Delfation for Lancing - but no dishonour after FA Vase exit
There will be no Wembley trip this season for Lancing Football Club. They exited the FA Vase by the tiniest of margins at Culver Road, edged out on penalties by Flackwell Heath.
With the scores locked at 1-1 after 90 minutes, and no extra time allowed under this season’s Vase rules, it was down to the shoot-out from 12 yards.
Visiting keeper Aaron Watkins saved Lancing’s first and fourth spot-kicks, and a triumphant Flackwell Heath had booked their place in the last 16.
For the Lancers, it was a cruel finish to a grippingly close contest in the Culver Road sunshine. They had played with purpose, great organisation and teamwork, and for long spells they controlled the play. But only goals win games, and Lancing had only one – Mo Juwara’s strike just before half-time – to show.
Visitors Flackwell Heath – leaders of the very strong Hellenic League when the season was frozen – always looked potent in their swift, breakaway attacks, but after a strong opening they had faded, and spent almost the whole second half on the back foot.
Lancing might have been two up in the first ten minutes. Left-back Juwara, whose enterprise and electric pace would catch the eye all afternoon, danced in and set up a fourth-minute chance for Conrad Honore but the shot was blocked. Then Lewis Finney zipped in a lethal low cross from the right, but Matt Daniel’s finish only found the side netting.
And on ten minutes Heath were ahead with the tamest of goals. Home keeper Mitch Brommage splendidly turned away Khalid Symo’s strike, but the resulting corner was pure catastrophe for the home defence, Symo popping the ball into an open net from barely three yards.
For a while, Heath were dominant. Skipper Josh Baines drove them forward, and the skills and smart movement of strikers Symo and Louie Soares had home defenders at full stretch. But Lancing held their nerve and stuck to their pass-and-move possession football.
For a time it was easy on the eye, but a little too easy on the Heath defence. The Midlanders’ high line, with a huge green space behind them, simply invited Lancing to try turning their centre-backs, but it never happened – or at least not until half-time was approaching.
Then home striker Ben Connolly hit a scorching cross-shot, saved by a full-stretch Watkins at the expense of a corner – from which Juwara cracked a fierce effort over the bar from a tight angle.
Heath were now battening down with literally every player back behind the ball, and Lancing looked to the guile of Darren Budd and his fellow midfielders to prise them open. And two minutes from the break, the patience paid off.
A quick-thinking throw-in on the left set Juwara in for an emphatic strike – from almost exactly the spot where he had previously smashed high and handsome – to level the scores at 1-1.
The second half was tense, close and utterly absorbing. Lancing must have enjoyed three-quarters of the possession, and as the minutes ticked away, a leaden-legged Heath defence was barely hanging on. In fairness, they did conjure three or four breakaways which might have snatched a winner, but they were denied by one excellent Brommage save – from Symo, of course – and then by their own wild finishing.
Meanwhile at the other end, we waited for the Lancing breakthrough. And waited. Right-back Darius Goldsmith finessed his way into the box but just lost control, and then Juwara’s cross-shot was scarily deflected for a corner. Heath centre-back Muhamdou Ceesay was a very lucky lad to escape with a yellow card rather than red, taking out Connolly as the striker raced clear on goal. But 1-1 it stayed.
Flackwell Heath had earned themselves a puncher’s chance in the shoot-out, and they seized it. The big figure of keeper Watkins saved two of Lancing’s first four penalties, and there was no need for a fifth. Elation for the victors, deflation – but not the slightest dishonour – for Kane Louis and James Rhodes’ brave Lancing battlers.