Wed 27th Sep 2017
League Challenge Trophy - 2nd Round
Baldock Town 2-3 TAFC First team
TAFC goals: Chris Blunden, Sam Jolliffe, Jack Read (pen)
JACK READ'S LATE GOAL SEES US THROUGH TO NEXT ROUND
A visit to The Armadillo Stadium, where Baldock Town ground share with Arlesey Town, brought back great memories for us Athletic supporters who are long in the tooth.
We were last here in the 1999/2000 season when the culmination of a magnificent season, when we won just about everything, saw us lift the Cherry Reds Books Trophy in its inaugural year by beating Bedmond Sports and Social Club on penalties after a 1-1 draw. That day Athletic's legendary skipper Mark Boniface scored the crucial penalty and history repeated itself on Wednesday night when it took another late spot kick to secure a victory on this ground, this time from Jack Read.
It was a typical cup tie played in wet slippery conditions in a lovely stadium, but unfortunately there was only a sparse crowd of 44 to enjoy what was an excellent game. We held a commanding 2-0 lead at half time but some inspired substitutions by the Baldock management team saw them stage a tremendous fight back in the second period only for us to burst their bubble with a late goal. Even then it took a superb save from Jack Hopwood to save us from the uncertainties of a penalty shootout.
Our hosts play in Division 1 but they are of Premier Division quality as their results so far this season prove, with their impressive 4-3 win over Southern League side Thame United in the FA Cup the pick of the best. We knew we would be in for a tough ride and that proved to be the case as they were the better side for the opening 15 minutes or so.
Some hesitation in midfield allowed Alex Coppin an early sight of goal but his shot whilst being on target hardly troubled Jack Hopwood. We were taking our time to settle and some sloppy play saw us give the ball away in a potentially dangerous area but the home centre forward Alfie Barker shot well wide. Soon afterwards Zach Decker did likewise with his effort after he collected a cross.
Our opponents were sharp and lively and Barker went closer in the 14th minute forcing Jack Howood to save his well struck shot with his foot. We had not shown much in attack but in the 18th minute we had a great chance to open the scoring.
Ryan Sturges nicely picked out Tommy Twelves out on the right and his superb raking cross found Luke Dunstan who got in front of the defender for a free header. Luke is one of our best headers of the ball and you would have put your money on him scoring but he placed his effort just wide of the far post.
We were looking more like our old selves now but had to be alert to our opponents quick breaks with Jack Hopwood coming out quickly to prevent Barker from getting on the end of a long ball then turning aside a dangerous cross from our right with his feet after a great run by the tricky winger Josh Coley.
In the 24th minute we showed the penetration that has perhaps been missing in some games this season to open the scoring. Mark Riddick's lovely ball over the top of the Baldock defence released Chris Vardy and his cross picked out Chris Blunden who converted from close range for his 4th goal in 4 days. Score 0-1.
We were now playing with some confidence and the home side were less of a threat. With 3 minutes of normal time left until half time we took what should have been an unassailable lead. It stemmed from a corner which our opponents failed to clear properly and when Luke Dunstan tried to play the ball back into the danger zone it hit the outstretched arm of a Baldock player and the Referee without hesitation awarded a penalty. The home keeper and Captain Jack Farmer made a good save from Sam Joliffe but Sam followed up to slot home the loose ball. At the break we had a very healthy 2 goal lead. HT Score 0-2.
There was little goal mouth action during the early stages of the second half. Our opponents had a few attempts at goal which failed to hit the target and Coley produced a sumptuous cross which evaded his colleagues. Our only effort of note was a right foot shot from Chris Vardy which the keeper easily caught.
This quiet period in the game suited us as we were content to keep our 2 goal advantage in tact but the Baldock managers decided their side needed a shake up and it produced an immediate and game changing effect. On came big forward Russell Bull and Manager Luke Gregson, who had played for Hitchin and Arlesey and soon showed that he was still a quality player.
Within 2 minutes of the substitutions Baldock reduced the arrears when Liam Kenna headed home a corner that we failed to clear. It was the second game running that we have conceded from a corner but we have to bear in mind that we are missing 3 key central defenders. Score 1-2.
With still 25 minutes left we now faced an uphill battle to keep our slender lead in tact against a rejuvenated Baldock side. Jack Hopwood was soon called into action again, pushing away a fierce shot from Coley. With our opponents tails up we found our backs to the wall and we succumbed to an equaliser in the 77th minute when the 2 subs combined, with Gregson's cross being slotted past Hoppy by Bull. Score 2-2.
A betting man would have put his money on the home side but we showed that our cojones were still in tact and we bounced back to snatch a late, dramatic and slightly bizarre winner to stun our opponents.
New signing Elliott Goward, who had come off the bench 10 minutes earlier whipped over a pin point cross that picked out Chris Vardy right in front of goal, but Vards somehow managed to head the ball wide. Elliott picked up the ball again and found Vards for the 2nd time but again our normally lethal striker headed the ball wide of the goal! But fortunately Luke Dunstan was there to stab the ball home only for Kenna to use his hand to prevent a goal. The Baldock centre back who had earlier started his team's revival with their first goal took one for the team and was red carded.
There was a nerve racking delay after the keeper required some treatment (he evidently hurt himself trying to stop Vards second header) but Jack Read kept his cool to score the penalty despite the best efforts of the keeper who got a hand to it. Score 2-3.
For the travelling support we thought that was it, especially as Baldock were down to 9 players with Gregson going off with an injury but the agony was prolonged by the Referee who played over 5 minutes of added time. There was nearly a late bit of drama when Bull managed to get on the end of a cross but fortunately Jack Hopwood made a super stop to save us the added agony of penalties. FT Score 2-3.
It was disappointing that we let slip a 2 goal lead but full marks to the players for showing great character to come back and win the tie against a very good Baldock side that would hold their own in the Premier Division. We have now won 2 games on the trot and hopefully that will boost our confidence although we face a stiff test on Saturday when top of the table Biggleswade FC are the visitors to Tring. They are evidently a young side who like to play football so we need to be at our best.
This win sends us through to the 3rd round where we will entertain either Crawley Green or FC Broxbourne Borough who are due to play each other on 11 October.
BT:1 Jack Farmer (Capt) 2 Stephen Brooks 3 Josh Furness (12 Lewis Barker 55) Suart Pearson 5 Liam Kenna 6 Louis Lee 7 Josh Coley 8 Jack Mordecai (14 Russell Bull 63) 9 Alfie Barker (15 Luke Gregson 63) 10 Alex Coppin 11 Zach Decker. Subs not used: 16 Matt Endersby 17 Mitchell Foley
TA:1 Jack Hopwood 2 Jack Seaton 3 Tommy Twelves 4 Mark Riddick 5 Ryan Reeves 6 Ronnie Blagdon (16 Elliott Goward 75) 7 Ryan Sturges 8 Sam Joliffe (Capt) 9 Chris Vardy 10 Chris Blunden (12 Jack Read 72) 11 Luke Dunstan. Sub not used: 14 Ben Johnson 15 Colm Parrot 17 Dan Steadman.
BT:Liam Kenna (65), Russell Bull (77)
TA:Chris Blunden (24) Sam Joliffe (42) Jack Read Pen (89)