As Farnham Town welcomed Rayners Lane to The Memorial Ground for their Premier Challenge Cup Third Round tie, the game represented Paul Johnson’s side 11th cup game (FA Cup, FA Vase and the Premier Challenge Cup) in the 24 matches they’ll have played this season, with The Town’s only defeat this season in all competitions coming in the FA Cup against a then unbeaten, league-leading Chesham United side two tiers above.
The visit of Rayners Lane saw a clash of the two division leaders in the Combined Counties leagues, with The Lane heading up the Premier North division, while The Town’s 100% record in the Premier South keeps them atop the table despite having played anywhere between two and four games fewer than many of their rivals.
In the previous round, eight members of the U23 Development Side featured either from the start or off the bench as The Town beat Horley Town 4-1. By Johnson’s own admission in the aftermath of Saturday’s 6-0 win over Burnham in the FA Vase Third Round, the plan was to heavily rotate the side for this tie with attentions firmly set on progression in the League and FA Vase.
All seven players named on the bench for the Vase win started against Rayners Lane among nine total changes, with starts for U23 duo Joe Goddard and Toby Sherman in defence. Goddard was named Player of the Match in the previous round.
A number of players who had been short of minutes in recent weeks had points to prove on a cold and wet Tuesday evening under the lights down at Mead Lane, including Dean Rule whose only goals of the season came in the 2-0 FA Cup Preliminary Round win over Crowborough Athletic back in August.
Just three minutes into the game, and The Town were ahead and it was Rule who put his name on the scoresheet. Farnham recover the ball deep in their own half with Goddard to delivers a long pass over the top of the Rayners lane defence. Rule latches onto it, shrugs off the challenger and slots calmly into the bottom corner.
Farnham’s lead was short lived as just three minutes later it was all square again. A ball forward from defence split the two centre-backs, Sherman’s attempted interception wrong-footed Josh Lelan alongside him. Goddard was unable to get to the loose ball and eventually, Frank Keita let rip on a lot shot which cannoned off the left boot of Pat Nash, but found its way into the bottom corner.
Before the opening 10 minutes were complete, Farnham were ahead again. After being rested for the FA Vase game with Burnham having scored three goals in his last two starts, Charlie Postance was again leading the line and again back in the goals.
Kai Tanner drove forward across the half way line and clipped the ball in behind for Postance to chase. He brought it under his control, shifted it onto his right foot and struck a low shot in towards the near post. It didn’t have any great pace on it and you’d expect the ‘keeper to save it every time, but as he’s dived to save the shot, it’s taken a horrendous bobble and bounced up over his outstretched arms and into the net.
Johnson’s side smelt blood and continued to push forward in search of a third. Postance thought he’d secured his brace as he was fed in behind and netted into the near post, only to be denied by the offside flag. Opportunities continued to present themselves down the Farnham left and Rule again broke behind the Rayners Lane defence, but his shot looking for the far right corner was well saved.
On 19 minutes, Farnham’s third did finally arrive. Tanner latched onto a pass into the right channel and delivered a lofted cross towards Postance at the back post, he nods it down to Lewis Flatman who lays it off to Rule to looks to place his shot in the right corner, but it takes a strong deflection but into the roof of the net and Farnham now had a two-goal advantage.
Tanner was again causing problems down the right just two minutes later when his curling cross presented Postance with an opportunity to attempt a spectacular bicycle kick. Less said about that effort the better, but the ball did bounce into the path of Flatman who stuck a leg out at the ball but could only divert it narrowly over the bar.
Rayners Lane then sparked into life and began to drive forward with pace and purpose. Nash was forced into an excellent save low at his near post, diverting an effort behind for a corner. The next attack saw two shots from inside the box blocked by Sherman before a cross was headed narrowly wide of the right post.
Just after the half hour mark, Rayners Lane pulled a goal back. The ball was worked wide down their right, Goddard misread the pass as he attempted to intercept, allowing the winger to drive forward to turn the ball across the face of goal for Elliot Buchanan who tapped home from close range.
Four minutes later, Farnham were against architects of their own downfall. Sherman’s pass along the defensive line was intercepted and Rayners Lane broke in behind down the left. The initial cross was blocked by a sliding Lelan into the path of Buchanan who took a touch out of his feet before his shot between the legs of Lelan beat Nash and picked out the far right corner. With just 37 minutes on the clock, we had seen six goals evenly spread which would be how it would remain going into half time.
Within 10 minutes of the restart, Farnham had made all their changes as Joe Jackson, Tom Smith and Jack Knight all entered the fray in place of Goddard, Sherman and Max Meaton, but the additional experience brought on was unable to help Farnham retake the lead as they fell behind on the hour mark when a cutback on the left side of the box was drilled home by Troy Perez-Duah to hand Rayners Lane their first lead of the night.
Now chasing the game for the first time on the night, Farnham didn’t back down from the challenge and Rule picked up the ball on the left side of the box following a jinking run by Lamar Koroma. Rule shifted it onto his right and bent the shot into the top right corner to secure his hat-trick, sending the Clockend into raptures. Farnham were back level at 4-4 with 20 minutes to go.
In the dying embers of the game as penalties beckoned, the visitors broke in behind down the left-wing, turning around Joe Jackson at right-back and into the box. The winger took a tumble after an apparent tug-back from Jackson and the referee awarded a spot kick with just five minutes of regulation time to play. Buchanan stepped up and sent Nash the wrong way to secure the second hat-trick of the night.
Deep into injury-time, Farnham had a free kick just inside the Rayners Lane half. With everyone up, the ball was delivered into the box towards Postance who was wrestled to the ground, but the referee waved away the protests as Lelan attempted to bring down the cross and shoot himself, but it skewed behind. The final whistle would sound shortly after and The Town were knocked out of the Premier Challenge Cup in the Third Round.
Speaking after the game, Paul Johnson was proud of the efforts from his side, with crucial minutes banked for a number of players who were not playing regularly of late as Farnham now looked to build on a run of key fixtures in the league with their next FA Vase game not until mid-January.
The defeat was just The Town’s second in 24 games so far this season, ending a run of 12 successive wins following the FA Cup Second Qualifying Round defeat to Chesham United, but they remain perfect in the league with 13 wins in a row to start the season. Saturday’s trip to Redhill was postponed with Johnson’s side now preparing to welcome Sheerwater to The Memorial Ground on Tuesday, December 12th.