Slim margins separate defeat from victory. You may think, perhaps, that when that margin is three goals in a match that produced nine then this statement would not hold true; yet ten minutes before the end a home victory looked far from impossible, which made the final scoreline seem even more imbalanced.
The best side won. But this was far from a massacre.
A crowd of over six hundred crowded into the Community Stadium for this FA Vase 5th Round match between Crowborough Athletic and Coleshill Town. A considerable number had travelled down from Warwickshire, and they made their presence felt for the entire ninety minutes and undoubtedly had a marvellous time; but this was a match for the neutral. Any individual with a vested interest in the outcome, whatever their persuasion, would have chewed their fingernails down to their elbows by the time the referee blew the final whistle.
Both sides came into this match in impressive form. Crowborough had managed thirty two games unbeaten before a weakened side had lost to Newhaven in a local cup competition the previous Tuesday. Coleshill had seven straight victories to their credit. Both were also celebrating their best ever run in the FA Vase, a statistic which favoured the Crows, given they’d started their journey towards Wembley in the First Qualifying Round and as such (including a replay) had negotiated seven matches up to this point, as opposed to their opponents three. The natives were happy, their guests from the second city content too. Well, apart from the fact that FA rules had forced the closure of the home club’s corner flag bar, the Crow Arms. For shame- why can’t the governing body be doing something useful, like stopping Premier League teams from making ten changes in the FA Cup?
Coleshill exuded confidence from the off. A long ball out of defence saw Tom Boddy just manage to get in the way of Town striker Jordan Nadat in the very first minute, and only a minute later keeper Dan Ellis had to be quick off his line to smother just ahead of the same player following a wayward Wayne Clarke backpass. The away side obviously had a game plan which relied on them chasing down every ball quickly, and this worked well, allowing them to dominate the early exchanges.
Despite that, it was Crowborough who should have gone ahead in the 13th minute. Full back Clarke had been heavily employed defending his own goal when he finally got the opportunity to be a threat at the other end, curling a cross into the Coleshill box. Keeper Paul Hathaway came out to claim, but only succeeded in diverting the ball to the feet of the other Crows full back, Sam Crabb. Hathaway rushed out to block, but only managed to trip Crabb and the referee pointed without hesitation to the spot. Sam Carrington stepped up and stroked the ball left of centre, but Hathaway, who had already dived in that direction, managed to stop the ball with his legs before it was cleared.
The Crows were not downhearted, and did manage to take the lead five minutes later. Crabb was involved again, sending over an inviting cross which found Jack Turner unmarked to the left of the penalty spot. Turner had much to do, but arched his back and sent a pinpoint header wide of Hathaway into the corner of the net; the keeper hardly moving, although to his credit he’d have needed to be Stretch Armstrong to get near. Crows fans, who must have been slightly bemused to see their side quoted as fourth favourites for the competition prior to the game, were exultant. They remained exultant for a whole two minutes.
Town were quickly on the attack, and the ball pinballed around the Crows penalty area before the referee spotted a handball, seemingly by Jack Walder. It looked a little harsh, but striker Dean Rathbone didn’t care, and although Ellis came close to keeping it out the ball snuck into the corner to put the visitors level. Seven minutes later the referee was pointing to the spot again, but this time it was more clear cut as Clarke failed to control the ball just inside his own box, stretched out a leg, and connected only with the ankle of the continually impressive Robert Evans. Rathbone stepped up again, played the ball down the middle whilst Ellis dived for the corner, and put his side ahead.
The rest of the half saw the ball moved from end to end. Both number nines, former Margate and Maidstone Utd striker Zac Attwood for the Crows and leading scorer Nadat for Town, brought saves from Ellis and Hathaway. The away fans decided that it was rather like watching Brazil. It wasn’t, but it was certainly a feast of entertainment.
The second half started, as you might expect, with the home side pressing to get back into the match. Coleshill looked dangerous on the break, however, and so it proved as they extended their lead in the 58th minute, excellent work from Rathbone bamboozling the Crows defence and letting him get clear at the left hand side of the box, from where he was able to lay the ball back to the onrushing Reece Leek who sidefooted home.
The home side then brought on midfielder Henry Muggeridge; perhaps their most creative outlet during the season and a surprise omission from the starting line up. He immediately brought new impetus to his team and began to drive them forward, but that left them vulnerable and in the 67th minute they fell further behind. Tom Vickers perhaps dwelt too long on the ball whilst looking for the perfect pass, allowing Nadat to rob him and steam towards the box. He crossed, and there was Rathbone once more, unmarked and able to finish with aplomb to give his side a three goal cushion. Game over. Or at least it would have been without that man Muggeridge.
Three minutes later, with Crowborough once more pushing forward, Carrington was the victim of a clumsy foul on the edge of the box. Crabb and Attwood approached the ball, and indeed a number of the Crows faithful were calling for Crabb to take it, but it was Attwood (although initially the massed ranks of the press corps- both of us- put it down as Muggeridge) who stepped up, curling the ball expertly over the wall and beyond the keeper into the far corner. A thing of beauty may be a joy forever but the Crows had no time to look on admiringly, and continued to push forward, getting their reward as Carrington was the victim of yet another foul, this time deep in the Coleshill box. Vickers drove it home, and suddenly it was 3-4, with fifteen minutes to go.
The home pressure came in waves. In the 80th minute a foul on an overlapping Clarke down by the far corner flag saw the referee reaching for his pocket, and out came a second yellow followed by a red. Joshua Quaynor walked forlornly off, the Warwickshire warriors on the covered terrace choked on their rendition of Que Sera Sera, and the home faithful roared their approval. However within one minute it was the home fans who were choked, as another quick break saw Nadat fire home to restore a two goal cushion.
Crowborough continued to press, but were unable to gain a decisive breakthrough, and deep into added time another break saw Nadat beat Boddy to the ball and cross to substitute Dom Cotter, who fired home. “Wembley, Wembley,” sang the away support, and Coleshill headed deservedly into the last eight and a tie with fellow Midland League side Sporting Khalsa.
Just before kick off the Crowborough PA Announcer had treated us to a rousing anthem by US hip-hop act House of Pain. By 5PM the Community Stadium certainly resembled such a venue, but the Crows shouldn’t be downhearted- top of their league, a squad packed with talent, a new 3G pitch to be installed over the summer and a Sussex Senior Cup tie with Brighton and Hove Albion to come, they’ve everything to look forward to and every reason to be optimistic. But they won’t be the first Sussex Non League side to reach a Vase final; not this year, anyway.
Coleshill? Hard working, not lacking in skill or courage, full of confidence and with a forward line that knows where the goal is? They might have to beat the Northern powerhouse that is South Shields to be successful, but you wouldn’t want to bet against them. They certainly won’t be afraid of anybody now.
Crowborough Athletic 3 (Turner 18, Attwood 70, Vickers 75 (pen))
Coleshill Town 6 (Rathbone 21, 27 (both pens), 67; Leek 58, Nadat 81, Cotter 90+5)
FA Vase 5th Round
Saturday 28th January 2017
Crowborough Athletic: Ellis, Clarke, Crabb, Boddy, Turner, Vickers, Carey (Appiah, 64), Walder, Attwood, Carrington (Pearson 84), Treleaven (Muggeridge 59). Unused Subs: Shea, Smith.
Coleshill Town: Hathaway, Gonzales, Quaynor, Weale, Fishwick, Evans, Leek (Cotter 90), Milligan (Colbourne 90), Nadat, Rathbone, Dainty (Taylor 65). Unused Subs: Race, Cullen.
Referee: Gary Parsons.
Star Man: Dean Rathbone (Coleshill Town)
Match rating: 4/5
A (much, much) longer version of my report for the Non League Paper on Sunday 29th January.
Published on in Cup.