Highworth Town 4 Salisbury FC 3 (at Melksham Town FC)
Wiltshire Senior Cup Semi Final
Tuesday, 21 March 2017
By Alec Hayter
Even bearing in mind the relative importance or otherwise of this competition, our exit from it at the hands of Hellenic League side Highworth Town was, to my mind, little short of a disgrace by their normal standards. That is not to take anything away from our opponents who, on the evening, took the game to the Whites from the start and in the end got their just reward for their efforts.
In my opinion, and after much thought, there were only two positives to come from this game, and they involved the inclusion of two of the development squad, one of whom, Nathan Connelly, played the whole 90+ minutes and looked easy in his surroundings, as opposed to some of his teammates. Max Whittaker did not look out of place either, getting 25 minutes or so before the end of the game. And that is about all that was good.
After an early let off when it appeared that keeper Nathan Ball had handled the ball outside his area, both sides showed mutual respect, although at times Salisbury produced the passing football of which we know they are capable. They briefly flickered in front of goal on 13 minutes when Connelly made his first meaningful contribution, chipping the ball to Claudio Herbert who volleyed over. In any event the assistant's flag would have denied him had his effort hit the net.
The Whites' lethargy was not affected even when on 20 minutes Ball redeemed himself with a great save from Ashley Edinborough, and 5 minutes later the mood continued even though a move between Edenborough and Aysa Corrick gave Aaron Ferris a chance which hardly troubled the keeper. A second warning was thus ignored and the ease with which the Salisbury defence was being penetrated was quite alarming. A reaction came on the half-hour with Lewis Benson hitting a snapshot into the side netting, and two minutes later the Whites took the lead when Tommy Wright, working as hard as ever, did what he does best and beat keeper Kent Kaupinnen from just inside the box.
Just before the break Highworth's Luke Cousins had a long-range effort tipped over the top, and on 43 minutes in response Wright squared the ball to Benson whose right foot effort from the edge of the box brought a great save from the Highworth keeper.
It should have been "game over" when Wright grabbed a second in time added at the end of the first half, as that should have been the platform for progress into the final, but Highworth had other ideas, and instead of accepting their fate, to their immense credit seemed galvanised in renewed efforts. Seven minutes into the second half Ball was forced into a great save from Corrick, but seconds later Wright had a one-on-one which, had the keeper not blocked his effort, might have put the game to bed.
Highworth took heart from this let off and the lightning quick Kieran Gleed used his pace, outstripping George Colson before letting fly with a 20 yard effort which gave Ball no chance whatsoever. Instead of "game over" it was now very much a question of "game on" as Highworth continued get back on terms. On 58 minutes Ball thwarted Gleed once again and very shortly afterwards, Corrick wasted perhaps the most clear cut of chances when through on goal.
The Worthians' persistence paid off on 65 minutes and it was all square as John Davoile ambled through a wide-open Salisbury rearguard to make it 2-2. As the Whites stirred themselves Tom Whelan sent in a strong right foot shot on 71 minutes but Kauppinen was equal to it with a brilliant save, whilst a few minutes later Connelly flicked the ball to Whelan who again suffered from the keeper's expertise.
In what was, briefly, becoming more end-to-end, Edenborough was foiled by Ball in a one-on-one, and again what could have been a match winning moment occurred with 9 minutes left, a Herbert cross causing panic in the Highworth defence, with the unfortunate Lewis Brown unable to avoid scoring an own goal.
Surely, with so little time remaining, the Whites could hold out for victory, but two goals in the space of three minutes by the indefatigable Worthians gave them the success they deserved, with Edenborough bundling in an equaliser on 84 minutes, and Cousins putting the icing on the cake with an unstoppable close range shot just before the final whistle.
Highworth justifiably benefited from their efforts, whilst some Salisbury players could not seem to raise a gallop. I'm sure that any travelling supporters will wish Highworth the best of luck in the final, but would also expect a change of attitude from their side which of course will be absolutely 100% necessary when they face Hereford on Saturday.
Highworth Town: Kauppinen, Joyce, Brown, Adams, Cole, Davoile, Gleed, Cousins, Corrick, Edenborough, Ferris.
Subs not used: McGory, Riggs, McCarthy, McSharry.
Salisbury FC: Ball, Perrett (Colson 48), Flint, Benson (Whelan 45), Wheeler, Hart, Herbert, Mundy, Wright (Whittaker 65), Connelly, Roberts.
Subs not used: Blake, Holmes.
Attendance: 262 Referee: M Rushton