CITY WON the moral victory if not the right to progress to the next round in this pulsating cup tie. Don’t let the scoreline fool you, this was truly end to end stuff, a match full of incident, close shaves and a heart-breaking finale just minutes from going to penalties. Despite this, the combined counties side can take great comfort from matching their opponents from start to finish on a less than perfect pitch and with many first choice players unavailable.
After the farce of the previous week’s match being called off just 45 minutes before kick off due to ‘a pitch which might freeze over later in the game’, the City fans turned up at Whyteleafe in the mood for some gentle sarcasm. They arrived in beach ware, sun glasses, grass skirts, Hawaiian shirts you name it! Taking up position in the far corner of the ground they were to provide vocal support to their team throughout the match.
Any concerns they may have had that their team would not be able to compete against a side a league above them were quickly dispelled – the team in red and white coming out of the blocks like thoroughbreds. Within 2 minutes City had forced a freekick on the edge of the Whyteleafe box which Scott Steele dispatched unerringly towards the top corner, only for the home keeper to pull off one of the many fantastic saves he was to make during the game. Nine minutes later Guildford were again on the attack, heading over a good spell of pressure. Two corners followed for the visitors before they put the ball into the opposition net twice in the 21st and 22nd minutes only for both to be ruled out for offside. Three minutes later Scott Cannie blazed a long range shot just over the bar.
At this point the pendulum in this delicately balanced game began to swing in favour of the home side who, in the 26th minute, created the best chance of the match so far. A defensive slip up allowed a Whyteleafe forward to go through on goal. With defenders rushing in from all sides he skilfully chipped the ball over Gindre and just onto the bar. Minutes later the home side won a freekick on the edge of the City area which Jay Gindre was able to gather comfortably. The Leafe then shot wide before winning a corner in the 35th minute which they were unable to capitalise on. After all this pressure, City then created an excellent chance in the dying seconds of the half. Aneal Azeem did superbly well to latch onto a through-ball and prevent it going out of play: he then crossed into the box but a powerful first time snap-shot by Scott Steele went straight to the keeper.
Half time arrived and there was plenty for both sets of fans to ponder as they sipped their pints to the theme tune from The Dambusters which the home side appeared to have on a permanent loop through their PA system. The City supporters had given a particularly good account of themselves, singing for every minute of the half (as indeed they would continue to do for the remaining 75!) Driven on by James (the foghorn) and Matt (the Lennon and McCartney of football chants) they never let up, performing such classics as ‘When the beans are in the tin…’; Timmy, do the horse (a reference to Tim O’Dwyer’s dance move of choice when out on the town) and the Scott Cannie song which I won’t offend sensitive ears by repeating here. They even turned the home side’s chant of ‘Whyteleafe, Whyteleafe’ against them by singing ‘Croydon, Croydon’ back but it appeared to be taken in good spirit!! There were some welcome new faces among the ranks so hopefully the experience of Matt and James won’t have scared them too much and we’ll see them at future games!
After the high octane excitement of the first half, the second half took a little time to get going. When it did, however, it was business as usual. Jay Gindre, recovering from his disappointing performance against Wembley, commanded his penalty box superbly and was well alert to deal with two dangerous shots in the 55th and 58th minutes – the second of which he had to catch at his feet – and a freekick in the 62nd minute which he held onto well. The home side did receive a yellow card, however, in the 66th minute after Sean Rivers appeared to elbow Mark Mercer. At the other end City created another good chance in the 61st minute – Aneal Azeem not quite being able to latch onto a pass, after some excellent one touch play by the visitors in their opponent’s penalty area. Nine minutes later Aneal was furious with the ref after nutmeging a player, running into the box and appearing to be brought down. The ref’s verdict? A yellow card for diving!! The City fans were not impressed although watching from the sidelines, Mark Kleboe said it was the most blatant dive he’d ever seen!!
City had given an excellent account of themselves thus far and could and should have taken the lead in both the 63rd and 73rd minutes. First Scott Cannie was put through on goal and with just the keeper to beat, unleashed a ferocious shot which would have gone in had it not been for a superb reflex save from the home keeper which pushed the ball onto the bar and out of play. (City nearly conceded a sucker-punch a minute later when a Whyteleafe player shot across the face of his opponent’s open goal but luckily there was no-one to turn it in.) Then Mark Mercer, well known for his excellent finishing, had arguably City’s best chance of the match. The Whyteleafe keeper, raced out of his box, Mercer rounded him and then shot at the open goal from the corner of the 25 yard box, under pressure from two of the home defenders. From where the City fans were standing the ball appeared to be going in (or even to have gone in) but no, it hit the post and rebounded out to be cleared by the Whyteleafe defence.
The visitors were not disheartened however and continued to press home their attack with incredible intensity and dedication – one scramble in the home side’s penalty area resulting in two City players needing medical attention. Guildford received a further boost in the 85th minute when a Whyteleafe player received a straight red for deliberate handball on the edge of his area. However they were unable to convert the chance and were denied once again in the 88th minute when the home keeper beat out an excellent shot from the edge of the area. With time running out and extra time approaching it was Whyteleafe who had the chance to finish the tie off with two corners in succession that they were unable to make anything of. And so once again Guildford City faced extra time in a Surrey Senior Cup tie.
It has to be said that it was at this point that Whyteleafe’s better quality began to tell. Although City continued to compete well, the home side were keeping the ball better and making more inroads into the Guildford half. In the 94th minute City’s defence had to be at their very best to deny The Leafe from a corner, throwing in block after block to prevent a shot on goal. In the 98th minute Dan Rice was involved in a tackle which left him on the floor with a cry of agony – visions of Sean Brown’s horrendous leg break at the Spectrum the previous year leapt to mind but luckily after medical attention he was back on his feet and able to continue. There was time for the home side to shoot wide and for Scott Smith to inexplicably put in a cross across the face of his own goal in the 104th minute before the referee blew up for the end of the first period.
The second half continued in the same vein with chances for the visitors getting harder to come by. In the 107th minute a cross/shot was gathered by the Whyteleafe keeper before the home side won two freekicks on the edge of City’s box, neither of which troubled them. It appeared that Guildford were heading for another nail-biting penalty shoot-out and the real chance of a meeting with Sutton United or Woking in the next round but it was not to be. In the 111th minute Lee O’Donnell tried to stop a dangerous low cross into the penalty area and ended up turning the ball into his own net. It was a huge shame for Lee who had been one of City’s best players, time and again showing great composure in cutting out passes, clearing the ball and shepherding it out of play. Things got worse for Guildford two minutes later when Rob Parrott was controversially sent off for a tackle on a Whyteleafe player – the City defender slid in to prevent a cross into the box, deflected the shot for a corner but took out the player as well. It looked a lot worse than it was (the City supporters were only 30 feet away from where it happened and saw the incident clearly), but the referee appeared to be swayed by the outraged response of the home side and gave Rob a straight red. Hope had not completely disappeared but it was growing feinter by the minute. Despite several more forays into their opponents’ half City could not create the chances they needed and indeed could have conceded again in the 119th minute had it not been for a superb save by Gindre.
The Guildford City players left the pitch to cheers from both sets of fans. They had demonstrated excellent resilience against a very good side and had kept fighting to the end – but for the Whyteleafe keeper they might have been the ones progressing to the semi finals.
GUILDFORD CITY: J. Gindre; R. Parrott; L. O’Donnell; S. Smith; B. McCoy; S. Cannie; A. Azeem; R. White (sub D. Rice, 90); M. Mercer; S. Steele (sub S. Pothecary, 95); P. Andrews
Subs not used: L. Wye