Hemel Town were due to face Lewes in a replay tonight (Tuesday) in a bid to host National League side Eastleigh in the first round of the FA Trophy.
Hemel and Lewes were both in the hat for Monday’s draw at Wembley Stadium after the Tudors failed to capitalise on a 2-0 lead away at Lewes on Saturday afternoon in the third qualifying round.
It set-up tonight’s replay, which was due to kick-off at Vauxhall Road as the Gazette was going to press.
The vaunted competition culminates in a Wembley final, with plenty of chances to boost club coffers along the way. Indeed, winning clubs in the first round net £6,000 from the prize fund.
If Hemel are to beat Lewes tonight, they will host Eastleigh on Saturday, December 15.
The Hampshire-based side are in ninth place in the National League, just four points outside the playoff places.
On a dreary day in Sussex on Saturday, Hemel let a 2-0 lead slip against Isthmian League Premier Division outfit Lewes after a dramatic late goal denied the Tudors.
It was near end-to-end action from the off, with Lewes firing a warning shot in the first minute as the strike just cleared Hemel keeper Laurie Walker’s bar.
The Tudors, being a league above, had plenty of possession but the home side looked very dangerous on the break, with their slick passing.
Hemel’s first real chance came when skipper Jordan Parkes and recent-arrival Rob Sinclair combined well to set-up Steve Cawley, but the striker couldn’t get enough on Sinclair’s cross to cause the Lewes keeper any trouble.
After half-an-hour it was clear the tie could go either way, but it was Hemel who struck first when a perfect cross by Kyle Connolly was headed home by Cawley for a 1-0 lead.
The second-half could not have started better for Hemel when Scott Shulton picked up the ball from a throw-in and shot from a tight angle, only for Cawley’s touch to direct it into the bottom corner for a 2-0 advantage.
Lewes continued to try to find a way back into it but Hemel looked comfortable as the hosts lacked any end product despite good build-up play.
Then, on 74 minutes, Lewes pulled one back through Henri Wilder, who made a late run into the box before heading home past Walker.
All of a sudden the last 20 minutes looked precarious.
Following the goal, Hemel seemed to sit too deep, inviting Lewes to come at them, instead of pressing further up the pitch.
Three minutes of injury-time were announced and Tudors’ fans found themselves breathing a huge sigh of relief when the Lewes keeper, who had come into the Hemel box for a corner, came very close with an unchallenged header that just went wide.
With less than a minute left it looked like the visitors had weathered the storm but they then gave away possession instead of keeping the ball and it proved costly as the resulting low cross was buried by Lewes’ Bermudian international Jonte Smith, with literally seconds to go to earn his side a deserved replay.
There was just time for the referee to blow his whistle for the re-tart before he signalled the end of the game.
To rub salt into the wound, a group of Hemel’s most loyal fans broke down on the M25 on the way home and had to endure a three-hour wait before finally arriving home very late on Saturday night.
Hemel v Lewes: Laurie Walker, Scott Shulton, Kyle Connolly, Jordan Parkes (captain), Darren Ward, Ismail Yakubu, Alex Osborn, James Kaloczi, Steve Cawley, Rob Sinclair, Jack Snelus. Subs: George Nolan, Sydney Ibie, Karl Oliyide,George Paulin.
After tonight’s replay, the Tudors return to National League South action this Saturday when they visit Concord Rangers.
Both sides are within a point of each other in the table, Hemel in ninth and Concord one place below in tenth.
Just seven points separate the top 10 sides in this ultra-competition division and both teams are within a whisker of the playoff places.