Anyway, this midweek I was finally going to get to Hartley Wintney FC. A side I saw clinch the Combined Counties Premier title two seasons ago (http://www.botp.co.uk/blog/duff-cook-combined-champions). They failed to gain promotion that season because of ground grading issues. However, they won the league again the following year, had already improved their ground, and are now sitting nicely in the Southern League Division One East.
The Memorial Playing Fields, to give their ground it's full name, is on the edge of the rather pleasant and prosperous Hampshire village. With the game being a local derby and a large crowd expected, there were stewards stationed on Green Lane, directing traffic to the ample parking in a field adjacent to the ground. Entrance, through a double turnstile, brings you into the ground next to one of the corner flags, looking straight down the slope with the main facilities all on your right hand side. There is a good sized clubhouse and, maybe because of the expected crowd, a separate snack van selling the usual fare of burgers, tea, coffee etc. Opposite the clubhouse there are two covered seating areas. There are also two covered standing areas behind the car park goal, The Duddridge Stand and the Mullen's, We All Stand Together.
The opposite goal is backed by large amounts of foliage and is out of bounds to spectators. The dugouts, which like the players facilities and the turnstiles, look rather new, are situated on the clubhouse side of the playing surface.
Taking a posiiton on the far side of the ground for the first half, as I tend to do, it was geat to meet Phil Annets (@facupfactfile) in the flesh before kick-off. If you haven't checked out his Twitter account and blog site, you really should. An absolute oracle of FA Cup knowledge and trivia as well as being a really nice bloke to boot.
There had been one previous meeting between the sides in the FA Cup, a 3rd Qualifying Round tie in the 2011-12 season. The Dragons, then of the Step 2 Conference South, ran out 4-0 winners against a Row side plying their trade in the Combined Counties League 1 (Step 6). Now, 6 years down the line, Hartley have risen up two steps and Town have dropped down one, narrowing the gap to one division.
With Basingstoke having the slope to their advantage in the first half, their tactic of attacking with pace down their right flank became immediately apparent. Nippy forward Sam Smart was giving the Hartley left-back, Adam New, plenty to think about. In fact, the Hartley player picked up an early yellow card and a slight knock to go with it. However, The Dragons could not seem to find a final ball to match their endeavours on the wing, a theme that would haunt them throughout the game, and it was the home side who managed the decent chance.
Having said that, neither side managed to create any openings that caused too much concern for the goalkeepers.
After 25 minutes a combination of the knock picked up and the ever=present danger of the player picking up a second yellow, led to Hartley replacing New.
On the half-hour mark, Basingstoke midfielder Collier picked up a yellow card for a rather cynical trip after a Hartley player burst past him. A few minutes later he was lucky to only receive a lecture from the referee after committing what looked like a second yellow card offence. It was a good piece of refereeing in my book. A red card at this point would not have been good for the game and although technically both offences could have been construed as bookable, the second would have been a little soft.
HT Hartley Wintney 0 Basingstoke Town 0. A scrappy first-half. Neither side making too many chances but, credit to The Row, it was very hard to tell whcih side was the higher placed in the pyramid.
Row captain Sam Argent stepped up and planted the spot-kick past the Basingstoke keeper to make it 1-0. A cupset on the cards?
As you would expect, the higher-ranked side stepped up their game after going behind. However, the extra possession that they gained was still not being matched with any end product. The Hartley back-line continued to look comfortable, marshalled brilliantly by Steve Noaks. A special mention also for Dean Stow at right-back, who seemed to get stronger as the game went on. Defending solidly whilst posing a threat on the breakaway down the right-flanks. Great energy.
For Basingstoke, Smart was still running himself into the ground, chasing every ball but all to no avail. His frustration eventually boiled over when, after chasing back after another attack broke down, he felled a Hartley player with a lunging tackle from behind earning himself a yellow card.
The Row, although looking lively on the break, were quite happy to let Basingstoke have the ball in the midfield area, although they did employ all sorts of gamesmanship in the second half (nothing illegal, I should add). Taking their time over goal-kicks and throw-ins, substituting players who just happened to be on the opposite side of the pitch and, one that I hadn't seen before, having two of their substitutes hang around either side of the corer flag whilst a Basingstoke player attempted to take a corner.
There was plenty of injury time added, especially after a prolonged delay for two Hartley players needing treatment for bleeding head injuries. However, there was no more scoring and the Step 4 side quite comfortably held on for a famous victory. We even had calls of 'we can see you sneaking about' in the build up to the final whistle which, in the main, seemed to be taken in fairly good spirit by the away fans.
FT. Hartley Wintney 1 Basingstoke Town 0. A great result for The Row who now face a trip to the Forest of Dean for a second qualifying round tie at Cinderford Town.
Ground No. 134