Bemerton Heath Harlequins took Premier Division leaders Alresford Town to extra time, but the home side ultimately fell short in the first qualifying round of the Buildbase FA Vase.
Although Bemerton could have, and probably should have found the net to seal the victory before 90 minutes, it was ultimately a questionable (to say the least) penalty decision in extra time that sent them out of the competition.
Bemmy’s Dan Kempson got a hand on the ball but the penalty kick from Alresford’s George Hallahan found its way into the net to make it 2-1, a goal that ended up being the last.
Alresford were the better team overall but for the best part of the game, but Bemerton matched them in many ways and drew first blood through Daniel Finnigan on 11 minutes.
The home side was forced to take a step back and put their faith into longer balls and counterattacks as Alresford controlled the passing game and continuously tried to lob the ball behind Bemmy’s defence.
The defence was well-coordinated however and Dan Kempson in goal only had to make a couple of saves as most balls were forced outside of the goal frame and around the 30-minute mark, a brilliant build-up should have meant 2-0 but the prolific goal scorer Justin Bennett surprisingly aimed wide against the lone keeper.
Back and forth play ensued and both sides had their chances, but the visitors possessed most of the ball and just before the half time whistle, a header from Craig Harding equalised the score.
The second half was well entertaining and good play from both teams forced their goal keepers to fully stretch out. Bemerton clawed themselves back into the game and had the upper hand from 60 minutes.
With about 10 minutes left, Ryan Lewis could have been the hero for Bemerton but instead of converting on a rebound one yard out, the ball slipped through his legs to keep it one-all.
It seemed the home side would have the last say but quality in the final touches from Finnigan, Bennett, Kane O’Keefe, Jack Slade and others was unfortunately lacking. Instead, the game went to extra time and not long into it, Alresford’s Duarte Martins went down inside Bemmy’s box and the referee pointed at the penalty spot.
Chaos ensued as the decision was highly questionable and massive protests echoed around Moon Park and only increased when the referee didn’t consult his linesman who was close to the situation. Bemerton skipper O’Keefe was sent to the sin bin for his objections.
The away side’s Hallahan converted, but Bemerton quickly picked themselves up. A super-save from Declan Macarthy on Scott Hassall’s ‘overhead-side-volley’ from a few yards out was the only thing that kept Bemerton trailing.
Ryan Lewis almost avenged himself, but his goal was called offside without much appeal and substitute Konrad Makowski’s header nearly made it 2-2.
However, Bemerton’s efforts were not enough and a great game from both sides ended in frustration for the home side.
Managers Ian Saunders and Jim Macey concentrated on the positives after the game but were, of course, disappointed.
“We defended well today against a big side,” Ian said.
“First half we resorted to long balls, but in the second half I thought we took the game by the scruff of the neck.
“We’re very disappointed to concede right on half time and that might have been a deciding moment in the game for us. In extra time I thought the boys looked fit, we’re really disappointed with the penalty decision.
“We felt it was really soft, but you have to live by what the referee gives you. We huffed and puffed them for the last 25 minutes.
“Any neutral here today watching, certainly the second half, would say the Bemerton lads played for their shirt. We certainly looked like a side that wants to do well for the club and we’re devastated to go out of the FA Vase but now all our attention is on the next league game.
“If we these boys fit and keep gelling, we’ll win more games than we lose this year – our main remit, win the league.”
Bemerton’s Division One campaign continues tomorrow, Tuesday, September 3 at home against Andover Town, which they beat 6-0 in the League Cup just last week. KO 7.45pm.