Herne Bay 2 - 3 AFC Wimbledon
At the end of my report from the Sandhurst game, I said that the Fizzers? fine display against the Dons, one which produced a workmanlike performance from our beloved team, would most likely prove to be a very handy workout indeed, with the "tough trip to Kent" the following week.
I don?t like to blow my own trumpet all that often, or indeed very loudly, but I couldn?t have been more right if I tried. A pitch so bumpy it would make the Pagham groundsman gasp, a less than inspired performance by players in crucial positions and an opposition who were determined not to leave the biggest crowd many of them had played in front of wondering who they were and why they?d bothered turning up all played a part in the most hard-fought victory the Dons have been forced to drum up since our first trip to Chipstead (or Whyteleafe to be exact) last December. The end result, a place in the second round proper of the FA Vase and a home tie against Franchise?s new near neighbours, Wootton Blue Cross, a team with 25% off but the sale must end this Saturday.
The unusual sight of an unchanged team emerging from changing rooms that wouldn?t have looked out of place on the set of Jewel in the Crown. Presumably the Calcutta Polo Club had willingly sold the gargantuan facilities to Herne Bay FC, but at what price. The building was bigger than Bedfont?s main stand. The palatial (on the outside at least) dressing rooms lead onto a pitch that can nicely be described as rutted, but it the Dons adapted to it?s uneven and unpredictable bounce far quicker than their hosts. Kevin Cooper twice controlled the bobbling ball and looked set to shoot after being set up by first Seb Favata and then Gavin Bolger, but Herne Bay defender Mick Heather?s pair of timely interventions stopped him in his tracks. Joe Sheerin had that determined look about him and was coming short to receive balls from the midfield, spraying
them out wide to Andy Sullivan and Ryan Gray and then trying to get himself on the end of the resulting cross. However, his efforts were in vain as neither wide man seemed capable of getting his foot under the ball with any success and every time an opportunity to cross came along, the first defender was able to clear. Herne Bay were not really in the game at this stage, but former Chipstead midfielder Peter Cirillo, who had played with Danny Oakins and Lee Sidwell at their previous club was becoming increasingly busy in the tackling department. With 14 minutes gone, he lost one to Bolger and the ball rolled out for a throw, some 28 yards out. Oakins launched huge effort into the box, a brief scramble ensued and Matt Everard turned sharply to fire past the scary-looking Hughes for his seventh goal of the season.
Just minutes later another long Oakins throw was missed by the collective throng on the edge of the six yard box and the ball rebounded off the near post for a goal kick. Hughes looked increasingly nervous as the half wore in, but as Herne Bay finally got a foothold in the proceedings he had less work to do. A Cooper snapshot was well saved at his near post but the Dons attacks were breaking down early, with Cooper in particular turning down blind alleys and surrendering possession.
The home side?s tricky striker Jones was starting to look lively, and their three five two formation was now causing the Dons problems, with left wing back Summers causing Steve Gibson problems he hadn?t previously encountered in his 14 game Dons career. Indeed it was a combination of Summers and Jones that brought about Herne Bay?s deserved equaliser. Gibson brought Jones down with a wild tackle that earned him a yellow card, and from Summers? free kick Matt Martin flapped, Oakins mis-directed a header and Cirillo was left with a simple header of his own and he made no mistake from six yards. A disappointing and in some ways unnecessary goal to concede, but on balance of play, 1-1 was a fair score-line.
During the half-time interval my son Finn complained of being unwell and wanting to go home. Trying to think of what it might have been that had caused him to feel so sick I glanced into our rucksack and discovered that he?d eaten three small packets of KitKat Kubes. I promised that we?d go home at the end of 90 minutes, regardless of the score, meaning we?d miss extra time. My gallant gesture (one I wasn?t even sure I?d honour if truth be told) began to feel like it wasn?t going to be necessary after only six minutes of the second half, when a lack of communication in the Herne Bay defence saw defender Lloyd heading blindly back to his keeper when had he had one eye open at least he would have spotted his keeper rushing towards him in an attempt to clear Everard?s through ball. Lloyd?s header bounced past Hughes and towards the goal, behind which the majority of the 1700 or so Dons fans were now literally packed. Those who missed what happened next in the ensuing surge, missed only Sheerin stooping to head into what was now an unguarded net. With the crowd behind them, surely it was only a matter of notching another couple of goals and progressing neatly into the next round.
If there was a script to be read, Herne Bay knew nothing of it. Everard, outstanding throughout, needed to be. Oakins, in just as good form as he was against Sandhurst, also needed to be. But Ryan Gray and Andy Sullivan apart, nobody else in yellow was. Dobinson had his shakiest game at full back, Gibson his, Favata and Bolger often outfought, Cooper guilty of dallying, Sheerin of not being able to be in two places at once. Changes needed to be made as Herne Bay found an unexpected reservoir of energy and instead of folding like a Chessington One or The Other, became stronger and fitter as the game flew past the hour mark. Cooper trotted off, Scott loped on. Nothing changed. Herne Bay got better, Jones got trickier and Cirillo and Cook were now completely on top of Bolger and Favata. It was no surprise when the home side equalised, but what was surprising was the quality of the strike. Jones? 35 yard dipping shot beating Martin all ends up and sparking an equally surprising reaction: wild celebration from the home fans. Where they had been for the previous 75 minutes was anyone?s guess, but here they were, celebrating a truly superb goal against the FA Vase favourites. More good play from Jones and Pollard set up a chance for Cook but his shot was charged down, but worryingly for the Dons, and for the first time this season, they were second best and under what for all intents and purposes was a cosh.
Would this be the day when the Dons finally lost (not counting Ilford, of course, which I don?t think even Terry Eames does)? In a word, no. In two words, Matt Everard. The idea of losing a game was not one that the Dons players liked very much, and with an almost tangible sense of indignation, to a man they raised their game. Scott and Sheerin, both fitter and more mobile than their markers Heather and Lloyd, finally looked like getting the better of them, and some neat moves involving almost every Dons player lead to some frantic defending by the home side. A short burst of penalty area ping pong saw Bolger?s shot headed off the line in spectacular fashion by Summers and shots rained in on Hughes goal seemingly every 30 seconds, but when Gray?s free kick from the edge of the box sailed over in the 90th minute, it looked as though extra time was nigh and a decision whether to be a football fan or a dad would have to be made. A horribly pale five year old clung to me like a limpet on a shipwreck, but I told him that there?d be a chance for us to win it in injury time. In reality I thought our chance to do so in 90 minutes was gone and that I?d have to hear about the additional 30 via the medium of txtmsgs from Gareth (not Ginge, my mate Gareth, the one who looks like Danny Mills).
With three minutes of injury time played I was zipping up the rucksack but looked up just in time to see the ball with Gray on the left wing. He jinked, he spun, he spun back, he beat his full back and chipped in a cross ? and there was Everard, leaping like the proverbial salmon, bending his neck and thumping a header towards goal in what must have been slow motion but probably wasn?t. Hughes got a hand to the ball but the power of Everard?s header meant that he wouldn?t have kept it out with a piece of 4x2. The Dons fans behind the goal went nuts, Herne Bay went out, and we do indeed have Matt Everard, as the song says. "I think Matt Everard knew that I wanted to go home" Finn said as I hosed the pool of chocolate coloured vomit from the pavement outside our house later that evening. Must have been a good day: a last minute winner from Matt,
a 6-0 defeat for Franchise and Finn waiting until we?d got out of the car to hurl. Now that's what I call a day out.
MAN OF THE MATCH: Matt Everard. You don?t need to ask why, whether you were there or not.