billy Hamlin and Jamie Phipps’ side.

He said:  “Well, we’ve just got to digest this one today and then we go again. We’ll brush ourselves down as my sides always do, me and the management will brush ourselves down starting from tonight and then we’ll look forward to training on Tuesday and then we’re back next Saturday. That’s the only way that we can do it.”

Larkfield & New Hythe: Nathan Carter, Chris Webber, Tom Willoughby, Jake Beecroft, Lewis Mingle, Jack Clark, Jake Bates, Caine Smith (Lee Delf 71), Brett Ince, Hicham Akhazzan (Harry Taylor 83).
Subs: Archie Deal, Ollie Ruler, Scott Andrews

Goals: Caine Smith 52, Hicham Akhazzan 79

Booked: Chris Webber 40, Caine Smith 43, Jake Bates 57, Jack Clark 77

Epsom & Ewell: Matthew Bishop, Louis Chin, Tariq Straker, Ellis Cormack, Jordan Martin, Tommy Smith, Adam Grant, Joe Richardson (Daytroy Thomas 80), Jamie Byatt, Josh Uzun (Tre Trowers 65), Cory Rose (Luke Miller 65).
Subs: Aimen-Kamel Salmi, Steven Springett, Alex Penfold

Goals: Tommy Smith 89, Jordan Martin 90, Ellis Cormack 90

Booked: Josh Uzun 39, Tariq Straker 43, Matthew Bishop 57

Attendance: 187
Referee: Mr Zac Moules
Assistants: Mr Danny Roberts & Mr James Grimley