Needham Market's painful exit
THE tears flowed and the hearts sank, as the FA Vase dealt another cruel blow to Needham Market Football Club on Saturday.After last season's semi-final defeat to a late Kirkham & Wesham goal, this time it was Chalfont St Peter who cruelly robbed Danny Laws' side of any hopes of a Wembley appearance, with a penalty shoot-out victory in this last-eight replay clash.
THE tears flowed and the hearts sank, as the FA Vase dealt another cruel blow to Needham Market Football Club on Saturday.
After last season's semi-final defeat to a late Kirkham & Wesham goal, this time it was Chalfont St Peter who cruelly robbed Danny Laws' side of any hopes of a Wembley appearance, with a penalty shoot-out victory in this last-eight replay clash.
In a game of few opportunities you sensed penalties would be the way these two teams were going to be separated. And so it proved, with Needham teenager Jonathan Sparkes, the unfortunate player to miss the vital kick, after Chalfont keeper Mark Oliver tipped his effort onto the bar.
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To that point every penalty had been successful.
Sparkes was inconsolable, but it takes a brave heart and strong mind to step up to the plate in that type of situation. And while the first person to console him was the experienced Kevin Horlock, who again had been an inspiration for the Suffolk side, Sparkes can feel proud of his courage.
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Needham needed all of Horlock's experience throughout on Saturday, none more so when, in the 88th minute Needham skipper Mark Bailey was shown a straight red for a late challenge on Chalfont's Barry Brosnan.
It was a booking, not a straight red. But it would have made little difference; Bailey had already been booked anyhow.
Needham therefore played the whole of extra-time with 10-men, Rhys Barber simply outstanding, and held out comfortably before penalties decided their fate.
It was a shame such a key match was played on such a poor, bobbly pitch which had clearly received little TLC in the week leading up to the tie.
Decent football was at a premium and conditions suited a physical Chalfont side more.
Not that they didn't deserve to win, because quite frankly whoever had come out on top in the shoot-out of this rugged tussle would have been worthy victors. Needham started well and will rue missed chances early on.
Danny Thrower shot over when well placed in the 20th minute and there was furious Needham appeals that the ball crossed the line in a goalmouth scramble a minute later, but the referee waved play on.
Danny Smy headed wide as Needham continued to press, but a goal never came and indeed Chalfont finished the half the stronger, Alan Hedley volleying wide.
The second period started well for Needham and Craig Parker side-footed a flick from a James Evans throw-in just wide.
Parker was more prominent now and he headed wide and Oliver had to be alert in the home goal as Jerome Okimo's header almost went past his own keeper. But just as the first half, Chalfont finished stronger and Adam Louth fired over when well placed.
Bailey was sent off as the game went into extra-time and Chalfont's Charlie Strutton's header hit the post from a free-kick, the closest any side came to a goal.
Brosnan had two half-chances, but the excellent Liam Jones in the Needham goal was equal to them.
Penalties were then the order of the day and after Thrower, Tommy Smith, Horlock, Richard Butler and Parker
all scored for the visitors, it was sudden death.
Substitute Sparkes was the player to miss for Needham.
It was cruel as Chalfont move on into the semi-finals with home and away clashes with Glossop North End coming up. But one senses Needham's time will come. And perhaps, just perhaps, all this hurt is the road they will have to travel down on their way to one day gaining the ultimate Vase glory.
SEE the video of the penalty shoot-out on www.greenun24.co.uk