Agonisingly Close defeat for our MSC Partner, as portsmouth fc just edge a tight 1-0 over erith town in the fa youth cup first round
The glowing red brake lights was the only warmth we were feeling as we made our way across the car park of the Erith Leisure Centre and join the growing queue into the Erith Town Stadium. There was a chill in the air, and some light rain drops falling on our heads as we waited to hand our entry fee over to the person in the shed which acted as the official club ticket office. These are the aspects of non-league that add to its character: no flash barcodes, no QR readers that can recognise everything down to your blood type once scanned and no cashless only system anywhere in the ground. This may be the First Round of the FA Youth Cup, and the opposition may be from the academy systems of an EFL League One club with a first team managed by the highly-rated Cowley brothers, but the atmosphere that was building by those in the worn-down, backless green seats was coming from the home team’s fans. Not long now until the game started, and the red and black stripes of The Dockers would soon enter the field.
The sound system was tinny, and the Erith version of Mr. Bye-For-Now may not have been as audible through the speakers, but even a working microphone and boom box would’ve struggled over the noise that was being produced by those in the main stand. Was it more packed due to the rain? Did the back wall act as a wind breaker and shelter as the temperature was dropping? Who knows, but the encouraging noises that was coming from it to spur on these young players taking the pitch was great to hear. The competition between the two sides would soon rival that of the local Erith McDonalds and KFC which are only 50 feet apart and in the main stand’s eye line, but anything outside the action on the field this evening was quickly ignored. The support was not just the fans or the families who were there in attendance, but that of the Erith Town First Team Manager, Adam Woodward and a number of The Dockers’ First Team. The stage was set, the fans had taken their seats and the players were ready. The referee’s whistle signified the start of the game, and we were away…
The game started with a really high tempo with the ball going end-to-end between both Portsmouth’s and Erith Town’s penalty areas. Some reading the reviews or live tweets may put this down to nerves, agitation or too much adrenaline being built up for this evening game, but it was the opposite; the football was kept well on the floor in wet conditions, passing was slick and half chances were created in what was an exciting opening 10-15 minutes. It was the home side who came closest to opening the scoring when a shot was unleashed from the edge of the penalty area and curled over the Pompey number one, but this effort was just too high, and the noise of the ball hitting the running track which runs outside the pitch was drowned out by the home supporters.
The first goal in the game came around the half hour mark, when some lovely build up play from the visitors saw the Pompey forward beat the offside line and casually slot his effort low and into the bottom corner of the Erith Town net. The home side believed there was an infringement in the build up to the goal, and there were questions to the assistant official on the near side as to whether he could have intervened with his chequered flag, but it was the team in blue who ran off celebrating as Portsmouth went 1-0 up. The chances continued to come from both sides and although neither goalkeeper was overly tested, The Dockers gave a great account for themselves and were more than a match for their opposition, with hard tackles and lovely through passes being agonisingly just too under hit for their intended target. The half time whistle sounded and both sides left the field to applause from the main stand.
It was Pompey who were the better side in the opening passages of the second half, retaining the ball well and playing some fantastic triangle football with ease across their back line, even though they were being pressure by their worthy opponents in red and black. Erith were giving 100% with each run, tackle and interception, but when the ball was cleared by The Dockers back-line, the visitors quickly gained back possession and were on the attack.
It was Portsmouth who could have, and should have, doubled their lead when a low cross was expertly played across Town’s goal to an attacker on the far post. With nearly the whole goal to aim for, the shot could only bounce off the woodwork and deflect back out to an attacker whose effort just went wide of the goal. A huge let-off for Erith Town, and Portsmouth were continuing to show their superiority in the game.
With only 15-20 minutes to go, the game was spun on its head and it was the home side who threw everything they could at Portsmouth in search of an equaliser to take the game past the 90 minute mark. Crosses were being launched into the box and the south coast team were throwing anything they could to stop the ball going in. Erith’s best chance came when the right winger found himself in space in the penalty area, but his shot from just outside the six-yard box went narrowly over the crossbar to the echoing groans of the fans in the home stand.
Plenty of added time was played due to the ball needing retrieval a number of times from outside the running track, but the minutes just trickled away from the home side and it was just too late. The final whistle sounded and a number of the players from both sides dropped to the floor in exhaustion after giving everything for their two teams. Erith Town had made the first round of the FA Youth cup and were superb opposition for their League One rivals, leaving everything they had on the field for their club, families and supporters.
Although a disappointing result for The Dockers, the immense sense of pride from their management and coaching side was evident, and we were lucky to witness an awful lot of great potential in not just the area of Erith, but English football overall.
Up the Dockers!