Hertford Town 1, Grays Athletic 1
GRAYS and Hertford will have to do it all again on Wednesday evening after a close fought and sometimes fractious FA Cup First Qualifying round encounter in which Blues held onto their slender lead until the 75th minute which led to a frenzied closing period when either side could have snatched a late victory.
A tentative opening saw neither side establish a measure of control, the first incident of any note saw Lamar Johnson rush from his line to clear the danger from the onrushing Hertford striker Wade.
Blues’ first chance fell to Jamie Slabber,the first of many fouls conceded by Town fullback Hatherly led to a free kick floated in by Barry Cogan and it was Slabber who rose highest and glanced a header just wide of the Town upright. At the other end a quick break saw Wade try his luck from 30 yards but his aim was wayward and the ball sailed harmlessly high and wide.
Blues were probing down the hosts’ left flank and it paid dividends in the 21st minute when the hapless Hatherly unceremoniously bundled over Kieran Bishop in the box and received a booking for his troubles.
Bishop duly dispatched the kick past Mann to give Blues the lead. Minutes later Cogan came close to increasing Blues lead when his free kick deceived Mann forcing him to claw the ball from under the bar and behind for a corner. From the kick Slabber again did well, winning a header but again the ball slid wide of the post.
Despite going behind Hertford still posed a threat going forward. Right fullback Sharman was allowed far too much space and put in a number of telling crosses one of which caused panic in the Blues’ six yard box with Johnson managing to block for a corner.
Blues were denied a second goal after good work by Ade Cole saw him find Bishop unmarked in the box. He swept the ball home only to be ruled offside. Blues justly felt aggrieved as the ball appeared to to be cut back and take a deflection off a Town defender. The reprieve stung Town into action and once again it was Sharman who provided an opening flashing the ball across the Blues area taking a deflection for a corner.
Kiernan Hughes-Mason fashioned Blues’ last opportunity of the half when a long punt forward from Johnson was headed out to him on the edge of the box and he rifled a shot just wide.
After the break it was Hertford who created the first opportunity. A wicked ball flashed across the Blues’ box and out for a corner from which Johnson claimed the ball with ease. The hosts had quite clearly upped the tempo in their search for an equaliser but Blues with Glenn Wilson and Perry Dunn at the back were winning the aerial battle at this stage.
A Blues’ break saw Hughes-Mason capitalise on a Slabber flick on and unleash a fierce drive beaten away by Mann. Shortly after a strangely subdued Joao Carlos was replaced by Sully Zuhdu to add more bite to the midfield as by this time Hertford were beginning to assert real pressure forcing Blues to drop deeper.
It was now backs to the wall with Blues coming under increasing pressure but they held firm and looked to hit on the break. Slabber was using all his experience to hold the ball up bringing others into the game and winning crucial free kicks. From one such kick it presented an opportunity for Dunn which he failed to capitalise on, sending his header wide of a gaping goal. Ryan Mahal had the next opportunity wrestling possession just inside the Blues’ half he bludgeoned forward shrugging off challenges and was only stopped by keeper Mann who smothered the ball.
With the game moving into the final 20 minutes it was a case of could Blues hold on to their slender lead and in the 75th minute we had the answer. A succession of Hertford raids had proved fruitless but then a deep ball was played into the Blues’ area and there was Wade to steer his header past Johnson and into the top corner. Wade was not finished when he tested Johnson from range but Blues’ keeper made a smart save.
The goal at last produced a reaction from Blues who created an opening from a free kick for Wilson who stabbed the ball towards goal forcing Mann to make a block save.Hertford replied Johnson making a double save.It was to be a frantic final few minutes as both sides looked for a goal that would see them into the next round but the final whistle came with the sides level.
So its back to Parkside on Wednesday for the replay which promises to be another engrossing encounter, both sides will know by then who their opponents will be in the next round.