Marlow dominate FA Trophy tie with Larkhall but bow out on penalties

Marlow 2, Larkhall Athletic 2 (Larkhall advance 6-5 on penalties)

Marlow's management team, players and supporters must be scratching their heads this evening and wondering how they're not in the hat for the second round of the FA Trophy.

They lost a game they controlled for the most part 6-5 on penalties, after Larkhall Athletic netted a 90th minute equaliser to take the tie to a sudden-death shoot-out.

Despite their disappointing exit, and the loss of £3,000 from the FA's prize fund, manager Mark Bartley was pleased with his side's performance, and he had good right to be.

At times in the first half, they looked to be on another level to their opponents, despite the fact they both play at step 4, and should really have scored more than the two goals they managed through Nnamdi Nwachuku.

The hosts began on the front foot and went close on a couple of occasions through a clever header from Khalid Simmo and Nwachuku's curling effort before the visitors grabbed the lead against the run of play in the ninth minute.

Larkhall's goal came from a setpiece and a slight deflection in the build-up saw the ball fall kindly for Matt Britton on the edge of the area and his curling shot had the power and accuracy to beat Simon Grant.

The Blues weren't behind for long, however, with Simmo again beating his defender on the right and whipping in a low cross for Nwachuku to hook home at the far post. The striker's instinct to peel off his man and score was impressive to see and the understanding he seems to have already developed with Simmo could prove beneficial for the Blues in the remainder of the season.

They were at it again in the 22nd minute to score an almost carbon copy goal. Baboucarr Jarra's brilliant long ball picked out Simmo on the right and again he tormented his marker before sending in a cross which Nwachuku anticipated to side-foot home.

In this period, with Marlow so on top, it seemed to be merely a matter of how many the hosts would score, as Nwachuku, Simmo and Kameron English on the left side terrorised the Larkhall defence with their pace and intricate passing and footwork.

However, they couldn’t carve out any more clear-cut chances and Mike Baker's header, which was cleared off the line in the 39th minute, served warning that Larkhall remained a threat while there was only one goal between the sides.

The second half was more competitive, and the Larks must have been given a rocket from their manager during the interval as they returned to the fray hungrier to fight for possession and play some football. This extra intensity from the visitors riled the Blues but they didn't rise to the robust tackles or lose their discipline.

Their play may have lacked the fluency of the first half, but they still created the game's best chances. Jay Welch headed onto the outside of the post after getting on the end of Nwachuku's deflected cross in the 48th minute and Nwachuku went close on a couple of occasions after showing great skill to outwit his marker and advance on the penalty area.

Marlow had the chances to kill the tie off midway through the half, with Junaid Bell and Simmo both seeing goal-bound efforts deflected off target, while substitute Kahlil Francis saw his excellent rising drive in the 84tth minute stopped by an equally fine save from Larkhall keeper Shaun Semmens.

The Blues sat back and tried to see the game through, but they couldn't quite manage it with Joe Hilliard firing home through a crowded penalty area in the 90th minute after picking the ball up just inside the area.

In a desperate effort to go for a winner, the Blues left themselves open once more and Sam Crumb might have won it for the Larks, but his left-footed effort was blocked, and the final whistle sounded a few moments later to take the tie to spot-kicks.

Welch, Simmo, Nwachuku, Louis Rogers and Adam Richards all scored for the Blues, but Junaid Bell, Marcus Mealing, Kahlil Francis, Baboucarr Jarra and Isaac Olorunfemi failed to convert. At one stage it felt like neither side wanted to win it as Grant and Semmens pulled off a string of saves but, with the scores tied at 5-5, Josh Jones held his nerve to win it for the visitors, who celebrated with a pile on and fist pumps in front of the young Marlow fans who’d done their best to put them off during the shoot-out. In their exuberant post-match dressing room celebrations – singing along to Sweet Caroline - the Larks also managed to smash one of the dressing room windows.

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