Bracknell Town’s run in the Buildbase FA Trophy ended on Tuesday when they lost 3-2 to National League South side Havant & Waterlooville at Larges Lane after playing with 10 men for more than half the game.
Their tremendously brave effort saw the team receive a well-deserved heroes reception as they left the field from more than 300 fans with club chairman Kayne Steinborn-Busse going onto the pitch to congratulate his players and management team.
It was a thoroughly-entertaining high tempo second-round tie with Town raising their game against professional opposition who play two leagues higher.
But a daunting task became even more difficult when inspirational skipper Max Herbert was sent off in the 35th minute for a second yellow card offence.
The 10 men still managed to hold their own and were denied shouts for a penalty before they were awarded one deep into stoppage time, enabling Seb Bowerman to score his and Town’s second goal.
After the Hawks had taken a 10th-minute lead through Giuseppe Iaciofano, it was the impressive Bowerman who brought the scores level in the 32nd minute by smashing the ball past keeper Joe Tupper.
But the extra boost it gave Robins was rather deflated shortly afterwards by midfielder Herbert’s dismissal, his two yellow cards coming in the space of 20 minutes. Bowerman took over the captain’s armband.
Referee Andy Humphries certainly gave Town no help all evening with several of his decisions favouring the visitors. Just a shame VAR doesn’t operate at this level of football.
Havant, who were the more physically stronger side and a split second quicker in thought and action, had a slice of good fortune when regaining the lead on 65 minutes with Josh Taylor shot from distance taking a deflection off Ryan Case and out of keeper Mark Scott’s reach.
This second goal came at a time when Town were enjoying a particularly good spell and threatening to score themselves.
Concerns were being shown on the Havant bench with two substitutes stripped to go on, so their management team must have been hugely relieved when Tommy Wright created space for himself on the left and fired home inside the near post to make it 3-1 in the 75th minute.
Bracknell, who had replaced pacy forward Shamar Moore with the equally pacy Shaquille Ishmael at half-time, still refused to throw in the towel.
But with Bowerman dropping back to fill the gap left by Herbert, their attack didn’t carry as much width and sharpness as it had earlier.
When Joe Grant did try to burst through on goal he was pulled down as he approached the area, but again the referee’s decision did not go Town’s way.
Bracknell continued to press and in the fifth minute of time added on they were awarded a penalty for handball which saw Bowerman hammer the ball low into the right-hand corner off the fingertips of the diving Tupper.
Manager Bobby Wilkinson was absolutely gutted at the end of the game, but he can still be extremely proud of his team. He has raised the standard of football to probably the highest level ever seen at Larges Lane and the Robins should be flying ever higher when league football returns to normal – although sadly that may not happen for some time.
It’s unlikely Havant will have a tougher game in the third round of the Trophy this coming Saturday when they host league rivals Braintree, who defeated Billericay 4-2 on penalties after their tie had ended 1-1.