Tonbridge Angels 3 Dover Athletic 2 Falana: I'm a lucky omen in play-off finals - EXCLUSIVE
TONBRIDGE ANGELS 3
Jon Main 17
Fraser Logan 22
Wade Falana 73
DOVER ATHLETIC 2
Nick Humphrey 76
Anthony Hogg 86
Stephen McCartney reports from the Betterview Longmead Stadium
RYMAN LEAGUE DIVISION ONE PLAY-OFF FINAL
Wade Falana admitted he is “a lucky omen” in play-off finals after helping Tonbridge Angels book their return to the Ryman Premier League at the first attempt.
The much-travelled target man scored Bromley’s first goal in their 3-1 play-off final win at Horsham twelve months ago, but having headed Tonbridge into a 3-0 lead after 73 minutes he was booked for ripping off his shirt in celebration.
But just four minutes later the 36-year-old was sent off for using his elbows as he jumped up for the ball and this helped Dover Athletic to pull back two dramatic late goals through former Tonbridge pair, Nick Humphrey and Anthony Hogg.
However, just like 12 months ago at Queen Street, a penalty miss was the deciding factor.
With the score 0-0 at the time, Horsham’s Lee Carney had his 21st minute penalty saved by the highly-rated Bromley goalkeeper Andy Walker before Falana brought the house down with the Kent side’s opening goal just five minutes later.
Tonbridge, however, were comfortably leading 2-0 with Jon Main’s 25th goal of his season (20 of them for Cray Wanderers) and a deflected cross from Fraser Logan before Cambridgeshire referee Mr Paul McCaul pointed to the spot following Alex O’Brien’s 61st minute handball.
Falana, however, delayed the taking of the penalty kick, by making sure the Dover players knew what he thought of the decision.
But Tommy Tyne - in for 28-goal striker James Dryden (knee) - saw his right-footed penalty strike the foot of the right post to the delight of the Tonbridge faithful.
The passionate crowd of 1,853 was the highest crowd to watch a Ryman League Division One match this season.
And it was the highest ever crowd to watch a competitive match since the club’s move to Longmead Stadium in 1980.
A Crowd of 1,483 watched Yeovil Town progress into another FA Cup first round tie at this ground in October 1991.
It took ten minutes for the first chance of the game but following Chris Chase’s cross from the left former Angel Craig Wilkins drove just past the near post.
But Tonbridge took the lead seven minutes later when Main scored his second goal in as many games.
The former Cray Wanderers’ striker latched onto Jerome John’s long clearance, burst past two defenders before rolling a left-footed shot into the bottom far corner from 12-yards to send the home fans wild.
John acrobatically tipped over Wilkins’ meaty header just three minutes later before the flying Angels doubled their lead after 22 minutes.
Fraser Logan, some 25-yards from goal, sent in a low cross, which glanced off Tony Browne’s leg inside the penalty box to find the bottom far corner.
Main’s pace caused Tooting & Mitcham United problems during the Angels’ 2-0 win over Tooting & Mitcham United in last Monday’s semi-final, following Ray Powell’s sending off just before half-time.
Tonbridge fans were fearing the worse with the loss of their 13-goal striker, but Falana stepped into his shoes, frightening the Whites’ defence with his ability in the air.
Tonbridge, meanwhile, should have been promoted after 36 minutes when Luke Piscina - whose return to the side in March has assisted their promotion success - spread the ball out to Main on the left, and after bursting past the Dover’s defence his 16-yard shot across goal was blocked by Darren Smith.
Dover Athletic rely too much on set pieces and hurling the ball into the penalty area from Craig Cloke’s arms and this method gave Dover a chance after 57 minutes but Tyne’s looping header agonisingly dropped onto the roof of the net and rolled down the back of the new set of goal-nets.
John then saw Chase’s 25-yard drive flash just past his near post before Tonbridge netted their third - and decisive goal - with 17 minutes remaining.
Logan, who missed Bromley’s play-off final win as his loan spell from Lewes had expired on the eve of the match, sent over a cross from the left and Falana was on hand to power home the header to score his third goal of his season.
Moments later Dover boss Clive Walker made a double substitution, bringing on Michael Smissen and Hogg, and within three minutes they clawed a goal back when Humphrey glanced Spiller’s header into the bottom far corner.
Within a minute, Falana was given his marching orders and Dover sent ball after ball high into the Angels’ penalty area.
And when Hogg drove a 20-yard shot into the same corner as Humphrey did, it was nail biting stuff and had Dover found the net for a third time it would have been Clive Walker’s men celebrating promotion because they would have had the momentum to go on and win the game in extra-time.
But Tonbridge Angels can relish joining Ramsgate and Horsham in the Ryman Premier League next season.
Falana, meanwhile, had the same proud smile on his face as he did in the Horsham sunshine 12 months ago.
“I think I’m a lucky omen in these play-offs - I’m really happy,” he said after the game.
He explained why he was sent-off. “The first one with the celebration I took my top off so that’s a mandatory yellow card and the second one the referee said I’m learning with my elbows on one of their centre halves when I went aerial up with him so two bookables means a red so I had to walk.
“But it’s all worthwhile, we’ve been promoted so I’ll take that.”
Reflecting on the game, he said: “Backs against the wall the last five minutes weren’t it? Three-nil up, looking comfortable and that we were going to coast it out, they’ve got one as soon as I’ve got one, three-one up, then they’ve made a game of it. But we held out with ten men - overall we deserved it.”
Unlike Horsham, Tonbridge made home advantage count. Falana added: “It was a good advantage finishing in third because we had the home advantage. I’ll be honest with you if we had to play at Dover it would be really hard to get a result.
“Finishing third in the league turned out to be a blessing in disguise and I think we deserved it.”
Falana was pondering retirement this time last year, but after a change of heart decided to give it another season. Surely he cannot retire after another day like this?
“I keep saying I’m going to retire but when you can go to places like Wimbledon and Bromley next year - I know I’ll get a good reception at Bromley - so I’ll have a little rest in the summer.
“I’m going to have to think about things and weigh up the pros and cons and see how it goes.
“I’ve got to look at retirement in the next couple of years so I don’t know. I’m going to enjoy tonight and think about it in the summer.”
Victory was sweet for Logan, the 21-year-old Scott, having been forced to sit out Bromley’s success last year.
He said: “It just feels great to do it two years in a row but it’s a lot better this season because I couldn’t play in the final last season because my loan was up the day before with Bromley so I had to sit in the stands and watch it.”
Logan, who set up Tonbridge’s third goal, admitted his team-mates just wanted to hear the final whistle as they defended raid after raid following Dover’s second goal.
He said: “Once we got that third everyone’s thinking it’s over and once they got that first goal everyone started to drop back a little bit and when they got the second we just wanted the final whistle to go. It was amazing when it was all over.
“I felt the third place helped us a lot. The home advantage over the last couple of games helped us through.”
For player-boss Tony Dolby, the graft over the 70 games (including pre-season friendlies) was worthwhile.
“It was hearts in the mouth time in the last five minutes but got the desired result and that was all the mattered,” he said after the game.
“I think it means everything,” he added. “We’ve been gearing up for this all season long. We’ve worked our socks off all year from the tea lady right through to the chairman and I think we’ve got our just rewards today.”
Reflecting on the game, he said: “It was very different from most games I’ve played in. I thought at 3-0 we were very much in control, played some good stuff and never looked we were going to get hurt.
“They obviously had a danger from set pieces, but all in all I thought we were ok and all of a sudden Wade gets sent off, we concede two goals, two well taken goals by Dover to be fair, and then it was a matter of hanging on for the last seven or eight minutes or so. But we got there in the end.”
But for Clive Walker and his battered troops, they’ve got a lot of thinking to do in the summer months.
He does, however, have a message for his fans and board, who think they don’t deserve to be in the Ryman League first division. “You belong where you are. I mean it’s allright saying we don’t belong anywhere. We ‘ere. We ‘ere for certain factors over many years.
“It annoys me in certain respects but we’ve at least stopped the rot. We’ve at least starting to build a side here.
“We wanted to go up this year. We didn’t. So it’s going to be next year. If not next year, the year after.... There will be some time this club will go back to its roots.”
But he was proud of his players for getting the club into the play-off lottery, when all seemed lost several weeks back.
“We came to this situation because we’ve drawn too many matches this season. Simple as that really,” he said. “We gave it a go, we was 3-0 down, got it back to 3-2, missed a penalty - I call that fate.
“I’m proud of the boys to be honest for the whole season with so many ups and downs, with the injures and everything else.
“If I get my strongest team out it’s a force against anyone but there you go. That’s life you have to deal with it.”
Walker explained why Tyne took their 61st minute penalty. “He’s took one before. To be fair to him I can’t moan. Tommy Tyne has picked the ball up, nobody else volunteered to do it. He’s picked the ball up - full credit for him for that.”
* Meanwhile, Julian Leigh’s reserve side can cap of a marvellous season for the Longmead Stadium outfit when they travel to Burnham on Monday in the Suburban League Shield Final (7:30pm).
Don’t forget his side are twenty games unbeaten and have already clinched the Kent Intermediate Cup following their convincing 4-0 win at Gravesend & Northfleet last month.
Tonbridge Angels: Jerome John, Drew Watkins (Mike Cramp 45), Fraser Logan, Lew Watts, Steve Aris, John Beales, Luke Piscina (Danny Lye 80), Alex O’Brien, Jon Main (Jay May 90), Wade Falana, Tony Dolby
Subs: Steve Sodje, Danny Powell.
Sent off: Wade Falana 77
Dover Athletic: Darren Smith, Anthony Brown, Dave Clifford (Daniel Braithwaite 57), Tom Hickman, Craig Cloke, Nick Humphrey, Sam Vallance (Anthony Hogg 73), Lee Spiller, Craig Wilkins, Tommy Tyne (Michael Smissen 73), Chris Chase.
Subs: Dale Skelton, Tim Austen
Referee: Mr Paul McCaul (St Ives, Cambridgeshire)
Assistants: Mr Tim Wood (Hucclecote, Gloucestershire) & Mr Martin Hancock (Tipton, West Midlands)
Fourth Official: Mr Richard Beevor (Norwich)