VCD Athletic 1 Tunbridge Wells 1 (EXCLUSIVE INTERVIEWS)
VCD ATHLETIC 1
Martin Driscoll 20
TUNBRIDGE WELLS 1
Sam Phillips 75
Stephen McCartney reports from Harrow Meadow
Kentish Observer League Cup Group C
VCD Athletic and Maidstone United booked their places in the quarter-finals of the Kentish Observer League Cup following Thursday night’s draw at a muddy Harrow Meadow.
Vickers’ skipper Martin Driscoll header - his fourth goal of the season - against the run of play - following Stuart Abbott’s right-footed free kick from the left gave the home side the lead after 20 minutes, despite the visitors playing some good football.
However, things could have been different had Dave Hassett’s goal stood three minutes earlier. The ginger haired leading goalscorer was denied his ninth goal of the season when he fired into the bottom right hand corner after latching onto Adrian Hatcher’s through ball, but the goal was ruled out for offside.
Another Hatcher pass gave the visitors another chance but former Sevenoaks Town right-sided player Wayne Balmer drove a shot that lacked conviction and rolled to goalkeeper Grant Wallace.
VCD, who look forward to a home game against league leaders Beckenham Town on Saturday, created several good chances either side of the interval.
The impressive Abbott went close with a right-footed 25-yard free kick, which dipped just over John Whitehouse’s crossbar, and James Brown should have done better following a pass from burly striker Richard Dimmock, making a return to the club following his transfer from Ryman League side Cray Wanderers.
VCD, who needed just one point from their last two group matches to qualify for the last eight, went close early in the second half when former Dartford midfielder Mark Horan’s stinging drive took a deflection off the advancing Sam Phillips and flew over the bar.
Dimmock then drove wide but he sent Mark Greatorex on his way down the right flank, and after cutting inside, his cross was met by Alan Owen who fired wide.
Hatcher sent a looping header over the bar following Bradley Mortimer’s corner from the left hand side for the visitors just before the hour mark.
Their second chance of the half came from a long range effort from Hatcher, which he blazed over, after former Tonbridge Angels’ striker Joe Fuller played the ball back to him after his route towards goal was blocked inside the penalty area.
However, the good football they played earlier in the game brought them level with 15 minutes left.
Two substitutes, Sam D’Arcy and Chris Stoate played a key part in the move and Stoate laid the ball off to Phillips to rifle the ball into the roof of the net inside the near post to score his first goal of the season.
VCD, however, went for the kill and unmarked substitute Paul Foley came the closest to scoring the winner but he headed Abbott’s hanging cross wide.
Martin Ford was pleased his side had qualified for the last eight of the competition - with one game spare.
“With the team line-up a bit different from what we’ve been, the emphasis tonight was to give everybody a game,” he said. “Yes, we’ve got a point, which was what we set out to get and we’re delighted to be through to the quarter-finals.”
Looking ahead to league leaders Beckenham Town on Saturday, Ford hopes the muddy pitch at Greenwich Borough’s Harrow Meadow ground will put off their talented visitors, who are used to playing on a bowling green at Eden Park Avenue.
“I just said to the grounds man leave the pitch exactly as it is,” said Ford.
“No-one talks about us winning it, and we could go second if we win our games in hand.”
Tunbridge Wells manager Martin Farnie, meanwhile, admitted he will field his strongest team in their last group game at Deal Town later in the month.
A dejected Farnie said: “A bit disappointed really that we’ve come up here and just gone out on a whimper really.
“We tried three up front to give it a real go as the draw was no good to us today. We’re out of the competition now so that’s us finished. We’ve got a nothing game at Deal a week on Saturday.”
Farnie, however, revealed he will be handing blonde central defender Gary Hemens his debut when Erith & Belvedere visit Culverden Stadium on Saturday.
Farnie explained why he signed the player from local rivals Maidstone United earlier in the week.
“I’ve got suspensions coming up and he’s a quality player,” he said.
Former Ashford Town midfielder Aaron O’Leary is also in the squad following his lengthy injury lay-off.
VCD Athletic: Grant Wallace, Terry Murphy, Clayton Probetts, Mark Horan, Martin Driscoll (Capt), Lee Coburn, Stuart Abbott, James Brown (Paul Foley 77), Richard Dimmock, Mark Greatorex (Ashley Probetts 75), Alan Owen. Sub: David Hunt
Tunbridge Wells: John Whitehouse, Jason Bourne (Capt), Bradley Mortimer, Adrian Hatcher, Ben Hilden, Wayne Balmer (Sam D’Arcy 57), Sam Phillips, Andy Garrett, Dave Hassett, Joe Fuller, Alex Rich (Chris Stoate 57). Sub: Jamie Jeffrey
Referee: Mr Ian Fastened (Gravesend)
Assistants: Mr Gary Tomsett (Whyteleafe) & Mr Rob Preedy (St Paul’s Cray)