Sunday, 22 January 2012

Tunbridge Wells 0 v 1 St Ives Town

Saturday 21st January 2012
FA Vase Fourth Round
Culverden Stadium, Tunbridge Wells
Admission: £6.00
Programme: £1.50
Attendance: 404
Match Rating: 3

A visit to a very familiar ground today, to witness what would be arguably the biggest occasion at the Culverden Stadium for a couple of decades, with Tunbridge Wells reaching the round of the FA Vase where the draw becomes national.

The Culverden Stadium has not changed at all since my previous reports, which can be viewed here. Unfortunately the state of the pitch has not changed either, resembling something of a ploughed field today, although it would be tough to criticise the club, who have invested much time and money in trying to get the pitch in better shape, but are still stuck with clay soil with poor drainage. Much effort was also put into making today's match run smoothly - and maximise revenue - with the anticipated large crowd with a hog roast, club shop and an additional portakabin tea bar located behing the clubhouse.My comments on the programme are the same as on my last visit, a reasonable effort which did the job, but far overpriced at £1.50.

Today would be the the sixth time that Tunbridge Wells have reached the Fourth Round of the The FA Vase, but have never progressed beyond this stage, and had not even reached this stage since the 1992/93 season. They have had to negotiate five rounds to get this far. Their recent form overall has been good, apart from losing to local rivals Sevenoaks Town 2-3 in the Kent Senior Trophy last time out after conceding two very late goals. Before that, they were unbeaten in their previous nine games in all competitions and were in fifth place in the Kent League, with the runners-up spot very much in their sites still, with games in hand on all teams above them. St Ives Town, of the United Counties League, entered the FA Vase in the Second Qualifying Round - a privilege Tunbridge Wells will also enjoy next season having reached the Fourth Round - and have won away from home in both previous rounds. They have far better recent pedigree in the FA Vase than today's hosts, reaching the Fifth Round of the FA Vase in three consecutive seasons betwee 2008 and 2010. In the league, St Ives are in fourth place - similar to Tunbridge Wells, the title looks out of their reach, but the runners up is a distinct possibility. Their forward line certainly looked impressive, with Junior McDougald, formerly of Brighton and Hove Albion and Dagenham and Redbridge amongst other Football League clubs, alongside Conor Washington, scorer of 24 goals in 29 games this season.

A bumper crowd of over 400 packed into the Culverden, swelled by an estimated 150 from Cambridgeshire, and the occasion appeared to get to the home players in the opening quarter of an hour, as they misplaced passes and hurried their clearances. St Ives settled quickly, and played some impressive football on the awful pitch to carve open some reasonable chances. Tunbridge Wells then settled into the game after a couple of half chances and the remainder of the half was even, however as half time arrived, the scoreline remained goalless.

Playing towards a packed terrace behind the goal, Tunbridge Wells dominated much of the second half, as they carved out some fantastic chances and St Neots struggled to mount many attacks of their own. Extra time was looking an inevitability until eight minutes from time, when out of nothing, the visitors opened the scoring when Jamie Alsop did well to work some space for a cross, which was glanced on by a Tunbridge Wells defender over the keeper, and Stuart Cobb touched the ball home from a couple of yards.One sensed that blow would be fatal, and indeed St Ives were good at closing the game out, although Tunbridge Wells still had a couple of reasonable chances to force extra time. But in the end, it was the Cambridgeshire side who progressed to the next round, and Tunbridge Wells would have to reflect on being made to pay for failing to score whilst on top in the game.

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