Tuesday, March 5, 2013
Larkhall booked their place in the quarter-final of the Les Phillips League Cup with a 2-1 victory over visiting Ilfracombe Town - but Combe left with a bad taste in their mouth over two controversial refereeing decisions.
Combe were expecting a tough challenge against a team who had only just been knocked out of the FA Vase one step from the quarter-finals and manager Ross Middleton set his team up to frustrate their hosts and catch them on the counter attack with quick breaks.
They played with a high tempo and Shaun Lewis, Ryan Turner, Lee Francis and Billy Tucker all looked dangerous on the attack and Francis, Turner and Lewis all tested the keeper with strikes on target before they finally found the breakthrough. Lewis outjumped the centre half to win a flick on for Turner to race on to. He flicked it over the out-rushing keeper and was brought to the ground. Billy Tucker calmly slotted the penalty away.
Combe went in 1-0 up at half-time and looking far the more comfortable. But the first 10 minutes of the second half changed the flow of the game.
Gary Skinner, who had been a rock at the back, pulled up with a hamstring strain, forcing a reshuffle.
Then the referee awarded a penalty when Kane Dryden was alleged to have handled after the ball was volleyed into him from close range. Larkhall equalised from the spot.
Ten minutes into the half Josh Heafield suffered a knee injury. Larkhall played on and pumped the ball forward to their striker. Calls for offside were waved away and he finished well past keeper Steve Oliver. Heafield was replaced and again the Ilfracombe back four were reshuffled.
Combe were frustrated at the officials’ decisions and struggled to get their heads back on the game until Larkhall forced Oliver into a couple of fine saves. This brought Combe back to life. Ryan Turner had a volley saved well from close range and Craig Allen couldn’t keep his shot down as he stretched from a corner.
Manager Middleton was in no mood to hide his feelings.
“If I’m honest, we feel totally cheated today,” he said. “Not by Larkhall, who are a very good team, but by the display from the referee. We were in complete control of that game. The lads were playing brilliantly and doing everything we’d asked of them. Larkhall had run out of ideas and had nothing more to give.
“It was never a penalty and the striker was at least two yards offside. You also look at their keeper only getting a yellow card when bringing down Turner and the two footed challenge I had on me and he doesn’t even get booked. Yet Darchy gets booked for running alongside someone in the second half.
“I’m aware it sounds like sour grapes, but we all felt very hard done by in the changing rooms after. “