Marlow's positive performance softens the blow of FA Trophy exit

It’s never nice bowing out of a cup competition on penalties, as Marlow manager Mark Bartley will attest after the side’s FA Trophy exit to Larkhall Athletic on Saturday. But he admits the encouraging nature of the side’s performance, which in truth merited a place in the second round of the competition, certainly softened the blow.

The Blues were much the better of the two sides, and, but for a failure to deal with two set-piece goals from their visitors, they would surely have wrapped up a comfortable first round victory.

Having fallen behind to Matt Britton’s fine strike in the 9th minute, the Blues responded well playing at a tempo Larkhall couldn’t live with for the remainder of the period. Nnamdi Nwachuku found the net twice, getting on the end of Khalid Simmo deliveries on both occasions to make it 2—1.

That’s how it remained until the 90th minute when again the hosts failed to fully clear a corner and Joe Hilliard hammered the ball past an unsighted Simon Grant.

They then went on to win the tie 6-5 on spotkicks, Larkhall captain Josh Jones scoring the decisive penalty in a shoot-out featuring plenty of misses that neither team seemingly wanted to win.

“I thought we were the better side and played pretty well today,” said Bartley after the final whistle.

“I don’t like losing games, but I thought that we played ok. We were aggressive and on the front foot and we opened them up and created a lot of chances.

“We were disappointed to concede from two set-pieces and we didn’t feel like either of them were corners. We’ve said that to the ref, but it is what it is, we’ve still got to defend them.

“It was really about them relying on set pieces because they didn’t create much from open play. But fair play to them they made the most of those two opportunities and then they were fortunate in the penalty shoot-out.

“Penalties is never a nice way to go out, but I’d rather go out on penalties than get spanked 5-0. I think if we can get the same performance level next week, we’ll be absolutely fine.”

Bartley admits the Blues have lost their rhythm a little in recent weeks, and two league defeats and a draw have seen them drop out of the play-off positions, however, Saturday’s performance was a marked improvement on the 2-1 defeat at Chertsey last week and, if they can reproduce it at Tooting & Mitcham on Saturday, he’s confident they can get back to winning ways.

“We were really lively and bright but started to tire a bit in the second half,” he said. “Kam (English) was coming back from injury, but I still felt we were the better side in the second half. It does soften the blow a bit. I didn’t feel that we were very good at Chertsey last week, but the performance today was much better.

“We needed a reaction this week and I feel we got one. If we can continue to play that way, we’ll be ok.

“Saturday at Tooting is a tough away game but with that kind of performance I’m sure we’ll be fine.”

He added: “We have lost our rhythm a little in the last few weeks, but we’ve got a little bit back today. We went back to basics and played very well, but we’ve been undone by two set-pieces.”

You sensed Larkhall knew they’d stolen a result from the way they celebrated afterwards with an obligatory pile on and fist pumps for the home fans behind the goal. They also smashed a dressing room window as post-match celebrations got a little out of hand, however, a phlegmatic Bartley said they deserve some credit for having ‘done a job’ on Marlow.

“This was a winnable game for us, and we’d have liked to have had a run in the competition,” he said. “But it didn’t work out like that. But we’re still there or there abouts in terms of the league and we must keep that performance level.

“We’ve been there before when you get to penalties, and you feel you have no right to be in the game. They will feel like they’ve come here and done a job on us. Fair play to them, that’s the nature of football.”

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