Rye Town Football Club kept alive its defence of the Robertsbridge Charity Intermediate Cup by the skin of its teeth on Saturday.
Town scored a 90th minute equaliser before netting twice in the final six minutes of extra-time to edge past Bexhill Town 4-2 in a hard-fought quarter-final.
On a bright and calm afternoon at Bexhill Road, Rye twice came from behind and were probably fortunate with two penalty decisions - one given for them and one not given against them - as they beat Bexhill for the third time this season.
The opening half-hour of this all-Macron East Sussex League Premier Division affair proved to be somewhat feisty, with several confrontations between opposing players.
Bexhill saw an early effort deflect narrowly wide before Ollie Skinner forced home goalkeeper Harry Killick into a smart tip over with a good left-footed shot from outside the area.
Bexhill drew first blood in the 23rd minute. Lee Short’s long throw from the right was flicked on at the near post by Zack McEniry and glanced in by Doni Dovla from close range.
The prolific Dovla suffered an ankle injury following a firm but fair challenge by Luke Willis, and while he was off the field receiving treatment (before being substituted), Rye got back on terms.
The referee spotted a pull on Sam Henham’s shirt by Bexhill’s former Hastings United defender Rhys Whyborne as Charlie Stevens delivered a free kick from the Rye left, and Stevens confidently smashed home the resulting penalty.
Although Ben Cornelius headed straight into the arms of Rye goalkeeper Joe Ramsden, Rye seemed to get on top during the remainder of the first half, albeit without testing Killick.
Skinner shot just wide from 20 yards, a well-delivered Stevens corner flashed right across goal with two Rye players unable to apply a finishing touch, a decent effort from distance by Stevens sailed just over and Richard ‘Alfie’ Weller headed over on the stroke of half time.
Rye enjoyed the bulk of the play during the second half, but lacked a creative spark and struggled to carve out goalscoring opportunities.
McEniry headed just over at one end and Stevens hit the side-netting from a good Weller cross at the other before Bexhill regained the lead with a simple yet well-taken goal in the 52nd minute.
The ball went over the head of Rye defender Luke Willis just inside Rye’s half and Cornelius, who started at right-back before moving up-front following Dovla’s injury, ran through before neatly guiding the ball beyond Ramsden.
Cornelius missed the target with a couple more attempts before Killick produced a splendid reflex save to deny Weller at the end of a well-worked Rye move.
Ramsden made a good stop low to his right as Rye failed to clear a set-piece, while a crisp strike by Stevens from outside the box was narrowly off target.
It looked as though the cup holders were on their way out until Dom Cruttenden, who had been pushed forward from defence in the latter stages, got on the end of a ball over the top and picked out the far bottom corner with a fine left-footed finish to make it 2-2.
The game therefore went into extra-time and Rye had most of the attempts at goal during the first additional period, including the pick of them as a great chip from 25 yards by Rob Levett came back off the crossbar.
The bulk of the extra-time incident, though, was reserved for the second period.
Both teams twice went close to taking a 3-2 lead. For Bexhill, Short’s inviting cross from the right was turned wide at the far post by 58-year-old substitute Pabs Elphick and Whyborne’s looping header hit the top of the crossbar.
At the other end, Killick produced a brilliant save diving to his left to keep out Weller’s goalbound header from a Skinner cross and Skinner himself had a deflected shot saved moments later.
Eventually it was Rye who made the breakthrough with five minutes to go. An excellent cross from the left by substitute Craig Pierce was glanced into the far corner by the head of Levett, who suffered a cut nose and eye in the process.
Bexhill then had a strong appeal for a penalty waved away when McEniry appeared to be brought down in the Rye box.
Rye put the outcome beyond doubt with a fourth goal a minute later. Pierce played in Skinner, who drove the ball across goal for Levett to tap home his second and set up a semi-final away to Robertsbridge United on a date to be announced.
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