City's FA Vase Dream Continues into the Quarter-Finals
By Kevin Olver
City march on with a controlled and determined display to defeat Leicester Nirvana and make it through to the last eight.
Canterbury City 2 Leicester Nirvana 1
A monumental week for the club has started off with a monumental result as City made it though to the last eight of the FA Vase with this hard fought victory against Leicester Nirvana.
In front of a large and vociferous crowd giving fantastic support to both sides, City took a two goal lead and then resisted Nirvana's spirited comeback even shrugging off the referee's ridiculous intervention as well to see them safely through to Monday's draw for the quarter-finals.
The game started quickly and Nirvana had the first couple of assaults on goal as a corner was well cleared by City before Jack Delo got down well to save from Abu Cisse's well struck low shot, before needing to grab the rebound quickly as Tariq Wilson came racing in.
Despite this it was City that took the lead. A free-kick was sent into the Nirvana box and nodded on by Laurence Harvey, as the ball was only partially cleared by the defence it fell to Chris Saunders - he took a step to one side and crashed the ball home in off the underside of the crossbar for 1-0.
Shortly after, City had a chance to double their lead when Dean Grant chased after a through ball and as the visiting keeper Michael Antkowiak came out to close him down, Grant stretched to dink the ball over him, but couldn't get enough power and although it was bouncing towards the net, a covering defender was able to track back and hoof the ball clear.
Saunders was then shown a yellow card for City which at the time appeared to be given more based on the reactions of other players rather than the actual foul itself - just how many times does your team-mate need to act out the high-step (getting higher and higher every time) to convince a referee that a card is warranted - quite a few is the answer!
Nirvana then had a chance to level when a break down the left saw the ball fizzed across the City box but just eluding Chris Anastasi sprinting in. A couple of bits of solid defending from Harvey and Ryan Cooper kept Nirvana at bay at the expense of a corner but the visitors then had Antkowiak to thank for preventing them from going two behind when a through ball for City had Grant's name all over it until the keeper came charging out of his box with a perfectly timed tackle to clear the ball, then as it rebounded back to him while still outside the box, he had to show off his ball juggling skills before being able to clear it to safety.
For the next period of play, City lay siege on their opponents goal. A couple of long throws from Cooper came and went while a Kyron Lightfoot corner on the right was punched clear from under his own bar by Antkowiak. A City free-kick into the box was initially cleared but nodded back in and Grant then knocked it down for Saunders to swivel and send a stinging volley just too high.
A minute later, Bola Dawodu broke forward for City but despite being pulled back at least twice he managed to poke the ball through to Grant, who, with the angle narrowing, screwed his shot across the face of the keeper but also wide of the far post. City's pressure soon told though as in the very next attack, they doubled their lead. An under par clearance from Antkowiak was easily headed back into the danger zone by Dawodu and Grant pounced taking the ball out to the right before stroking it past the keeper with unerring accuracy and into the net for 2-0.
Nirvana needed to score the next goal and could have done so when a break by Anastasi found Cisse on the overlap and with only Delo to beat, the City keeper stood firm and tall beating away the initial shot before seeing Cisse slice the rebound well wide. They went close again soon after when William Gonga's overhead kick in the box had to be calmly palmed over his own bar by Delo.
In the run up to the break, Anastasi volleyed over for Nirvana from the edge of the box while at the other end, Lightfoot struck a rocket for City that flew a yard wide of the angle.
Two goals to the good for City, but if Nirvana could grab the next goal back then it would be game on!
Straight after the break, substitute Adam Swain saw his twenty-five yard low shot skid well wide for Nirvana , while City responded with an Adam Woollcott free-kick just evading both Harvey and Grant in front of goal while Grant's next ball in then just saw Dawodu fail to connect despite an acrobatic and athletic attempt to do so.
Nirvana then had a positive spell which culminated in them pulling a goal back. Firstly, the ball was scooted low across the face of the City goal somehow failing to find anybody's touch and then a corner from the right was well taken by Delo with some fine handling. The pressure was beginning to build and on Nirvana's next attack, a break down their right, saw them ride a strong challenge out wide before cutting inside and playing the ball back for Swain to sweep it past Delo from close range for 2-1.
Nirvana's next effort saw a promisingly placed free-kick hammered straight into the CIty wall while another from wide right was arrowed into the box but safely gathered by Delo. The momentum was just showing signs of possibly moving in Nirvana's favour as City responded by introducing Ollie Lee and Jordan Casey into the fray.
A long stoppage for a head injury disrupted the play somewhat but after the restart, City were a slip away from going further in front when Grant's break down the right was played inside to Casey and after a neat bit of control he picked out Woollcott arriving at speed on the left, only to see him slip at the vital moment on the greasy surface but still managing to somehow stab the ball past Antkowiak but also agonisingly past the post.
In the eighty-second minute came what could have been a turning point. A wonderful move through the middle by City with some slick and quick passing saw Saunders break into the box and with just the keeper to beat he was tripped from behind for a certain penalty. The referee thought otherwise though and booked the player for diving and having already been booked he was also shown the red card and sent off. If you're on a yellow card and through on goal, there is clearly nothing to be gained by diving and rightly there was universal disdain then and since at the referee's decision!
However, City's FA Vase run is made of steel and this total injustice just saw them dig in even deeper and work even harder in a dogged commitment to the cause.
Time was running out of the ninety for Nirvana, but with possibly six or seven minutes plus of stoppages to be added, the game needed managing to a successful conclusion by City and that is exactly what they did.
They fought for every ball keeping Nirvana largely pinned back deep into their own half. The ball was kept in the corner, then a throw was won, then another and then a corner. Time was disappearing fast for Nirvana and they just couldn't get forward.
A City free-kick was swung in to the back post and Lee headed powerfully just over the bar. Another then came in and bounced about before Lee pounced to hook his volley again, just over. This was all serving to frustrate Nirvana and use up whatever time was still being added.
City made a third change replacing Grant with Josh Froggatt while yet another free-kick was defended away by the visitors.
Despite being a man down, City attacked to defend and when Froggatt was blocked off the ball on a break down the left, the inevitable free-kick for City just continued to eat away at Nirvana's precious remaining time.
Finally, in the ninety-seventh minute and with Nirvana barely getting a sight of City's goal since the sending off, the referee called time and City had heroically and historically made it through to the quarter-finals.
It was great to hear club captain Laurence Harvey give as an assured performance on Radio Kent after the game as he always does on the pitch as the news of City's achievement spreads and creates interest, but this result will pale into relative insignificance if this monumental week mentioned at the start of this report does not end with another victory for the club in the Council Chamber on Tuesday.
This was another fantastic day and atmosphere, friendly and well organised - so the club have done their part, the team has done it's, the supporters theirs and now it's up to the City Council to finally do the right thing by the club and grant the application for it's new ground on Tuesday.
But for now let's just celebrate City's fantastic victory today and look forward to the draw on Monday.
Final score: Canterbury City 2 Leicester Nirvana 1
City: Jack Delo, Michael Turner, Ryan Cooper, Laurence Harvey, Gary Sayer, Adam Woollcott, Kyron Lightfoot (Ollie Lee), Chris Saunders, Dean Grant (Josh Froggatt), Bola Dawodu (Jordan Casey), Renford Tenyue
Unused Subs: James Turner, Rob Lawrence