Rye United 5, Guernsey FC 6 (a.e.t. 3-3 at 90min.)
Highlights courtesy of GFCTV in partnership with Kings Life
Rye United 5, Guernsey FC 6 (a.e.t. 3-3 at 90min.)
AS THE dust settles on another remarkable FA Vase tie, many will rightly be asking just how it is that Guernsey FC’s dream of Wembley remains alive.
If their dramatic win over Erith Town back in November was stunning enough, this 11-goal thriller at The Salts took the sense of drama associated with watching the Green Lions to a whole new level.
In terms of quality, this was not the finest match GFC have been involved in, but for pure footballing theatre, it is unlikely to be replicated in the near future, with Rye United playing their part in an absolute epic.
By the time that referee Andrew Parker had blown for full-time of a barely-believable 120 minutes, many were struggling to recall what had been before, such was the rollercoaster nature of the contest.
GFC had made their customary slow start in falling 2-0 down in no time and with Rye ruthlessly exploiting their weakness at defending set-pieces, it seemed as though the Vase run might come to a shuddering halt.
But the Lions’ now trademark character shone through, firstly in turning it around in normal time and then after being pegged back, coming back from both 4-3 and then 5-4 down in extra-time.
On a pitch not suited for flowing football and quickly resembling a mudbath, GFC struggled all afternoon with their opponents’ direct approach that played a role in all five conceded.
But the visiting attackers had the last laugh, with the quartet of Dom Heaume, Ross Allen, substitute Nigel Hutton and finally Dave Rihoy grabbing priceless goals as they terrorised the home defence throughout with their non-stop running from deep.
Heaume, particularly, was superb as he continually won key aerial battles, while his midfield partners Alex Le Prevost and Kieran Mahon also shone.
Mahon was arguably man-of-the-match with a gritty, action-packed display.
However, they would need to do it the hard way as slack defending saw them fall two behind inside of the opening 10 minutes.
Only 4min. were on the clock when Liam Upton burst down the right for Rye, beat Ollie McKenzie for pace and strength in surging into the box, before his low cross was expertly flicked home by the onrushing Sam Crabb.
That shocked GFC and the home side’s second surge forward resulted in the lead being doubled on 10min.
Another high ball into the box was not dealt with and the ball dropped, with Crabb the quickest to react.
His quick feet then allowed him to make space under pressure to poke past GFC goalkeeper Chris Tardif and stun the visitors still further.
Already Rye were playing to their strengths and also looking to run down the clock, although being two down is nothing new to GFC and they set about getting back in the match.
Rihoy was put through on goal by Mahon, only for ref Parker to bring back play for an earlier foul, while Rihoy also dragged a good left-footed effort wide of Josh Willis’ post.
GFC were the only team trying to play football, although the risk of falling further behind was continual, as Anthony Storey’s deliveries for the home side regularly caused Tardif and his defenders problems.
But moments after Allen had a shot cleared off the line by Luke Woodley, the same man had the chance to level it from the spot, as Ryan Alexander fouled the GFC hitman as he pulled back the trigger.
Allen stepped up and hit a perfect penalty, high into Willis’ top corner and suddenly the visiting mood was lifted.
It continued in a scrappy fashion in the immediate aftermath and the next opportunity resulted in the equaliser, although it did not come until 39min.
Despite his penalty, Allen had been largely frustrated until that point, only to score his second in some style.
Rihoy’s throw into his team-mate’s feet on the left-hand side led to Allen quickly turning two defenders in one go and hitting a low shot across the box that crept in at the far post for his 31st of the season.
That was that for a breathless first half, although GFC had to replace the injured McKenzie with Joe Alvarez at the break.
The game tightened up as both teams knew the importance of the fifth goal, although GFC were shading it and were rewarded by taking the lead for the first time on 56min.
Alvarez’s ball down the left found Rihoy, who turned his marker and put in an excellent curling cross that found the head of Heaume perfectly.
The big striker ended up sprawled on the ground as the header went across Willis from 15 yards out and found the bottom corner perfectly.
The match was all GFC now and they knew that if they could grab their fourth, it would be as good as all over.
But it would not come, as chances came and went for Jamie Dodd, who was immense as the half wore on, as well as a Le Prevost indirect free-kick and a close-range Allen effort.
The tireless Loaring should have won a penalty when he was sent sprawling by Sean Kelly, but Parker waved it away in the referee’s one big mistake of the day.
GFC were punished on 81min. as their Achilles heel haunted them once again.
Storey’s corner was met by an emphatic Andy Atkin header and, although that produced a stunning one-handed save from Tardif, Matt Maclean was on hand at the back post to head home the rebound.
Sensing a dramatic winner, Rye nearly made it 4-3 moments later but GFC just about cleared their lines, while Loaring should have won it at the other end but he shot straight at Willis.
With seconds remaining, Allen nearly scored a wonder goal to settle it, but could find only the side-netting after his quick feet beat a number of challenges in a confined penalty area.
After Tardif had produced another stunning save from Sam Adams’ long-range effort, it all meant another 30 minutes that will have pleased any neutrals watching who had wrapped up against the cold.
If the first 90 minutes had been dramatic, the extra period was nothing short of incredible, as the lead changed hands once again on 98min., but only after GFC had lost Loaring to injury, after he wasted a great chance by colliding with Willis.
Adams showed him how it should be done as he collected Luke Woodley’s low cross in the area and fired past Tardif into the roof of the net from close range.
With their injury withdrawals and Rihoy and Mahon both carrying knocks, it seemed this might be a bridge too far for the Lions, but back they came again.
As the Rye bench grew incensed at the amount of added time at the end of the first period, Heaume struck five minutes into it, finishing off the move of the match.
Mahon and Le Prevost had already been involved in the quick-flowing move that saw Heaume timing his run well to reach a lovely Hutton pass into his path then keep his composure and slot across Willis for an equaliser that send assistant coach Colin Fallaize delirious on the touchline.
But within moments of the second period restart, it was 5-4 Rye.
Another Storey free-kick was met by Kelly’s looping header, which wrongfooted Tardif and, as he leant back to clear it, he could only parry it out into the six-yard area.
Kelly’s effort may well have already crossed the line, but Rye made sure by bundling home the rebound.
Le Prevost scored a vital goal against Erith and nearly did the same here, his powerful effort turned over by Willis, but it was substitute Hutton who would be the hero on 111min.
After waiting patiently in the wings for a number of weeks, the Northerner was excellent upon his entrance and, after making one goal he scored arguably the biggest goal of his career so far.
The game’s second fantastic move saw a number of players combine, including Dodd’s lovely flicked pass, and when Allen laid off to Rihoy, the Bels man fired across goal and Hutton timed his run perfectly to beat his marker and poke home.
But after everything that had gone before, it was set for Rihoy to become the Sarnian hero once again as he made his second priceless intervention in three rounds, fast becoming the star of this particular competition.
With 115min. on the clock, Heaume’s ball forward found Rihoy and he made absolutely no mistake first time from an acute angle, firing across Willis into the bottom corner.
Even then, the game was not safe and when Rye had a late free-kick and the chance to make it 6-6, they were denied only by Mahon, who was on the post to head off the line.
Seconds later Parker blew his final whistle to the biggest cheer of the match from the GFC contingent and just two months after ‘The Miracle of Erith’, the ‘Battle of Rye’ had just about – remarkably – ended in GFC’s favour.