Chris HERITAGE 12", Charlie CAIN 95", Ryan BRIGHT 100", 110", Ellis MCLENNON 120"
The game kicked off and the first 20 minutes it was AFC in the ascendency attack after attack, playing some wonderful fluid football and passing the ball ‘Pep style’. There was only one team in it and it came as no surprise when Chris Heritage flicked a through ball past the keeper after 12 minutes. 0-1. So far so good, but two glaring open goal misses came and went in that glorious opening half hour. Would the AFC rue those two missed chances – only time would tell. Bedford gradually came more into the game and it was a very welcome half time that saw the AFC holding onto their slender lead, but only just.
The second half started much as the first had ended, with Bedford pressure and the AFC defence being tested, but not seriously threatened, marshalled by my man of the match – the towering Aiden Chapman (Meads). Manager Cross made a substitution in the 55th minute replacing a tiring Chris Holt (Meads), who had ploughed a largely one man spearhead up front, with George Proctor (Sutts). Bedford continued their dominance, changing their players with a full complement of substitutes and finally they were rewarded with the equalising goal, a header from a corner. 1-1. The game ebbed and flowed but it was obvious to all that this match was destined for the extra 30 minutes, so it proved.
Manager David Cross had to get the energy levels back into the players, Chris Heritage was struggling with cramp, but once again due to the lack of substitutes, through late and unforgiveable cry offs, the AFC were left to soldier on through the pain that such a high paced game on a big pitch would bring. Still soldier on they did. Within 5 minutes of the restart the AFC took the lead following a rare attack when Charlie Cain fired home 1-2. Euphoria amongst the supporters – short lived as within a minute Bedford had equalised. Players from both teams were getting very tired indeed.
Then suddenly picking the ball up wide on the right wing Ryan Bright (Meads) began what was the replica of the Barnes dribble against Brazil, weaving this way and that, riding tackle after tackle, before planting a screamer in the bottom corner 2-3. Two minutes to the mid ET break, could they hold on, no as yet again Bedford just wouldn’t give up and equalised with an own goal from a corner 3-3. Half time 3-3, with just 15 minutes remaining before the dreaded penalties.
Three minutes into the second half the roof came off the clubhouse, as the home crowd went ballistic, Bedford scoring their fourth, when their best forward player fired home 4-3. The AFC players were now running on empty but somehow managed to attack once again and from another mazy run, caused a rash challenge, as Ellis McLennon (Sutts) was felled in the box ‘PENALTY we screamed’, the ref no more than a few yards away pointed instantly to the spot. Up stepped Ryan Bright to send the keeper the wrong way 4-4. At this point, with just three minutes left on the clock, penalties seemed the obvious outcome.
Minutes ticked away until with just 30 seconds to go, manager Cross made his final switch bringing on sub keeper Chris Parlett (Sutts) for the excellent Henry Warne (Dorking). We supporters thought this a strange move, as Warne had played solidly throughout, deserving his moment of glory with the penalties. This stoppage and substitution must have unnerved Bedford, because out of the blue a misplaced defensive pass was seized upon by Ellis McLennon, to chip the keeper from fully 20 yards 4-5. This time it was the away end that took the roof off – even good old Geoff Lence had seen nothing like it in his 50+ years of watching AFA football. Final whistle almost instantly and amidst scenes of complete exhaustion and euphoria the team crawled back to the dressing rooms for a very, very well-deserved drink and shower.
The quarter final now awaits the AFC and as one of only three teams through so far (Isle of Man League and the North Yorkshire Leagues the others) it is with great excitement that we await the FA draw on 13th December. Bedford were very magnanimous in defeat and provided a nice hot buffet for all, which was accepted by all the AFC supporters & players. Wow !! what a magnificent performance from the whole team and manager. All that remains for me to add, is a huge thank you to each and every player, the intrepid supporters for making the journey and hopefully reading this report, will install more commitment from all other senior players in the AFC to actually want and be honoured to play and represent the AFC team.
(† Cumberland County League fielded an entire team selected from Workington Athletic, in contravention of competition rules which restrict selection to seven per club in the squad, and five in the starting line-up.