Video - 'The Miracle of Erith' will live long in Lions' history

Erith Town 3, Guernsey FC 4  (after extra-time) IT HAS been evident for a couple of years now that this ‘island’ side has ability galore, but sometimes overlooked is their fighting quality.

Highlights courtesy of GFCTV in partnership with Kings Life

Erith Town 3, Guernsey FC 4  (after extra-time)

IT HAS been evident for a couple of years now that this ‘island’ side has ability galore, but sometimes overlooked is their fighting quality.

But on the banks of the River Thames on Saturday, Guernsey FC showed character in bucket-loads to produce arguably the greatest comeback in local football history.

Considering the circumstances and the horrific injury suffered to Ryan-Zico Black, they were dead and buried at 3-0 down with just 11min. of play remaining.

Against the best side they have yet faced in competitive play, the emotional strain of the afternoon’s events looked to have understandably got the better of the Green Lions.

Jamie Humphris had just inflicted what looked a fatal double-strike for Erith to send them seemingly cruising through to the third round, adding to Marcus Perona’s first-half goal.

And when Jacques Isabelle scored with a volley of stunning quality on 79min., although the comeback was not impossible, it was just highly implausible.

But five minutes later Alex Le Prevost was on hand to turn the ball home from a corner and a Harry Houdini-act was suddenly on the cards.

As chances came and went in the gripping final few minutes, GFC spent the vast majority of it camped in their opponent’s half, yet it seemed as the 10 of Erith would not buckle.

But with 94:40 on the clock came the coup de grace as Dave Rihoy stepped forward for a goal that perhaps only he could have produced in the circumstances.

From the edge of the box, he beat two players on the outside and from the tightest of angles, fired a stunning left-footed effort across goal, past Erith keeper Tom Warren and into the far bottom corner.

As he wheeled away in celebration at the completion  of a remarkable fightback, he and his team-mates perhaps did not know quite how much stoppage time had already elapsed.

But for the vocal GFC fans watching, they must have thought that was the moment the match was all but won, as a dominant extra-time performance proved.

It was Ross Allen who became another Lions hero three minutes into that extra period by rifling home a left-footed effort past Warren, but it was the unfolding of that incredible quarter-of-an-hour spell in normal time that will live long in the memory.

It ended up as possibly the club’s “were you there?” match, but, for a long spell earlier in the afternoon, it looked as though that question would be asked for all the wrong reasons.

Things had started off well enough for GFC, who looked decent enough in the first 20min. of a contest always likely to be close and they were particularly sound defensively.

The back four all had superb games, in particular left-back Jamie Dodd, while Angus Mackay was also playing another influential role in front of them.

But they had to be on top of their collective games to prevent a brilliant Erith strikeforce of Tyrus Gordon and Marcus Cassius, both being quick, agile and having breathtaking first-touch skills.

For all of their excellent foundation work, GFC were restricted to a Glyn Dyer blocked effort in the opening stages, before Mackay was denied a certain goal by a wonderful Ben Payne sliding tackle on 11min.

Allen also came close on a couple of occasions soon after, but the impact sustained in the earlier challenge meant Mackay hobbled off after 20min., replaced by Kieran Mahon.

Although Mahon did well, that Mackay loss changed the game and, for a spell afterwards, Erith dominated.

Cassius rounded GFC keeper Chris Tardif but hit the crossbar, while Tardif denied Humphris at the start of a goalmouth scramble that also saw Dodd clear off the line.

The pressure told on 31min., when Gordon again broke through the backline, pulled back from the byline and Perona clipped over Tardif without breaking stride.

And things were about to get much worse for GFC as Black and Gordon both went in for a challenge hard and the Lions midfielder remained prone on the ground.

As the severity of the injurty immediately became clear, the game was stopped for nearly an hour as Black was treated for a double break to his right leg and taken to hospital.

It is a devastating blow for arguably GFC’s finest player since their inception a year ago and, at that point, many would have thought this game would peter out after the resumption.

Moments before that restart, referee Rick Bloy called Gordon over and, after talking to the striker, showed him a red card that was not met well by either the individual or his team-mates.

Isabelle was the man to be introduced in place of Black and, from right-back, he had one of his finest games in a GFC shirt, producing a superb performance that would culminate in that goal.

And in the aftermath of the injury, GFC should take huge credit for being the better team before half-time despite the circumstances, although Payne’s sliding goal-line clearance from Dyer’s volley was the closest they got to an equaliser.

They continued that pressure after half-time, with Dom Heaume, Dyer and Allen all having chances, the latter denied by Warren from a great position.

Allen missed another great one-on-one opportunity in an uncharacteristically wasteful day and it was costly as Erith stunned GFC with a double-strike on 68min. and 72min.

Liam Burgess was given far too much space on the right-hand side and although his ambitious long-range effort was completely mis-hit, it fell perfectly for Humphris to ghost in behind the defence at the back post and tap home.

It should have been three when David Noel missed a sitter by firing miles over the bar, but the third did come when Humphris received a ball on the edge of the area, swivelled and shot across Tardif into the far corner off the post.

It was a great finish and looked to have dumped GFC out of a competition they were second-favourites to win before the game.

But then came the comeback.

Minute by passing minute it got closer, as set-pieces proved Erith’s undoing and GFC’s lifeline.

Dyer floated in a corner that was headed up but not totally out of danger by Erith and, waiting 20 yards out, was Isabelle, who has perhaps never hit a ball more sweetly.

The bullet-like volley flew past Warren and into the corner, the Erith number one and his colleagues motionless with the ferocity of the effort.

Even then, the loudening GFC chants of “we’re going to win 4-3” were still looking somewhat ambitious, especially when Allen missed another one-on-one, shooting at Warren’s legs.

But from the resulting Dyer deep hanging corner, Heaume climbed highest to excellently head back across the box and there was Le Prevost to fire home into the top corner from six yards.

With six minutes, plus an expected lengthy stoppage period to follow, the comeback now looked on as GFC continued to bang hard on the Erith door, showing oodles of heart and stamina.

Allen’s volley was denied by Warren as time drew near, while Danny Moore should have been sent off for the hosts when he slid two-footed into Isabelle, ironically a worse tackle than Gordon’s earlier on, but Bloy only showed yellow.

With stoppage time four minutes old Allen curled over a free-kick and that looked to be it, only for the Lions to win a final throw-in near the halfway line.

Dodd must have nearly put his back out with the distance he got on it and the flicked header was won by Heaume to set up Rihoy on the edge of the area.

There was still plenty to be done, though, but cometh the hour, cometh the man and Rihoy’s genius was the most dramatic single intervention in GFC’s short history.

They did not have time to complete a turnaround in normal time, but when extra-time began, there was only one side doing the attacking and that was GFC.

On 93min., substitute Matt Loaring made his mark on a fine match-changing cameo display with a lovely floated ball into the path of Allen and, this time, he made no mistake, giving Warren no chance.

Even at 4-3 up GFC continued to push forward, perhaps not surprising with a Tony Vance team, but a fifth goal eluded them despite chances.

Chris Walker headed straight at Tardif in a rare Erith foray as their one-man deficit really told on an exhausting afternoon that lasted four hours from start to end.

With the final whistle approaching, Isabelle made a vital block to deny Noel the chance to set up a replay, despite the Greens’ full-back carrying various injuries by this point.

It summed up a heroic display by Vance’s Lions and when full-time came, captain Sam Cochrane’s celebration summed up the enormity of the victory.

Against the odds, GFC had completed the Miracle of Erith and this one was most certainly won for ‘Zico’.