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A Drama Filled Afternoon | Alton FC 2-2 Tadley-Calleva

Four goals, three red cards, two play-off chasing teams and one drama filled afternoon at The Exclusive Networks Stadium saw Tadley come away from Alton with a valuable point as they continue their quest to achieve a play-off position as we enter the final stages of the league season.  

Despite winning a tough point away from home, Tadley will look towards the two red cards received as a sucker punch with two important players in captain Jordan Goater and centre half Brad Neal now having to serve suspensions in the coming weeks. 

Tadley got the ball rolling on the all weather pitch under a blanket of early spring sunshine  but it was the hosts who had the first chance of the fixture with just a minute on the clock. A long ball out from the back was flicked on by Louis Russell, releasing Perry Coles in behind the Tadley defence but the Alton forward was unable to beat Atkinson in the Tadley net.  

Tadley hit back with a half chance of their own as Kieran Rodgers effort from around twenty-five yards whistles past the near post. By no means a clear cut chance but a positive sign for the away side in the early exchanges.  

Alton started to win the battles in the middle of the park and gained control of the game, allowing them to implement their game plan of drawing Tadley into their half and launching the ball in behind the visitors back line.  

On thirty-four minutes the tactics implemented earnt its reward and Alton opened the scoring, albeit in controversial fashion. Louis Russell picked up the ball wide on the right hand side, but was forced to play the ball back. A long lofted cross from the Alton right back found the head of Perry Coles, who seemed to be in an offside position, he nodded the ball down and it was played across the edge of the box to Larkham who fired his shot low into the bottom corner, past Atkinson and into the back of the net.  

The final ten minutes of the first half saw much of the same with Alton looking to play long and in-behind the Tadley back line with no real threat of the away side levelling the game. A save at the feet of Russell from Tadleys Atkinson surely saved the visitors going in two down at the break. 

What followed in the second half will go down as arguably one of the most drama filled forty five minutes of the season.  

Inside the first minute of the half, and with Alton already down to ten men due to a sinbin, the referee pulled a red card from his back pocket. Another deep long ball from the Alton back line was met by Tadleys Bagan who got his head to the ball, and then a forearm to his face. The oncoming Alex Merrifield clattered arm first into the young full back and was immediately given his marching orders. Alton were temporarily down to nine men.  

Tadley kicked on, looking to take full advantage of their hosts numerical deficit, pushing forward with intent and looking to create space in behind a resolute back line. Tricky feet from Sheldon Wright on the right hand side allowed the play to come into Kieran Rodgers who was felled on the edge of the box. With Alex Miller absent, captain Jordan Goater spotted the ball on the artificial surface, twenty yards from goal with one thing in his mind. The Tadley skipper wrapped his foot around the ball, struck it past the wall and into the top left hand corner, giving the goalkeeper absolutely no chance of a save. Tadley were back level and it was magic from their skipper.  

With Coles back out of the sin-bin for the hosts, they were back up to ten men and back in the game with Tadley unable to make their one man advantage count. Increased pressure on the Tadley back line saw Jordan Goater follow up his goal with a yellow card after a foul on the nearside.  

With twenty minutes to go, and with the scores and play level, Tadley were gifted an opportunity when a failed clearance from the Alton shot stopper was intercepted by Thorne. Thorne drove towards goal, unopposed until the onrushing goalkeeper came and cynically felled the busy winger on the edge of the box, denying what seemed a clear goalscoring opportunity. Fortunately for the hosts, the man in the middle produced a yellow card and they remained with ten.  

With Tadley visibly frustrated, Alton took full advantage. An outswinging corner from the right was met by the head of Ross Stepney who rose highest to head the ball down and into the back of the net. 

Tadley were behind to ten man Alton and had a mountain to climb. This mountain was made even steeper when three minutes after the goal, the referee evened the numbers. Tracking a runner, Jordan Goater was adjudged to have fouled his opponent and a free kick was awarded, but the referee was not finished as he brandished Goater his second yellow card of the afternoon and he was given his marching orders.  

With Tadley pushing for an equaliser a breakdown in attack led to the ball being cleared away from the Alton goal with just five minutes of the game remaining. The ball, loose and travelling towards the halfway line was battled for by both Neal and Russell who simultaneously stretched in an attempt to gain possession, with both finishing on the surface the whistle blew and the referee indicated a free-kick on the half way line to the home side. Before the set piece could be taken, Brad Neal was shown a straight red card to the amazement of the 238 spectators inside Anstey Park. Tadley were down to nine men and looked to be facing certain defeat.  

Until. A late free kick was launched into the box, as the players were jostling for space Rodgers went down under the challenge of Miller and the referee pointed to the spot. Tadley had the greatest of lifelines.  

Up stepped Kieran Rodgers who, unsurprisingly, dispatched the penalty sending the away support into raptures and earning Tadley a fortunate, but valuable point on the road.  


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