FA Vase Semi-Final Heartbreak for City
By Kevin Olver
City fall at the last hurdle in front of over 1200 supporters in their historic and record breaking bid to reach Non-League Finals Day
Canterbury City 1 Cray Valley 1 (Agg 1-2)
City's valiant Vase dream ended today when they were unable to turn around the one goal deficit from last week's semi-final first leg match and it is their opponents Cray Valley who go to Wembley for Non-League Finals Day in May.
It was a tense afternoon and a giant crowd of well over twelve-hundred filed through the turnstiles at Salters Lane to cheer their respective sides on and such was the demand to see this historic game, kick-off had to be delayed for ten minutes to alleviate the queues outside before the match could start.
Anthony Edgar's long range punt that bobbled well wide of the City goal in the opening seconds, a couple of Cray corners and a free-kick headed out at the far post by Cem Tumkaya - all in the first few minutes - couldn't hide early City nerves in a game that had so much at stake. They soon settled though and a Ryan Cooper long throw was cleared by a combination of keeper and defender at the near post, before City were a stud's depth away from being gifted the goal that would have levelled up the tie when Cray keeper Deren Ibrahim almost let a simple back pass slip under his foot but just getting the ends of his studs on the ball to slow it's progress and give himself just enough time to hack the ball clear as it rolled towards the goal-line.
The game became tense and rugged in places with plenty of niggly stoppages as Cray started to withdraw behind their one-goal, first-leg lead safety blanket and City sought to ensure they stayed in the tie as long as possible - pushing forward but without over-committing. A half-chance almost came their way when Bola Dawodu and Dean Grant chased into the box after an Adam Woollcott free-kick - neither got to it but Dawodu was adamant he had been impeded and pulled back as he raced through, but the referee waved his protests away.
After the initial exchanges there was little to report as neither side really got going and flowing football was at a premium, but around the thirty-fifth minute, City created two chances. Firstly, some lovely skill by Danny Lawrence started a move that saw a mis-directed defensive header fall to Grant inside the box but as the path to goal seem to open up for a split-second in front of him, he just couldn't get the ball out from under his feet and the moment was lost. Then, barely a minute later, a ball into the Cray box was nodded on by Dawodu and it fell nicely for Ollie Lee to swivel and crash a first-time volley that thumped against the cross bar and bounced down to safety with Ibrahim a mere bystander - City so desperately close to the opener and aggregate leveller that they needed.
A Cray corner in the run up to the break saw a header take a deflection off a City defender and ricochet into keeper Jack Delo's arms, but apart from that the play was as tense and edgy as the crowd were and at half-time the actual game was goalless but with City still the one behind in the tie.
The second-half saw City push on a bit more but still mindful about keeping the back door as guarded as possible. A long throw from Ryan Cooper was flicked on by Dawodu and after a moments hesitation in the Cray defence, the ball was hacked away to safety before the same players combined again but this time Dawodu's flick was goalbound before Ibrahim's outstretched hand pushed the ball over the bar for a fruitless corner.
Another long throw launched into the box by Cooper again took a flick on and almost found Lawrence charging in at the far post but the ball was nicked out away from him for a corner at the last second just as he looked certain to make contact.
Cray responded when some tidy skill down by the corner flag by Edgar eventually set up Ryan Flack but his twenty-yard effort was sliced well wide. Grant then saw his shot blocked at source allowing Cray to break rapidly requiring full-back Michael Turner's well timed sliding tackle to block Gavin Tomlin's resultant effort. City then made their first change with Kyron Lightfoot replacing Woollcott.
Cray then saw a shot deflect up and out for a corner which flew across the City box before a cross was sent back in from the opposite side but it landed harmlessly on top of the City net. A free-kick wide left by City was speared in by Lightfoot but Ibrahim punched it two-fisted away from danger, City eventually reworking the ball with Lawrence firing wide under pressure.
Another change by City saw Jordan Casey replace Lee as Edgar shot well over the bar from the edge of the box for Cray. The game was just opening up a little with City still chasing the goal to eradicate the first-leg deficit but some hesitation in their defence allowed Kevin Lisbie to pick his way through a bit too freely, but centre-half Ben Gorham got back well to harry him into shooting wide.
Casey then had a shot blocked before on seventy-two minutes Cray took a decisive lead in the match thus extending their overall advantage to two goals. Danny Smith weaved his way into the City box before seeing his firm shot well saved from close range with his feet by Delo but the ball rebounded to Tomlin who paused, controlled the ball well and curled his shot around the keeper and a defender and into the far side of the net for 0-1 (0-2).
The onus was now well and truly on City to chase the game but straight after, Edgar attacked their ranks and laid the ball off to the overlapping Denzil Gayle but the attack was well thwarted by Gary Sayer racing across to cover.
City's final change then saw Lawrence replaced by Renford Tenyue as City let an attacking free-kick pass them by when Lightfoot's ball down the blind-side wasn't read by anyone in a City shirt and soonafter, a corner was too easily cleared before City reworked the ball back in but Casey could only lift it straight into Ibrahim's awaiting grasp.
Time was now rapidly ebbing away from City's cause and despite a concerted effort and with Gorham going forward as an emergency attacker, they just couldn't respond quick enough to give themselves a realistic chance. Two huge Casey throws were defended away by Cray, Tenyue popped the ball across but failed to find a team-mate while another attempted cross from him was charged down and away.
A break by Casey fed Gorham but his ball across the box was bundled away by the Cray defence, while a free-kick near the dead ball line was arrowed across by Lightfoot and Cooper flashed a bullet header narrowly wide.
All the pressure was now understandably coming from City and with ninety minutes on the watch another long throw from Cooper fell to Sayer in the box and he swivelled and sent a left-foot volley home from close range for 1-1 on the day and 1-2 on aggregate giving City a glimmer of hope with four minutes of added time still to play.
City threw everything at Cray and in the second minute of stoppage time a ball over to the far post saw Cooper's header loop agonisingly just over the bar before at the other end, Francis Babola charged into the City box before seeing his shot saved by Delo at his near post. City had further chances in what little time remained to get the ball into the box but despite Delo coming forward for a last minute corner, Cray held firm to win the tie and send City out of the competition and themselves to Wembley.
The FA Vase has been a wonderful adventure for us this season - from the first qualifying round against Langney in Eastbourne back in September until this semi-final in March - the team have done themselves, the supporters and probably, most importantly at the moment, the club so very proud and as disappointed that I am that we couldn't get there ourselves, I personally would like to wish Cray all the best of luck for Finals Day.
Final score: Canterbury City 1 Cray Valley 1 (Agg 1-2)
City: Jack Delo, Michael Turner, Ryan Cooper, Phil Starkey, Ben Gorham, Gary Sayer, Adam Woollcott (Kyron Lightfoot), Ollie Lee (Jordan Casey), Dean Grant, Bola Dawodu, Danny Lawrence (Renford Tenyue)
Unused subs: James Turner, Chris Saunders