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Thursday, February 14, 2008

Moment of madness costs Consett their day in the sun

Mertham 5 Consett 4 aet

Having not visited a Combined counties team in the Vase this season, I opted for Merstham for their last 16 tie. Probably a big mistake for someone who has ‘issues’ pronouncing their TH’s. But I had a little practice in anticipation of buying my rail ticket & stood in the queue wondering why I hadn’t opted for the match in Stanway. Fortunately, the booking clerk didn’t have English as a strong point and he asked me to spell out my destination. It turns out that the T is hard in Merstham and is pronounced Merstam, so I didn’t need to worry.
The journey was fairly straightforward. A couple of students sat near me on the train from Victoria discussing their possible university choices. I had to smile as one of them spoke favourable about Hertfordshire and how it was bound to be a quiet, leafy type of place. Not how I’d describe Hatfield, I’d love to see her face when she visits the area.
It’s funny how trends occur when you visit a different ground every week. For the second week running, my train went hurtling past my destination. Very unnerving, although Nationalrail obviously picked this as the quickest route. I needed to change at Redhill and go back one stop on myself.
After last rounds culinary non-event, I was hoping for a decent lunch. A smile spread over my face as I left the station and found Merstham café there right in front of me. The English are knocked for their cuisine but you cannot beat a traditional café. Marvellous grub sold at exceptionally reasonable prices. So many choices, you could have omelettes, breakfasts, Shepherds pie, chops, jam rolly polly, spotted dick…The list was endless. People was streaming in and requesting all manner of food to order. Everything that came out looked great and was piping hot. I was so overwhelmed with the choice, I bottled it rather with my sausage, chips & beans, but they were great and I’d love the opportunity for a re-visit.
It’s about a 15 minute walk to the ground but very easy to find. After desperate weather for the last two rounds, this was the most glorious day. Not a cloud in the sky & the temperature hit a balmy 15 degrees.
The ground was nice enough. A fair sized stand and small covered areas behind both goals. There’s fencing surrounding the pitch, a clubhouse sited just outside the main entrance and a room with a tea hatch. Merstham had used the fine weather as an excuse to knock up a BBQ that did a roaring trade.
This particular Saturday was all about the game itself. In 25 years of regularly watching non-league football, this is up there contending for the most extraordinary game I’ve ever seen.
It started at a fairly pedestrian pace with Consett stopping Merstham from playing and basically being well on top. They scored on 16 mins, a quick throw on the left resulted in two blocked shots, the ball fell to Brown who shot across goal, the ball going in off the far inside post. The game continued in this vane, with Consett looking like comfortable winners. On 63 mins, Brown broke down the right, his cross across the 6 yard line found Johnson who side-footed home. Merstham finally got into the match on 70 mins, the keeper saved brilliantly from a snap shot but the ball fell to Morgan who shot into the roof of the net. Consett were still in total control though, until 30 seconds from the end of stoppage time. Piecha kicked a Merstham player in the penalty area with the ball 50 yards away, Piecha was sent off and Vernon hit a great penalty into the top corner. The first minute of extra time saw Moffat score easily for Consett after the Merstham keeper kicked an attempted clearance against his own defender’s backside. 10 mins later, Consett led by 2 for the second time in the match when Pounder curled home a 20 yard free kick. But 1 minute later & back came Merstham when Read finished nicely after a scramble. The second period of extra time saw Merstham on top for the first time. On 111 mins, they levelled once again when Greenhouse turned in a cross from the left, the keeper unlucky to tip it onto the inside of the post. The drama was complete on 116 mins when Vernon turned a shot in whilst he was falling after another goalmouth scramble. There was still time For Consett to miss a point blank chance in the final seconds, the shot being blazed over the bar.
At the end, the crowd just stood and applauded. Heart breaking for Consett but for £5, unbeatable entertainment for the spectators.

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