Abbey Rangers earned a second shot at prolonging their debut FA Vase stint as they held Hellenic League Division One East side Holyport to a 0-0 draw.
Port keeper Leo Smith – described by manager Barry Rake as ‘magnificent’ -pulled off a string of fine saves to keep his side in the game and, despite taking the tie to extra-time, the home side couldn’t break the deadlock.
Joint Abbey Rangers boss Bob Thorpe told the NLP, “It’s an historic day for us, we’ve just come up and got some young boys who ‘ve done exceptionally well today, against a side who are solid as a rock at the back.”
The game had a fast-paced opening but neither side was able to create a clear-cut goalscoring opportunity – something that continued throughout its entirety.
Five minutes in, Holyport striker Paul Rake’s handball halted his side’s counter-attack and two minutes later Mike Carey had Abbey’s first chance, but his cross went begging after good work on the left.
Abbey grew in confidence as the game progressed; fine link-up play between Dan Hartlebury and Paul Hodges forced a good save out of Smith, before Carey was denied a penalty after being tripped in the area by Port captain Sam Jones.
The visitors’ first sights of goal came soon after when midfielder Adam Wyatt scuffed a shot wide before Rake’s through-ball wasn’t struck cleanly by Dale Wright and Stone easily claimed his weak shot.
The home side were lucky not to be behind just before half-time, when Jack Banks headed in Thomas Attrells’s corner, but there was adjudged to have been excessive pushing and the goal was chalked off.
Goalkeeper Smith then made another vital stop when a counter-attack saw more intuitive link-up play from Hartlebury and Hodges, with the former having his snap-shot pushed away at point-blank range.
Abbey started the second half in an attacking manner and continued to bombard Smith; the keeper clawed out Hodges’ low shot before holding onto two efforts from Carey.
Thorpe then wasted two easy chances; a poor header from Jamie Lee Smithers cross and a shot into the side netting from six yards, and in the 94th minute, the referee waved away appeals for a penalty when John Brennan clipped the tireless Hodges.
Port seemed content to settle for a replay and despite further clear-cut chances from Jay Robertson, Hodges and Hartlebury; a replay is exactly what they earned.
Joint Abbey manager Les Chatfield explained, “Our lads are disappointed that they haven’t won, but we are glad they are disappointed. We’re a weakened side today so we are looking forward to the replay”.
And Rake noted, “We defended really well. We want to do as well as we can, there’s no real ambition as such, we just take each game as it comes.”