THE GOTP FA Cup trail was literally just that on a blustery day in August. The novel approach of hiking from nearby Hitchin to Barton-Le-Clay almost backfired, leaving the mission aborted among the sheep droppings at the foot of the Pegsdon Hills. The romantic vision of the back-packed wandering aesthete strolling into town and heading for the welcoming sight of floodlights at three o’clock, after a morning connecting with nature, didn’t quite work out, thanks to a stray black dog (visions of The Omen), blistered feet and some schoolboy error map-reading. But we got there, eager to see the FA Cup Preliminary Round tie between Barton Rovers and Deeping Rangers.
All roads, or indeed Public Footpaths, did not lead to Wembley on this occasion. My colleague, unfamiliar with the spectator dynamics of non-league football, assumed the game was postponed given the lack of people heading for Barton’s Sharpenhoe Road ground. It was quiet, so much so that the there was more noise coming from the adjacent bowls club. The declared crowd was just 71 for the game, comprising the usual non-league demographic.
I spotted a familiar face. Tony Fontenelle, formerly with a multitude of local clubs as a more than useful (and popular) player, was now coach of Barton. Having seen Deeping Rangers in the previous round, I informed him that, “they will give you a game”. For once, I wasn’t wrong.
In theory, Barton were favourites, but Deeping are an ambitious club who will surely be playing at a higher level in a year or two. Barton, who missed out on promotion to the Southern League Premier in the play-offs in 2016-17, had started the season well with a 3-0 win at Egham, but they slipped up at home a few days later, losing 0-1 against Uxbridge. Deeping, as well as getting past Peterborough Northern Star in the previous round of the FA Cup, had won two of their three United Counties League games.
From the start, Barton seemed to have a physical advantage and they opened the game full of pace and promise. On the evidence of the first half hour, they would have no problem in negotiating this hurdle in the competition. On the bench, Barton had the curiously named Jet Esso – doubtless he was playing in Esso Blue!
Barton went ahead in the sixth minute, the giant Josh Oyinsan firing home after a low cross into the area. It didn’t look good for Deeping at this point. Oyinsan had another chance saved by Deeping keeper Richard Stainsby and Nelson-Addy saw a low drive blocked.
Barton should have been well in control, but somehow it all changed. Deeping, who became very well organised at the back, thanks to the efforts of Henry Dunne and Johnny Clay, staged a dramatic comeback.
In the 41st minute, the Barton defence was dozing as Scott Mooney hooked the ball into the net for the equaliser. A lone Deeping fan enjoyed the moment, raising his arms in triumph. Two minutes later it was 2-1 to the visitors as Luke Avis drove the ball past Lewis Todd from the edge of the penalty area. It was a different game now.
“This makes for a great second half,” I insisted, but it didn’t. It was reasonable to assume that Barton would come out all guns blazing, but the onslaught never happened. Deeping were quite happy to allow the game to become scrappy, but their backline stood firm, gave Barton’s forwards little room and even Oyinsan, who had looked so lively in the first part of the game, was negated.
So Barton went out of the FA Cup quite meekly and Deeping pulled off a little surprise and earned another £ 1,925 in prize money. Spend it wisely, chaps, you may have to travel again in the first qualifying round.