GALLERY: Hadleigh United 3 Welwyn Garden City 2 (AET)
- Credit: Archant
Hadleigh United had to dig deep to keep their FA Vase dreams alive for another season after a blood and thunder cup clash at The Millfield on Saturday.
Five goals, two red cards, a 20-player melee in the middle of the pitch – this Vase clash pretty well had it all – and Hadleigh had the resilience to come through it.
Below their best for much of the game, the Brettsiders had the quality, but it was Welwyn’s hard work and strong tackling that looked like grabbing the Citizens’ a replay back on their own turf on Wednesday night as the game headed into the 118th minute.
Then, with just two minutes of extra-time left Hadleigh got the stroke of luck that settled this fascinating match, when substitute Michael Barwick’s 18-yard shot was deflected past his own keeper by Welwyn defender Simon Dahl. It left the visiting custodian Joe Croft helpless and Hadleigh delirious.
In some ways it was a shame such a super match should be settled in such a way – but Hadleigh won’t worry about that.
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Slack at the start, they actually grabbed themselves the lead through Tes Bramble’s clinical finish after just five minutes when a flick from Matt Downing fell to him in the box. If Hadleigh thought it was going to be a cake-walk though they were mistaken as impressive visiting striker Jason Caswell twice had chances to equalise.
He didn’t take either, but it mattered not when Ryan Stafford’s mistake in the right-back position allowed Sean Brettell to nick the ball off him and his cross was side-footed home by Isaac Oppong.
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Hadleigh should have re-taken the lead when Bramble headed tamely at Croft and Ollie Canfer did much the same. But those misses didn’t seem to matter either when Neil Calver got on the end of a bit of ping-pong in the Welwyn six-yard box, the ball bouncing off the Hadleigh midfielder and into the net. A mass melee in the centre of pitch ensued on 38 minutes after Perry Stellon went in hard on Canfer.
It was a chaotic scene but referee Guy – looking younger than most of the players – showed maturity before taking his time and flashing three yellows, but sending off nobody.
Bramble left the field with a back injury just eight minutes into the second period and Calver’s superb through ball to substitute Josh Mayhew should have seen the tall striker score, but Croft saved.
The best move of the match ended with Canfer shooting over, while Hadleigh’s star man Downing continued to probe down the left-hand side.
With ten minutes left Welwyn equalised.
The ever-dangerous Caswell was allowed too much time in the box to turn and his shot went past Fred Howe in the home goal.
Howe saved well as Caswell again threatened and when Calver was sent off for a second yellow in the 85th minute, the visitors appeared to have the upper hand.
But in extra-time, Hadleigh were the better of the two sides, despite their numerical disadvantage.
Mayhew again wasted a good chance when through on goal and Paul Donnelly had a header cleared off the line from a corner with Shane Wardley’s follow-up hitting the post.
It was all happening and Welwyn’s Joel Norris beat two Hadleigh defenders and rounded Howe but with a tight angle could only find the side-netting.
Then came Hadleigh’s stroke of luck and a deflected winner, with just two minutes to go.
There was still time for Sean Brettell to pick up a second yellow card for a foul as the visitors ended the game also with 10-men.
Make no mistake Hadleigh could have lost this and if they had done so they would have been kicking themselves However, it’s results that count – and Hadleigh march on into the last 32.