East Preston 2 – 2 Guildford City

WHAT a strange and, for City fans, tortuous experience this tie has been.  Two minutes away from progressing in the first game, City were 30 seconds away in this one, conceding in the 95th minute to force extra time and penalties.  In truth this was a far closer affair than Saturday with the home side dominating the first half, going a goal up courtesy of that livewire Dodd and creating a hatful of other chances.  City responded strongly after the break and got their reward midway through the half – Adesina and Banton-Brown scoring to put Guildford in the driving seat.  They could not hold on however, the referee astonishingly playing nearly 6 minutes of injury time and Matt Windsor heading home in the final seconds.  Extra time could not split the sides and East Preston were clinical enough in the spot kicks to clinch the tie.

Given the difficulties in getting to this game, there was an impressively large number of Guildford fans present.  Indeed Lofty had taken full advantage and booked a room at a local B&B (over a pub naturally).  I took the train from Victoria while the rest of the City contingent drove.  East Preston itself, on the admittedly small period of time I spent there, could be described as ‘sleepy’ but there was a warm welcome waiting for me from the EP committee when I reached Lashmar Road and a burger which was very much appreciated.  Kevin was already there, bringing an impressively large squad.  Encouragingly we also saw Tommy Tydeman on the bench and Bridgeman and Rivers starting – both had had to come off during the previous match.

City made a battling start, pushing up the pitch and playing a terrifyingly high back four which led to more than one heart-in-mouth moment.  Still, we could see from the off that Kevin wanted to wrap this tie up and the first chance quickly came – Jamie King winning a freekick and Sean Rivers firing over the bar.  Two minutes later EP had the first of many chances – a pass rebounding into the path of Terry Dodd and Tom Penson having to slide in to make an outstanding last ditch tackle.  City responded and the ever lively Anthony Bridgeman finally got some space down the right wing and got into the box, however his weak pass was easily claimed by the keeper.  The visitors’ pressure continued but EP were nearly gifted a goal in the 14th minute – a City defender allowing his man to cross from the byline and the ball being flicked on off the back of an EP head.  Hall steamed in to claim the ball but he spilled it and only another desperate clearance prevented a goal.  Guildford skipper Jamie Thoroughgood then went close from a Ben Rayner freekick but just missed the ball at the far post.

It was the home side who landed the first blow, however, taking the lead for the first time in the tie.  Easily EP’s most dangerous player over the two games – Terry Dodd – was allowed space from a throw-in near the edge of the box and he turned cleverly, rode a challenge and fired into the right hand side of the net, flat-footing Anthony Hall who did not even move.  The psychological boost this gave EP was plain to see and four minutes later the home side could have been 2-0 up – Asa Nicholson getting up from a crunching challenge and firing just wide of the far post.  Guildford recovered and dominated the next ten minutes of play as EP sat on their lead.  On 28 minutes Anthony Bridgeman brilliantly controlled a powerful through-ball, taking it beyond his marker in the process.  The pace-ace tore into the box and pulled the trigger but instead of the net bulging we saw the ball fly wide of the far post.  A minute later came another excellent chance – City winning a freekick and a superb delivery finding Ben Rayner who rose unmarked but headed wide.

Back came the home side and they had several very good chances to extend their lead.  First sloppy defending allowed EP to cross to Dale Campbell in the box who shot over with only Hall to beat and then Dodd once again proved too hot to handle, bombing down City’s left wing but firing wide.  Kevin Budge then curled a shot wide with Hall beaten all ends up.  City for their part had a few snapshots courtesy of Sean Rivers but were struggling to handle EP’s direct play.  A good chance came ten minutes from the break however – Adesina tearing into the box and firing low and hard – Kason doing well to turn the shot behind for a corner.  Bridgeman then did excellently to flick a low delivery towards goal at the near post but again the EP custodian was equal to the task.  Another chance arrived in the 40th minute – Rivers intercepted a careless pass from Budge and should have scored – his shot going wide.  Asa Nicholson responded for the home side, firing off target before Tony Chaplin drove just wide of the mark from a corner after Kason had failed to claim the ball.

There was a mix of despondent and positive voices as we trooped into the committee rooms for tea and biscuits.  City had certainly forged some good chances but they had not taken them.  Meanwhile the home side could have easily been 2 or 3 nil up.  Some lighter relief had a least been provided by Lofty and his wretched air horn!!  The EP skipper Ian Saunders earned some appreciative cheers early in the half when Lofty let rip just before he fired a freekick into touch – “that was your fault” he yelled jovially to Lofty!

The second half began in robust fashion, Graham Tydeman mistiming a challenge and being yellow carded.  Terry Dodd for his part was earning the derision of the City fans for a number of off the ball incidents but to their frustration Taylor did not reciprocate.  Finally, however, City were starting to look the stronger side and six minutes in, Carnegie tried his luck from long range after running off a Sean Rivers header – his effort going agonisingly wide.  Two minutes later he went even closer, rounding the keeper and shooting at goal, however Matt Windsor was able to clear off the line.  The visitors proceeded to forge a number of half chances, finding space but the EP defence always winning out.  Dodd then earned a yellow card in the 68th minute for not giving the ball for a freekick before EP midfielder Tom Paine saw a good long range effort sail just wide in the 71st minute.  Moments later, however, Guildford were back on level terms.

A freekick was flicked on to Gabriel Adesina in the box who controlled with his chest and turned to fire home – in much the same vein as his goal on Saturday.  If Guildford thought the tide was turning however, they were very much mistaken and only a supreme display of goalkeeping prevented them from once more going behind two minutes later.  Kevin Budge ran onto a long ball and half volleyed from close range only for Hall to block his shot brilliantly and then somehow get back on his feet and stop the rebound.  City did start to look more dangerous after this, despite Tony Chaplin earning a yellow for a late challenge, and finally got their noses in front in bizarre fashion in the 82nd minute.  A long back pass was played to Kason, with new substitute Lance in hot pursuit.  The EP keeper’s clearance on the right hand side of the box hit Banton-Brown’s back and then flew into the net to give the visitors a 2-1 lead with 8 minutes of normal time remaining.  Not surprisingly there was jubilation on the sidelines and unfortunately another yellow card, as a substitute ran onto the pitch to celebrate.

Surely Guildford could hold on and close this tie out?  It was looking more and more possible as the minutes ticked into injury time and City were able to stifle their opponents.  But how many extra minutes would be played?  Kevin must have thought his substitution of Chaplin for Knight in the 93rd minute would be one of the last actions of the game but he reckoned without the irrepressible EP.  I suppose we all half expected a last minute twist as the clock entered its 95th minute ands the home side won a corner.  I turned my back in grim expectation as the delivery went in and I am reliably informed it was Matt Windsor who rose (unforgivably) unmarked to head the ball home and send the match into injury time.

Both sides were clearly exhausted but City looked the more dangerous for most of the next half hour – Harrison Carnegie looking particularly dangerous down the wings but not quite able to pick out a City head.  The second half was more lively with Graham Tydeman driving a powerful shot wide in the 110th minute and a minute later Banton-Brown forged City’s best chance, firing towards the top corner but the keeper just pushing it clear.  There was time for EP to create an excellent chance two minutes from time – Jay Huet running onto a through ball but scuffing his shot just wide – before the whistle blew.

So inevitably it went to spot kicks.  “They’re rather good at these apparently” remarked Tony ominously as City lined up to the take the first one.  Tom Penson made a good start though, firing powerfully down the middle to make it 1-0.  Neil Reilly then put his shot to the keeper’s right, Hall getting a hand to the ball but failing to keep it out.  1-1.  Graham Tydeman’s penalty was well saved to the keeper’s right before Chris Darwin made it 2-1 with an almost identical kick.  Jamie King was next and initially saw his penalty saved before referee Maurice Taylor asked for it to be retaken – the keeper apparently being well off his line.  King made no mistake this time, shooting into the bottom corner to make it 2-2.  EP skipper Ian Saunders then scored in style, bending a screamer into the top corner before Tommy Tydeman fired his kick down the middle.  3-3.  Antony Hall was unlucky with Dale Campbell’s shot, if he had moved just an inch or so to the right he might have saved it.  As it was though, it was up to Harrison Carnegie to keep City in contention.  Unfortunately EP keeper Kason dived well to save the City striker’s shot and EP won the shoot-out and the tie to understandable jubilation.  Guildford were left to rue their missed chances – particularly the 4-4 debacle at the weekend – and start on their long and miserable journey home.

EAST PRESTON: M. Kason, N. Da Costa, A. Nicholson, N. Reilly, M. Windsor, I. Saunders, T. Paine (J. Huet, 82), D. Campbell, T. Dodd, K. Budge (J. Meeney, 85),C. Darwin.

Subs not used: A. Holman, L. Da Costa, P. Williamson

GUILDFORD CITY: A. Hall; G. Tydeman; T. Chaplin (Knight, 90+3); T. Penson; J.Thoroughgood; J. King; A. Bridgeman (T. Tydeman, 64); B. Rayner; S. Rivers (L. Banton-Brown, 64); H. Carnegie; G. Adesina

Subs not used: T. Carter; T. Arnold; L. Hirrel; L. Bradnick

Referee: M. Taylor
Attendance: 104