ASHLEY Vickers felt immensely proud of his battling Blackfield & Langley troops in the wake of Saturday’s dramatic 3-2 defeat at Bemerton in the FA Vase fourth round.
But, while saluting the Watersiders’ efforts in pegging back a two-goal deficit in a frantic all-Sydenhams Wessex tie, he conceded that Bemerton had showed a tad more desire on the day.
Inspired by skipper Jack Slade’s 19th-minute opener, Harlequins stunned the visitors with a second goal on the half-hour as Danny Young capitalised on an error by Blackfield’s ex-Saints Academy ’keeper Steve Mowthorpe.
But Dom Allen instantly threw the visitors a lifeline and, when sub Beng’yela Ngwa struck a minute into time added on, it looked as if an already long afternoon’s football was about to spill into an extra half-hour.
There had been a lengthy second-half hold-up when Blackfield defenders Mike and Joe Byrne clashed heads, leaving both requiring a bandage and a change of blood-stained shirt.
It resulted in a full ten minutes of stoppage time – plenty enough for the ecstatic Young to claim his second goal and fire Bemerton into the last 16 for only the second time in their history. Sub Dan Bowman delivered a corner from the right, Slade nodded it on and Young blasted it home from inside the six-yard box.
“It was a good effort by us coming back from two down, but we conceded some poor goals,” admitted Blackfield boss Vickers.
“Everyone was on a high after we’d pulled it back to 2-2 and it was crucial we kept our concentration. But we conceded a corner and Bemerton showed more desire to put it in the net than we did to defend it.
“It didn’t help that our right-back, TJ Cuthbertson, was struggling injury-wise to pick up his man.
“I have every faith in this young Blackfield team and I’m proud of what we’ve achieved, but Bemerton’s workrate and fight was perhaps greater than ours on the day.
“Their front two of Jack Slade and Joe Sanger are a formidable pairing.”
Having spent the early part of the season pursuing his other hobby, fishing, it was touch and go whether Sanger would get the nod to start up front.
He did and, within 19 minutes, it became apparent why he and Slade bagged 50 Wessex goals between them last term.
Sanger played in his strike partner and Slade did the rest, working his way towards the right of the area before beating Mowthorpe with an angled shot into the far corner.
With Ekow Elliott providing a skilful outlet on the right and Alex Baldacchino full of running up front, Blackfield were never short of chances.
But Bemerton defender Tom Roberts saw to it that ex-Saint Kev Gibbens’s hold-up play was not quite as commanding as usual and, with 30 minutes gone, the Watersiders found themselves two goals down.
Ollie Roe pumped a hopeful high ball into the box which Mowthorpe failed to gather and Young greedily fed off the scraps.
Home elation lasted only a matter of seconds, however, as Dave Ewen teed up Allen to pull one back with a close-range belter.
A remarkably open game produced a catalogue of chances after the break. Baldacchino had the pick of Blackfield’s, but was denied by a smart save from Harlequins’ ex-AFC Totton keeper Grant Porter diving to his left.
Seconds later Young burst through and managed to poke the ball past Mowthorpe who had raced outside his area.
It looked like curtains for the Watersiders, but there was a collective sigh of Blackfield relief as the ball rolled inches past the post.
That relief turned to jubilation a minute into stoppage time as Paul Preston delivered for fellow sub Ngwa to seemingly fire Blackfield’s best ever Vase run into extra time.
But Young had other ideas, booking Bemerton a February 9 trip to Vase favourites Spennymoor or Lordswood who meet in a delayed fourth round tie this Saturday.
Harlequins boss Ian Chalk summed up: “Today was exactly what I expected with two decent Wessex sides really going for it.
“It was an open game, but that was always going to be the case with both sides happier going forward than defending.
“That said, Graham Mankin and Tom Roberts handled the threat of Gibbens and Baldacchino really well.
“The whole side deserves credit.”