Leighton Town – 2
Tuffley Rovers – 3
For any fan of football that sits at home on a Saturday afternoon watching scores ticking over on a television screen, and thinks non-league football would be poor to watch should have been at Bell Close on Saturday afternoon. Any neutrals attending this game may not have recognised many of the faces on the pitch, but they would certainly have recognised the full bloodied approach to the game, and the ecstasy turning to agony that concluded this tie in the final five minutes that only the FA Cup can deliver at any level and any round.
Leighton Town played their first game in front of their newly refurbished main stand, shining brightly red and white on a sunny afternoon, and it will be a while surely before it witnesses another grand slam finish to a FA Cup fixture like this one. With eighty-four and a half minutes played the home side were two goals to the good, and were defending everything their guests could hurl at them. But a penalty awarded to Tuffley was converted and gave them belief and the momentum to not only equalise but also find a winner seven minutes into added time, and leave Leighton literally on the floor at the final whistle.
Tuffley enjoyed some good early possession and a fourth minute corner was met by the diving head of Brett James but a slight deflection off Alex Condon saw the ball deflect off the crossbar and over for a corner. From the clearance Leighton attacked with pace and the ball the ball was played up to Lorrell Smith, as Rovers keeper & captain Dave Evans fought to win the ball off the striker it fell loose to Alex O’Brien and with defenders straining to get back and cover the empty net Evans had no choice but to bring the Town man down and take a yellow card for his efforts. Dom Marsala saw his free kick punched back to him by Evans and the Leighton skipper fired at goal again, the ball striking James Hatch before going in to give the hosts the lead.
Home keeper Tom Wyant then made a good save from close range after some foot tennis inside the area, and then had to get down low to his left to smoother a free kick from twenty yards from Rovers player-manager Mark Pritchett. A left wing cross was then headed wide by Courtney Hamilton as the away side pushed for a leveller, before a long throw found Pritchett at the near post with Condon in close attendance who turned and fired only to see Wyant save with his feet.
Leighton fought their way back and just past the hour mark saw Leighton attack on the break when O’Brien was fed behind the Tuffley back line, with defenders hot on his heels he shot from just inside the box but never really troubled Evans, and Carl Tappin then laid off to Luke Marsh who side footed wide. The home side doubled their lead on thirty-six minutes when O’Brien knocked a ball over the top for Smith to run on to and lob deftly over the advancing Evans then round to tap into the unguarded net. H/T: 2-0
Early in the second half a loose ball was driven low by Joel White for the visitors but Wyant was behind it all the way and gathered safely on his line, and a golden opportunity to get a foothold in the game was spurned when attacking down their right Wyant went out to meet Mann but missed the ball, Mann crossed to Brett James but with the goal gaping he lifted the ball wide of goal.
Hatch then got away down the Town right and delivered an inviting cross which Smith threw himself at acrobatically in front of goal, the slightest touch would have turned it home but it whistled away and was eventually cleared. Hatch & Smith then combined well again seeing the latter away on goal but Evans came out bravely diving at the feet of the Town striker to deny any shooting opportunity.
Hatch then released Marsala down the left channel, cutting inside he curled a shot around Evans and as the crowd held their breath the ball rolled agonisingly wide of the back post. Tuffley substitute Jamie Goodwin then tried his luck from the edge of the box only to see his effort crash back off the crossbar, and Mann could only head the rebound wide.
On seventy two minutes the Leighton goal frame was rattled again, a cross was cleared to just outside the box and a shot from Pritchett caught Wyant in two minds and he watched the ball again bounce of his back post and eventually cleared. A Leighton counter attack then saw Smith drag two defenders across field before laying the ball perfectly into the path of Hatch whose fierce drive was well saved by the feet of Evans, diverting for a corner.
As we entered the final five minutes no one saw what was about to unfold, a cross into the Leighton box looked harmless but as Pritchett went down under the challenge from Tappin, the referee awarded a penalty. Warren Mann smashed into the top corner, and reminded his colleagues during his celebrations that they were still in this FA Cup tie.
As we entered added time, Leighton were holding the ball at the Tuffley end trying to run down the clock beside the corner flag, but Brett James was having none of it, winning the ball back and knocking it down the left wing for Mann to chase down and cross into the middle where Pritchett spectacularly scissor kicked the ball as he hovered horizontally, into the corner beyond Wyant sending his team mates and supporters into delirium.
There was time for a Leighton cross to be palmed away by Evans off his own crossbar, before seven minutes into added time a fifty-fifty challenge on the edge of the Town box saw the ball squirm out to Mann who cut back for Sam Hill who from the acutest of angles fired across goal, and watch the ball hit the back post and go in to send his side through to the next round. F/T: 2-3
After the game Sports Shots caught up with Leighton manager Scott Reynolds:
For full match photography click here: https://flic.kr/s/aHsm3hpF96