After not being entered into the FA Vase last season, Farnham Town return to the competition on the last Saturday of August, welcoming the high-flying and well-fancied unbeaten Wessex favourites AFC Stoneham to The Memorial Ground in a game which many thought would have been a worthy tie much deeper into the competition, but the pair square off in the First Round Qualifying.
Paul Johnson’s side entered the game off the back of a faultless run. Five games played in League and Cup, five wins, 17 goals scored and none conceded. AFC Stoneham boast an equally impressive record coming into the game. Also unbeaten in League and Cup, scoring nine goals in their last two games.
After Tuesday’s 3-0 win at Cobham, Johnson acknowledged that the visit of AFC Stoneham would be his side’s toughest test of the season so far, and it certainly proved to be the case in a game which would not be short of controversy.
Farnham made two changes from the team that beat Cobham, one of them forced as Max Meaton would serve his one-game suspension for his red card in the Emirates FA Cup Preliminary Round win over Crowborough Athletic last weekend, with Michael Kinsella coming in for him at the heart of the defence. After making it three successive substitute appearances with a goal on Tuesday night, Charlie Postance was given a start up front in place of Owen Dean.
A cagey opening 10 minutes unfolded at The Memorial Ground before the game sparked into life when Joe Jackson turned the ball over the top of the AFC Stoneham defence towards the on running Postance.
AFC Stoneham defender Yumo Wan was stride for stride with Postance going for the ball as it bounced towards the penalty area. The Farnham striker would get to the ball first and looked to take it towards goal and shoot, only to be brought down by the outstretched leg of Wan looking to clear his lines, leaving the referee with no option but to send off the defender for denial of a clear goalscoring opportunity.
With the visitors now down to 10 men for the next 80 minutes, the dynamic of the game had shifted from the one which had started the game. Harry Cooksley would step up to take the resulting free kick from just outside the box, but his shot was tame and straight at the goalkeeper, the first of a number of saves he would go on to make.
The red card didn’t dishearten the visitors, who banked up well with two rows of four largely camped outside of their own box for much of the game, but Duarte Martins leading the line proved to be an excellent outlet all game.
As you can imagine with the man extra, Farnham would dominate much of the ball for the remainder of the first half but were unable to penetrate the AFC Stoneham defence, with the closest they came in the first period being Darryl Sanders’ low driven effort deflecting narrowly wide of the post.
AFC Stoneham would go on to end the half stronger. After seeing a deflected shot go behind for a corner, the ball was whipped back in towards the back post, headed across goal and falling narrowly wide of the Farnham net.
Perhaps the best opportunity of the first half would come for the visitors after a poor clearance from the AFC Stoneham goalkeeper skidded through the attempted control of Joe Jackson and in behind for Martins to chase. He skipped round Pat Nash who rushed off his line to close down and looked to score, only for Ryan Kinnane’s last gasp slide tipping it onto the post and behind.
During half time, Johnson was sure to advise his players to take more time on the ball and deliver passes with more quality, and The Town came out for the second period doing exactly that, looking like a team with more purpose and precision about their attacks and came close to taking the lead early on after Jackson & Sanders playing a quick one-two on the edge of the box, leading to a shot from Jackson which was beaten away.
About five minutes later, Farnham would have their lead. The move started from a AFC Stoneham throw-in deep in Farnham’s half. Tom Smith would strongly challenge for the ball with Owen Fee in the air. The linesman on the near side began to signal for a foul, but the referee would wave it away.
As the AFC Stoneham players continued to protest the decision with the referee, Farnham launched a quick counter attack. Jackson split the lines with his pass into Sanders who found himself in acres of space driving at the defence, with his two strikers each making runs in behind.
He opted to slide in Shamal Edwards on the left, two took an excellent first touch to control the ball in his stride before driving the ball past the ‘keeper at his near post to hand Farnham the lead 10 minutes into the second half.
The AFC Stoneham players were furious with the decision not to award them a free kick at the start of the move, berating the referee. Their striker, Duarte Martins, would be booked for dissent and sin-binned for the next 10 minutes as a result – but that would not be the last we would hear from him. Temporarily, it was 11 against 9 as The Town would look to kill off the game.
Looking to make their brief two-man advantage count, Farnham piled on the pressure, and Sanders came agonisingly close to doubling the lead as his right-footed curling effort was inches wide of the far post.
Edwards would be the man who came closest to the second goal and his second of the day when he got on the end of a cut back from Jack Dean six yards from goal, but was unable to turn the ball on target.
Now back on the pitch, Martins continued to make a nuisance of himself. Owen Fee would close down a long ball from Ryan Kinnane which would rebound back into the Farnham half. Nash would rush out looking to clear, but Kinnane got there first. He scuffs the clearance which lands at the feet of Michael Kinsella who can’t trap the ball, Martins would latch onto it and with no one between the sticks, comfortably bending the ball into an empty net and suddenly out of nothing, AFC Stoneham had pegged Farnham back as The Town would concede their first goal of the season at the sixth attempt.
For the next 20 minutes, AFC Stoneham would return to their early game plan following the sending off: dropping deep, playing with two banks of four and looking to frustrate Farnham. With no replays or extra-time at this stage of the FA Vase, if they could get through the 90 minutes, they would be rewarded with a penalty shootout to decide who makes it through, which would be a real coin flip.
Farnham would continue to dominate the ball and pile the pressure on. They looked certain to have found the net again when Sanders’ cross from the right wing found substitute Lewis Flatman unmarked in the box. He headed it well, but the ‘keeper would make an excellent save, diving to his left, keeping the ball out.
With the clock ticking down, Farnham again were presented with another great opportunity, this time from a set piece. Sanders’ corner made its way to Jack Dean at the back post. He took a touch and volleyed but it was a yard over the bar, and at this point, the penalty shoot out felt ominous.
Deep into stoppage time, Nash sent the ball forwards towards Flatman, with both the left back and left-sided centre back looking to challenge him. No one was able to get a touch on the ball and it zipped through for Owen Dean. As tenacious as ever, Dean slid in to challenge the rushing goalkeeper to the ball, getting there first and winning the ball, but with both players now on the deck.
It would be Dean who would get to his feet first, touching the ball away from the goalkeeper who then barges the Farnham Town substitute over as he goes to dive for the loose ball. The Farnham players and supporters go up in arms asking for a penalty, and the referee obliges, pointing to the spot, and again, the AFC Stoneham players felt aggrieved that yet another tough decision went against them.
Having scored from the spot on Tuesday night in the win against Cobham, it would be Harry Cooksley again to step up to take the penalty. He strode up to the ball and buried in the bottom left-hand corner, wheeling away towards the Farnham Town fans as he had surely booked The Town’s place in the next round of the FA Vase.
With the extra man, Farnham would see out the final exchanges and win the game 2-1 in front of another strong crowd of over 300 at The Memorial Ground. AFC Stoneham leave the game potentially feeling robbed by a number of questionable decisions on the day, but The Town found a way to get over the line.
Having progressed to the Second Round Qualifying of the FA Vase, Farnham will now host Millbrook at The Memorial Ground on Saturday, September 23rd.