FA VASE QUARTER-FINAL
Tunbridge Wells 2
Hadleigh United 0
Danny Bloomfield admitted Hadleigh United could look no further than their dressing room for who is to blame for their exit from the FA Vase.
The Brettsiders — who battled their way through the two previous rounds despite being on the backfoot for long spells — saw their luck finally run out at the hands of Tunbridge Wells.
Andy Irvine scored both goals for the hosts in front of a record-breaking crowd of 1,180 at the Culverdean Stadium, much to Bloomfield’s dismay.
“It was really disappointing to lose in the manner we did to a team that were beatable if we had turned up,” said the former Needham Market man. “Unfortunately, the performance wasn’t good enough and it hasn’t been good enough for the last few weeks really — we have kind of built up to this.
“For whatever reason, we have not turned up and been able to put on a performance that reflects us.
“The pitch wasn’t great and I didn’t think the referee was great either, but we can’t look out of our own dressing room for the reason for that performance.”
Manager Stuart Crawford warned his side there would be changes from the fortunate victory over Norwich United the previous Saturday and he made a total of three.
Captain Paul Donnelly returned to the heart of the Brettsiders’ defence in place of Mark Gaisford, Scott Chaplin overcame a hamstring injury to come in for Chris McLaughlin, who did not even make the squad, and Liam Jennings replaced Ollie Canfer in midfield.
The hosts — roared on by a club-record crowd of 1,180 — were on the front foot from the off and goalkeeper Dan Heath — who kept his place with Darren Moyes still out with a shoulder injury — had to be alert to parry Perry Spackman’s shot.
Tom Davey sent a bicycle kick wide — one of many chances that went begging for the hosts — while all Hadleigh could offer in response were tame shots from Bloomfield and Scott Chaplin that did not particularly overexert home custodian Chris Oladogba.
The Brettsiders could not settle on the slippery Culverdean Stadium surface, while the hosts showed the way to do it by moving the ball wide quickly to use the trickery of John Pilbeam and Josh Stanford.
Pilbeam (twice) and Andy McMath were both guilty of missing the target while Ollie Brown needed to show his electric pace to get back and halt Stanford’s run on goal.
When the opener arrived in the 36th minute, it was a thing of beauty from the Kent Hurlimann League outfit.
Pilbeam carved his way through the Hadleigh midfield towards the penalty area and exchanged passes with Carl Cornell inside the 18-yard box before clipping the ball into the path of Irvine, who took a touch before guiding it into the bottom left corner of Heath’s goal.
Hadleigh were fortunate it was not 2-0 before the break when Spackman tumbled in the penalty area under Mark Goldfinch’s sliding challenge, but Nicholas Kinseley waved play on.
Jennings also needed to make a goal-saving tackle on Stanford before the interval, but any words from boss Crawford at the break appeared to fall on deaf ears as United continued to find themselves on the defensive after half-time.
Pilbeam should have scored after Shane Wardley gifted Wells the ball on the edge of his own six-yard box and Heath denied McMath before Irvine somehow fired the rebound over the crossbar on the volley.
With Tunbridge’s wingers continuing to give Hadleigh the runaround and Spackman and Irvine dominating in the air at both ends, there appeared to be no way through for the visitors.
The only sight of goal they had was when Oladogba slipped routinely gathering an overhit long pass forward on the edge of his penalty area, but as Chaplin tried to nick the ball away from him the goalkeeper thrust out a leg to divert it away for a throw-in.
Even in games so one-sided, the margin between victory and success can be extremely fine, and so it proved as substitute Canfer saw his powerful shot in a goalmouth scramble blocked at one end, only for Tunbridge to break clear and seal their passage into the last four as Irvine slid in to tuck home Pilbeam’s cross.
As Hadleigh went for broke in search of an equaliser they could have lost by more, but Heath denied Irvine and Pilbeam, while the latter also missed a sitter.
United’s only effort of the second half came in the fourth minute of stoppage time when Brown turned and dragged his shot wide as the Suffolk side’s longest ever run in the FA Vase came to a disappointing conclusion.
Tunbridge: Oladogba, Bourne, Mingle, Davey, Whibley, Spackman, Pilbeam, McMath, Irvine (Large 90+1), Cornell (Harris 69), Stanford (Barton 78).
Hadleigh: Heath, Brown, Wardley, Jennings (Canfer 69), Goldfinch, Donnelly, Josiah (Layne 69), Calver, McGlone, Bloomfield (Downing 59), Chaplin. Subs not used: Gaisford, de Lara Bell.