FA Cup Heartbreak for Blues
Grays lose out in five goal thriller, writes Charlie Skinner.
Grays lose out in five goal thriller, writes Charlie Skinner.
In the wake of Saturday’s 1-1 draw at Hertingfordbury Park, Grays Athletic welcomed fellow Bostik League North rivals, Hertford Town, to Parkside for the replay of the First FA Cup Qualifying round; the prize, a home draw against AFC Hornchurch in the second qualifying round.
One Blues change from Saturday’s fixture saw Suley Zuhdu come in for Joao Carlos, whose impact was immediate after he was fouled around 35 yards out from the Hertford Town goal. After a lofted Barry Cogan free kick, the ball fell kindly to Perry Dunn on the edge of the box and the towering GAFC centre half volleyed neatly into the bottom left corner past a sprawling Hertford goalkeeper. This was followed by ever-present chants of Dunn’s name from Blues fans behind the goal, clearly showing delight that their team had taken the lead just four minutes into the tie.
After chances saved by the Hertford ‘keeper from Ade Cole and Kiernan Hughes-Mason, a neat spell of play from Hertford’s free flowing midfield resulted in a Town free kick, twelve minutes into the game, in a threatening position. An excellent whipped free kick from Matthew Thompson was met by Tommy Wade, who got in front of a static Grays defender and powered a header into the top of a rooted Lamar Johnson’s net.
An exciting start to the replay continued with further Grays pressure on the Hertford Town defence following a pair of good saves after the usually clinical Kieran Bishop shot straight at the ‘keeper which was succeeded by a neat chip from Zuhdu over to the highly physical Jamie Slabber, whose left-footed shot was saved well despite the striker being disappointed by his effort. Yet the legendary Grays striker repaid his manager’s faith with his first competitive goal in his third spell at the club. Ryan Mahal’s superbly delivered cross from his right back position allowed Slabber to sneak in front of his marker and bullet a header into the top right corner past the helpless Town number one.
The Ath looked much more of a physical presence on Wednesday evening with Slabber and Zuhdu holding the ball up well and driving past defenders but Grays still squandered a series of good chances as Bishop saw one hit the post and another saved. Subsequently, a good corner delivery met Slabber’s head, yet a powerful header smashed against the crossbar and was cleared by the defence.
HT 2-1. An enthralling half of FA Cup football saw the home side head into the dressing room leading at half time, but unfortunately GAFC’s wasted chances were to be regretted.
Hertford Town started the second period well with some neat football between Charlie Ruff and Charlie Edwards resulting in a succession of corners and long range shots but none were to trouble the confident Lamar Johnson in goal for the Blues.
Suley Zuhdu added another dimension to the Grays midfield and another of his powerful, driving runs resulted with a neat ball threaded through to Hughes-Mason but he could not convert a fourth Blues one-on-one after the busy Charlie Mann saved the strike well.
The two Athletic centre backs, Perry Dunn and Glenn Wilson, won the majority of aerial duels throughout the game and Hertford were struggling to break down the GAFC back four. This led to one of Town’s many Charlies, in this instance Edwards, trying his luck from 30 yards out. The dynamic midfielder fired an absolute pile-driver past a sprawling Johnson into the top left postage stamp, 2-2.
This led to a cagey final 25 minutes as neither team wanted to exit the cup and forfeit a financially rewarding prize. Shortly after the goal, Slabber was replaced by Grays Athletic stalwart, Joao Carlos, coming on to make his 295th appearance for the club, but a subsequent spell of end-to-end play resulted in nothing for either team.
Shortly after, James Folkes came off the bench just 18 days after being stretchered off against Redbridge to replace skipper Barry Cogan in central midfield. This sparked a late flurry of chances for Grays to snatch the tie. Firstly, a well delivered free kick by Hughes-Mason was attacked in the air by Zuhdu, who could only head over the bar. This was succeeded a few minutes later by substitute Carlos, who found a small area of space on the edge of the box to strike the ball sweetly, with his favoured left foot, against the upright which ricocheted clear.
As the 90 minutes drew to a close, there was late controversy after Carlos was fouled by previously booked Hertford skipper Ollie Sharman in a dangerous position down the left wing. After a long conversation, the referee decided against showing a second yellow which unsettled the Athletic faithful. The resulting free kick was fizzed across the goal after another threatening Hughes-Mason delivery, yet no blue shirt could get the touch that it needed to be steered into the net.
FT 2-2. After an excellent 180 minutes of football between these two fairly evenly matched sides, the tie headed into extra time.
After a cagey start to extra time which saw Carlos get booked, Hertford substitute Dan Ferrigno seized his opportunity. A stunning solo goal saw him pick up the ball on the left hand touchline, cut inside, dodge challenges from tiring Grays midfielders, play a one-two with his team mate on the edge of the box and fire a bullet strike across Johnson into the bottom left corner from 20 yards out. This understandably sent the Hertford players and bench into delirium as they led for the first time in the tie, 3-2.
Grays’ continued attempts to keep their 2017/18 FA Cup story alive were diminished just before the end of the first half of extra time as Suley Zuhdu, who had been booked at the end of regular time, committed a sloppy foul in the middle of the park. This coincidentally saw Zuhdu given his marching orders by the referee who showed him his second yellow; the GAFC bench were left infuriated as they felt the challenge was not dissimilar to that of Sharman on Carlos which they felt he should’ve seen red for at the end of normal time.
The second half of added time allowed the Blues to recuperate and this was evident through a number of good chances. Firstly, a blistering run down the left wing by Carlos ended in his strike flashing across the Hertford goal followed by another Carlos shot blocked after it falling to him succeeding a Grays corner.
As desperation set in, the Blues continued to threaten Hertford’s resolute defence as a long free kick, taken by goalkeeper Johnson, saw his fellow number one drop the ball at the feet of Carlos whose shot was blocked off the line and deflected kindly back into Town’s ‘keeper Charlie Mann’s thankful hands. Another long free kick saw the unlikely goal source of Glenn Wilson’s header blocked off the line and in a last ditch attempt another free kick and Wilson header fell to Bishop who finally found the back of the Hertford net, only to find one of his teammates had been ruled offside.
After a valiant effort from the hosts, the referee’s whistle signalled the end of Grays Athletic’s FA Cup story for this season and an end to this thrilling tie which gripped both sets of fans over 210 minutes of high quality football.
This coming Saturday sees the Blues back in Bostik League North action as they face newly promoted Barking FC away and attempt to carry on their previous league form after a win against landlords Aveley last time out.