FA Vase 2nd Round
Culverden Stadium, Tunbridge Wells
Match Rating: 3
Today would be a day of rather strange emotions for me. Having watched Tunbridge Wells' last three games in the FA Vase - including trips to County Durham and Wembley as they reached the final last year, today I would being the strange position of favouring the visiting team at the Culverden Stadium. Despite just seven miles separating the two towns, today would be the first ever competitive meeting between the two clubs.
There have been a number of improvements made to the ground since last season. There are now a number of large white display boards with club emblem and a message positioned along the entrance road and by the entrance itself. A good effort by the club, although they do look a little bit tacky and clumsily positioned. There is also a green portable housing a club shop now positioned outside the clubhouse. The programme is in much the same format as in previous years, 32 pages and with an attractive cover, but certainly overpriced at £1.50.
Today would certainly be a tough assignment for Crowborough, as Tunbridge Wells have certainly built on their successes of last season, both on and off the pitch. They currently lead the Southern Counties East League by two points having won nine of their twelve league games so far, and attendances over the first five games this season have averaged 306, by far the highest average in the league. They even managed to attract 285 fans for the second leg of League Cup tie in which they had lost the first leg 0-4! All a far cry from the not so distant days when they struggled to break the hundred fan mark! Being seeded having reached the final last hear, today would be Tunbridge Wells first game in this year's competition. Crowborough continue to have a very solid season, with a predominantly young team full of energy and some quality, and are in fifth place in the Sussex League Division One, gaining 23 points from 13 games. To reach this stage of the competition, Crowborough have beaten Southern Counties East outfit Holmesdale 4-2, followed by Epsom Athletic of the Combined Counties League Division One 1-0, both at home.
On a sunny afternoon with clear blue skies, the tone of the game was set straight from kick off, a full-blooded tackle after the first short pass from kick off. A great atmosphere was generated by both sets of fans in the 1200 plus crowd, and the match developed into a fully committed battle, with Crowborough more than holding their own. Indeed, they were denied what looked a clear penalty within the first couple of minutes, when Wayne Clarke's jinking run into the box ended with a tackle by Lewis mingle who seemed to get very little if any of the ball. And they settled to have more of possession and more of the presentable chances to break the deadlock. So it was somewhat against the run of play when Tunbridge Wells opened the scoring on 37 minutes with a goal of real quality. Jon Pilbeam attacked down the right wing, beating several defenders before crossing to the impressive Andy Irvine, who had looked a real threat throughout the match, and his low shot clipped the inside of the post another ball rolled just behind the line.
1-0 was how it remained at half time, and Tunbridge Wells did a very good job at closing the game out in the second half, giving Crowborough very few sights of goal despite plenty of huff and puff. Their best chance came right on the final whistle, when Jason Barton, who moved from Tunbridge Wells in the summer having played a large role in their FA Vase run last year, saw his shot cleared off the line. But in the end, it was Tunbridge Wells who took their first step on a potential road to Wembley, whilst Crowborough deserve great credit for giving absolutely everything on the day and with a little more rub of the green, could well have forced a replay.