WHAT a game! It is encounters such as this which make all the disappointment and frustration in football worthwhile (unless you are the losing team of course). The two halves of this game were as different as chalk and cheese – first half the Fizzers making the most of two shots on goal and comfortably containing an unenterprising and leaden Guildford; second half City putting their opponents to the sword (and in truth Sandhurst can count themselves lucky not to have lost by a greater margin). The final ten minutes saw drama in spades as first Corey Knight pounced to level the scores and then, just seconds from the final whistle, Danny Elgar coolly fired home a penalty to give the Surrey side all three points.
This game really was D-Day as far as players and supporters were concerned, a vital three points to consolidate the impressive win against Chessington and Hook ten days before. The attendance was outstanding, Sandhurst bringing a good contingent down and some new Guildford fans giving their local side a try. The tannoy system finally sparked into life as well, thanks to the efforts of Matts Howell and Brown and at last we could try and generate some atmosphere (although I somehow managed to put on the cheesiest selection of songs ever – Bonnie Tyler being one of the main offenders although ‘holding out for a hero’ was perhaps an apt title given the way the evening panned out). The omens seemed bad just before kick off however as it was revealed that impressive keeper Jack Smelt was having a trial at Gillingham and could not get back in time, luckily he was ably represented by Carshalton keeper Richard Stroud, whom Kevin Rayner managed to draft in as a last minute replacement.
The match kicked off and for ten minutes or so it looked like Guildford were picking up where they left off in the previous game. In fact they should have scored: a superb bullet header being pushed over the bar by an equally impressive reflex save from Fizzers keeper Asen Agov. Yet this was City’s only chance of the entire half as they were gradually stretched to breaking point by Sandhurst and particularly their lively central pairing of Mark Corbett and James Mepham. In truth we had all believed City to be capable of beating anyone but as their opponents pushed forward, the confidence seemed to drain from them. Sandhurst were not creating many clear cut chances but the home side were on the back foot and increasingly unable to clear their lines; there was little surprise therefore when Sandhurst notched their first goal in the 20th minute. An impressive passing move around the static City defence culminated in Danny Wilde knocking an easy pass across the face of goal for Corbett to slot home. Guildford tried to get to get back into the game but even pacey Harrison Carnegie was unable to get behind the back four and time after time he was crowded out and possession reclaimed by the visitors. Around the half hour mark Sandhurst had a good chance to extend their lead but curled a freekick just over the bar before sealing their dominance 4 minutes from time. The ball was ping ponging between players in the midfield and a lucky rebound fell to Corbett who used his pace to devastating effect, tearing down City’s left wing before cutting inside and firing a wonderful shot from the edge of the box over Stroud and into the top corner. Guildford were hanging on now and it was a huge relief when the referee blew for half time.
Not surprisingly the atmosphere was pretty miserable in the clubhouse during halftime but at least one person had reason to be happy – Bryan the kit man finally winning the golden goal competition after umpteen attempts! Strangely, Shahid seemed calm and collected and assured me that City would ‘come back in the second half’. Meanwhile the man with apparently supernatural powers (in addition to Sir Lagerlot – see below) – Doug – had made his first return to Guildford this season, “I’ll have to go and get my magic dust for the second half” he joked (that’s metaphorical dust by the way)! Finally to try and cheer myself up I engaged in conversation with Tony, and wished I hadn’t. “We’re doomed” he said “we haven’t got a hope of winning this game”. Resisting the temptation to bludgeon myself to death with a selection of implements from the athletics cupboard (the ‘hammer’ was looking quite inviting) I reluctantly took my place for the second half.
Kevin Rayner had been busy during the break, no substitutions but he had introduced a wing back formation to provide City with some much needed width – new signing Corey Knight would now have the opportunity to bomb down the left wing whilst Graham Tydeman would do the same down the right. This was to have dramatic effects on the course of the game. The whistle blew and for the next twenty minutes City hammered their opponents without getting being able to get a goal. Clearly electing to sit on their 2-0 lead (and why not? Guildford hadn’t scored more than one goal in a match since Christmas and only 2 goals in the last seven games) Sandhurst rarely got forward and seemed content to defend deep and frustrate their opponents at every step. Tellingly when they did attack they had some opportunities – a ball being flashed across the face of goal but with no-one to slot it home in the 49th minute and an unmarked header being comfortably claimed by Stroud on the hour mark, from a corner. Yet at the other end Guildford had the bit between their teeth and it was Carnegie who was not surprisingly asking the biggest questions. In the 55th minute he powered into the box and looked odds on to score before firing a ferocious shot straight at the keeper and minutes later he could only send a header straight into the hands of Agov. The mountain City needed to climb was getting steeper and time was running out. “I don’t believe we’re going to get anything from this game”, I confided to Sir Lagerlot. “It’s alright” he said mystically “I’ve seen the end, it’s a happy ending”. Perhaps Mr Backhurst really does have ‘crystal balls’ as Mr Pegman suggests, or maybe just one!!
As if on cue, the breakthrough came moments later and it was pure ‘route 1’ football. A long ball was pumped down the pitch to Carnegie who at last found himself onside and able to get behind the defenders. He powered down the left wing, leaving Fizzers in his wake before getting to the edge of the box and firing clinically beyond the advancing keeper’s outstretched hand and into the bottom corner of the net.
Suddenly it was game on and the slightly subdued City fans ‘the Sweeney’, began to up the volume of their singing. The Fizzers were looking rattled and four minutes after the goal, Agov flapped at the ball after Guildford won a freekick in a dangerous position; Carnegie firing over the bar when it seemed easier to score, from the resulting corner. The pressure continued but the odds against City getting anything from the game were lengthening by the minute. More chances went begging – another freekick being won just outside the Sandhurst box and pushed just over the bar for yet another corner. This time the desperate visitors were forced to clear the ball off the line as tension levels in the ground grew – Tommy Tydeman perhaps giving vent to his frustration and earning a yellow card in the 76th minute. Moments later Carnegie once again had a good chance which was claimed by the keeper.
For all their endeavour it looked as if Guildford had given themselves too much to do in the second half and many of us were preparing for the realities of sinking further into the bottom three. Yet finally the equaliser came just 6 minutes from time. A cross was sent in and who should be there but new signing Corey Knight to head the ball home, missing the post by a matter of millimetres, “first thing he knew about it was when it hit the back of the net” joked Harrison Carnegie afterwards, implying, perhaps a bit unkindly, an element of luck in his teammate’s goal. The fans didn’t care and suddenly we were all believers. A draw was enough for me and I was terrified that the Fizzers might grab a last minute goal to nullify all City’s hard work. In fact Guildford could have notched again in the 90th minute, the ball once again being cleared off the line before Sandhurst won the first of two freekicks on the edge of the City area – both being comfortably cleared by the home side.
Maybe this should have acted as a warning but if it did Guildford took no notice as they pushed up the pitch, intent on getting the winner. The Fizzers now seemed happy to get anything from the game and they grimly held on, pushing men behind the ball. The clock continued to tick: 2 minutes of injury time, 3 minutes, 4…. We’d reached the 5th minute and City pushed forward for their last attack, Lance running into the box attempting to get on the end of a cross. What happened next was the subject of some speculation. As far as the fans (and the linesman) were concerned, a Sandhurst player handled the ball in the box, with both hands. What the ref saw was Lance with an arm around his neck, being pulled back. Maybe both were right but regardless the ref pointed to the spot and Danny Elgar stepped up to take the spotkick. The Sweeney put arms over each others’ shoulders in a show of solidarity as the City midfielder stepped up and fired a perfect penalty straight into the top corner to earn his side an unlikely victory and cause joyful pandemonium among the home fans. Safety is a long way off yet but with the sort of spirit Kevin is building in this side, maybe we can do it – as Doug would say, we have to believe.
GUILDFORD CITY: Richard Stroud; G. Tydeman; Corey Knight; T. Tydeman; J. Thoroughgood; J. King; T. Penison (sub Reece Wilson, 71); T. Chaplin; L. Bantom-Brown; H. Carnegie; D. Elgar
Subs not used: A. Azeem; P. Gough; K. Popovich; Steve Knight
SANDHURST TOWN: A. Agov; M. Weston; B. Williams; D. Wilson; M. Fairminer; S. Dennison; D. Wilde; G. Nesbitt; J. Mepham (sub G. Stokes, 87); M. Corbett (sub P. Mulvaney, 45); M. Czatska
Subs not used: N. Selby; J. Underwood; L. Theakston