Falmouth Town manager Andrew Westgarth praised his side’s character despite their injury-time heartbreak in their FA Vase second round proper tie at Laverstock & Ford on Saturday.
With the game deep into stoppage time and the score locked at 1-1, it seemed a penalty shootout was going to be required to settle the tie, only for the hosts to find a winner with virtually the last kick of the game to send Town home empty-handed.
Despite both sides having good chances it was goalless after the opening 45 minutes at Church Road in Wiltshire, with Town custodian Ryan Barnes playing a big part in keeping the score level after saving Adam Bourner’s penalty in the eighth minute.
The Wessex League Premier Division side got their noses in front a few minutes after the turnaround when Russell Jones finished off a quick counter attack by slotting the ball past Barnes from 15 yards, but Town were back on terms on 75 minutes when Kayden Gordon-Dunn’s low cross was steered home by Jack Bray-Evans from the centre of the box.
Town had the better of the second half and looked the likelier side to go on and find a winner, but they were to be undone in the cruellest of fashions in the fourth minute of stoppage time when Chae Sykes drilled the ball past Barnes at the end of another counter to break Town hearts.
“I said to the boys after the game that I was really proud of them,” Westgarth said afterwards. “We weren’t at the races in the first half and it was bizarre how it went in 0-0 [at the break] considering the chances that both of us had.
“They’ve had a penalty and Barnesy’s made an amazing save in the middle of the goal, we’ve had a couple of chances ourselves with Swanny [James Swan] having the pick of them, a free shot on the target [that went over the bar].
“Then we had the worst possible start to the second half and it was a big test of character from the lads and I thought we responded so well from that. We created some great opportunities in and around the box and we just couldn’t find that way through.
“To get hit with a sucker punch again is sort of the story of our season, we’ve just been unable to find that killer goal to kill teams off and we’ve been punished for it.”
The loss comes three days after Town were eliminated from the Cornwall Senior Cup by local rivals Wendron United, with the defending champions’ reign coming to an end at the hands of the side they defeated in last year’s final.
It means Town’s hopes of playing cup football in the second half of the season depend on getting past Barnstaple Town in the Les Phillips Cup next Wednesday (November 23), but Westgarth remains optimistic and believes these experiences will benefit his young side in the long term.
“It just shows how hard it is,” he said. You’ve got to look at Mousehole, they lost to a side in the league below [in the Vase on Saturday]. I’m not trying to dig them out, but it shows how difficult it is, it’s a tough gig.
“We can be proud of our efforts. We got further than Helston and Saltash in the Vase and the same round as Mousehole, so we’re competing. If we’d beaten Wendron then there wouldn’t be so much disappointment around because then we’d have a cup to look forward to in the New Year.
“It is frustrating but we’ll be better for this in the long run because we always knew this season was about finding our feet [in a higher division] with new players, and the experience that they’ll hopefully gain from these games will be invaluable for us going forward.”