Semi-Final, 1st Leg ~ Saturday 28th March 2009
Venue: Mill Meadow, Chalfont St Peter, Buckinghamshire
Distance travelled: 48 miles
Listening to the radio on Saturday morning it was hard to believe that there were Semi-Finals of a national football competition taking place. The football planet inhabited by the big boys continued to spin like a dervish on its axis as the airwaves were filled with stories about the World Cup Qualifiers, Beckham's 109th cap, the League 1 and the League 2 fixtures. Sidelined in Surrey, I felt the need to check that the FA Vase last four games were still being played and could only imagine what the inhabitants of Chalfont St Peter, Glossop, Whitley Bay and Lowestoft were feeling as D-Day dawned.
Yet I needn't have worried. The sound of clicking turnstiles as we arrived at Meadow Mill, the tidy little ground of Chalfont St Peter, prodded at the relative tranquility of the Buckinghamshire surroundings. By the time the travelling blue and white army from Derbyshire had emptied themselves from vehicles into clubhouse, there was no doubting whatsoever there was an important game about to take place. It wasn't long before the first renditions of "Wemberleee! Wemberleee!" pierced the March air. This was game on. Once again, the FA Vase delivered another beauty; final score 3-3, it could have been 5-5 and a tie left delicately balanced with everything to play for in the 2nd Leg.
Strangely though, the game took quite some time to find a gear. The weather had a huge part to play, with a very strong (and cold) wind blowing down the length of the pitch. In the first half the home side had the advantage of the wind behind them, and Glossop struggled with their tactic of trying to hit their wide men using the long ball. The only incident of note in a scrappy first 15 minutes was a small hailstorm; I predicted a low scoring affair at this stage. Yes, I know, I am an idiot.
With the wind at their backs, Chalfont could afford to play a very high line; the visitors were caught offside on numerous occasions and Glossop's goalkeeper Ashlea Gotham failed to reach the halfway line with his kicks. Chalfont really had most of the possession and pressure and they opened the scoring on 21 minutes. A shot from the edge of the area was fired in, Gotham reacted well, but the ball fell to Charlie Strutton who prodded home. Glossop failed to string more than two passes together and were half a yard off the pace. The Glossop captain Dave Young struck a long range effort wide on 23 minutes, this being their first real sight of goal.
Chalfont played the conditions better; they managed to keep the ball on the floor and brought both wingers into play whenever possible, Terrell Lewis on the right having a particularly good game. Chalfont increased their lead on 32 minutes. A corner was dropped in right on top of Gotham at the near post, but the visiting keeper somehow contrived to drop the ball thus presenting the simplest tap in for Chalfont's skipper John Carroll.
Things didn't look promising for Glossop. The massed blue and white travelling support behind the goal had lost their pre-match fervour. The Hillmen were simply not at the races, being beaten by a quicker team and a stiff gale. Disappointingly, Glossop failed to change their approach and still tried the long ball into space behind the back line. The assistant referee's raised flag thwarted them over and over again. But then suddenly, out of nothing, Glossop managed to jam their foot in the door of a game that was closing shut on them. A well delivered corner from Jamie Kay was met with a thunderous diving header from Jay Gorton, right into the roof of the net. 2-1 with 5 minutes to half-time and Glossop had bagged a lifeline.
As the teams emerged for the second half one sensed that Glossop, playing with the wind, would now take control and it would be Chalfont St Peter who would struggle. But within 4 minutes of kick-off, The Saints had restored their two goal cushion. Once more, it was sloppy defending that allowed a Chalfont player to turn in the box and square the ball for Barry Brosnan to tuck a shot just inside Gotham's left-hand post.
This is just what Chalfont had needed and looked as if they would go on and dominate. Glossop, however, refused to rollover. The game opened up now; Glossop attacking with the wind at their backs and, at last, managing to get somewhere with their wide players exposing the home defence. Chalfont still looked dangerous and likely to add to their tally as they managed to break at pace on several occasions. Glossop were in a difficult position now. The next goal would be crucial and the visitors could not afford to concede again. Stick or twist? To Glossop's credit, they pushed on and took the game to Chalfont at every opportunity, in a brave attempt to try and get back into the tie.
On 59 minutes a mad scramble in front of the Chalfont goal saw the ball pushed away to Lewis, who continued to threaten. As he advanced on the Glossop goal, he was brought down. The resulting free-kick was blasted over the Glossop bar. A minute later Gotham horribly skewed a kick from a back pass; he was having a poor game. A Glossop fan behind me moaned "Glossop are not playing very well at all". I had to agree. The clock was ticking down and Chalfont looked as if they were going to hang on and take a welcome advantage into the 2nd Leg.
And, just as I thought that, Glossop were back in the game. That long ball to Hodges on the left, which had failed in the vast majority of the game, caught the Chalfont defence napping. This time, the assistant referee kept his flag down and Hodges ran onto the ball and with one touch coolly lobbed the very tall Mark Oliver in the Chalfont goal. The ball nestled into the net and Hodges continued running to the delighted Glossop fans behind that goal. If the game had ended there and then, with 73 minutes on the clock, I'm sure the travelling support would have happily taken a 3-2 scoreline back to Derbyshire.
But, quite amazingly, we were treated to a barn-storming conclusion to the game. With Chalfont's heads down, Glossop drew level with 11 minutes to go. Another long ball was the undoing of a tiring Chalfont rearguard and this time it was Tom Bailey who outpaced his marker to slot home. Dramatic stuff and Glossop were well and truly back in the tie.
But it didn't end there; both sides could have won it in a frenetic last couple of minutes. On 90 minutes, Bailey again broke through for Glossop only for Oliver in the Chalfont goal to get to the ball first. Up at the other now and Lewis sprinted down the right and Edward Chemial flashed a header inches wide. Edging into the 4th minute of added on time, the excellent Lewis again found space to cross, only for Chalfont's Adam Louth to blaze over. The last action of the game saw Glossop's Sam Hind reach the dead-ball line and cross into a swarm on on-rushing blue shirts. Some tired leg-swinging from the players in blue and some last ditch defending meant that Glossop were agonisingly denied a dramatic last ditch winner.
At the final whistle, the reaction of the Glossop players told its own tale; they stood to a man with their hands on their heads. They genuinely felt as if they could have won it at the end and it was Chalfont who probably came off the pitch the most relieved. For me, PB and Mackem, another marvellous afternoon's entertainment.
This was a very good game between two committed teams, but I must admit the atmosphere seemed a tad muted, even with such a large and enthusiastic crowd inside Mill Meadow. Maybe the strong wind carried the noise off over the hills? Perhaps the very open ground dampened the sound of the support? It is an understatement to say I am very much looking forward to the 2nd Leg at the more compact Surrey Street where there is everything to play for and where there promises to be an electric atmosphere in front of a sell out gate.
I'm sure this FA Vase has another helping of tension, nail biting action and excitement in store. Already the mind games have started; Danny Edwards (the Chalfont St Peter manager) has declared that Glossop "will be favourites so the pressure will be on them". The good news is this: there isn't long for us all to wait to find out.
11 hours ago