Ben Dillon admits the FA Cup has weaved its magic into Hartley Wintney hearts again this season as his side kept their giant-killing hopes alive with a hard-fought draw at Ardley United.
Dillon’s men progressed all the way to the fourth qualifying round for the first time in the club’s history last season before bowing out to Southern League high-fliers Daventry Town in front of a crowd of over 1,000.
And they are threatening to repeat this trick this time around after edging through a tense local derby against Frimley Green on Saturday before surviving a tough trip to Hellenic League Ardley on Tuesday night.
“It’s got us gripped again,” joked player-boss Dillon, who host the replay at Memorial Ground on Tuesday night with Southern Premier new boys Slough Town awaiting the winners. “If I’m honest, the league and a good run in the FA Vase were our two main hopes for this season, but now having survived a couple of games we want to go further.
“We survived a couple of replays last year, at Clevedon and Eastbourne, and have the knowhow to do it again on Tuesday. But this is the FA Cup, anything can happen.”
Shane Hollamby was the Hartley goal hero, heading home Ian Jones’ corner on the hour shortly after the home side had taken a lead they just about deserved.
But the Row were also indebted to keeper Craig Atkinson, who pulled off some fine saves late on to earn them a second bite of the cherry.
“Atko was fantastic,” Dillon added. “He kept us in it at the end, but I thought we deserved to bring them back to our place for our spirit alone.”
Dillon’s latest charge towards cup glory came after both Hartley and Frimley Green escaped a Football Association rap when their initial Extra Preliminary Round clash had to be abandoned at half-time due to ugly clashes in the dressing room area at half-time.
Green led the tie 2-1 at the time but Hartley ensured it was Derren Martin’s men who paid the heavier price after rallying to victory by the same scoreline in the replayed game on Saturday.
Hollamby coolly put the Row in front on 31 minutes with a delicate chip over the head of Green keeper Jamie Cunningham after being played in by Luke Walker, before Craig Barker doubled the lead just before the break.
Green came out firing in the second half but had to wait until five minutes from the end to break through – Matt Stamp beating Atkinson, but Hartley held on.
Badshot Lea, however, missed out on a first qualifying round clash with Fleet Town after their cup dream ended with a 2-1 defeat at league rivals Knaphill.
Striker Brad Smith hit the top of the crossbar early on, but it was the Knappers who went into the break in front after Josh Watkins drove the ball past keeper Matt Watson and into the far corner.
And Trevor Norris’ men were hit by the sucker punch yet again on 75 minutes when Dan Thorogood pounced on a loose ball to fire home.
Thorogood was then sent off for a second booking in the closing stages, but a 96th-minute consolation from Lea substitute Dayo Oshitola came too little, too late.
Norris said: “I’m disappointed because we dominated the game but just couldn’t put our chances away.
“We played some of our best football of the season at times, but if we’d have been playing for another hour we wouldn’t have scored. It was just one of those days.”