BY LOUIS MENDEZ
One defensive mistake and a rogue flag from an overeager assistant referee cost Bromley the chance of causing an upset and their place in this year’s FA Cup. But they still have their eyes on a larger prize than progression in the famous competition – promotion to the Football League.
Jonson Clarke-Harris capitalised on a misplaced pass from Chris Bush to bundle home the only goal of the game as League One Bristol Rovers edged past the Ravens on Tuesday evening in a 1stround replay that attracted a sell-out crowd of 4,558 and the BT Sport television cameras to Hayes Lane.
The audience at home also had the perfect view of Michael Cheek’s strike just before the interval being incorrectly ruled out for offside – the forward having timed his run perfectly to latch onto Luke Coulson’s through-ball and round the keeper.
“We saw the chance at half-time and couldn’t believe it was given offside,” said Bromley manager Neil Smith (pictured above), who made over 350 league appearances during his career at clubs such as Gillingham, Fulham and Reading. He’s been in the Hayes Lane hot seat since taking over from former Crystal Palace owner Mark Goldberg in 2016.
“What the linesman was seeing, I don’t know. I said before the game that sometimes in these cup games you need that bit of luck. I thought our players were outstanding. Apart from one mistake in the first couple of minutes that gifted them the goal, I can’t fault any of the players. They played with passion and desire and I think the supporters will go home feeling proud of them.”
Smith knows the area like the back of his hand. He went to school a few hundred yards from Hayes Lane, along with chairman Robin Stanton-Gleaves and still lives locally. He now has a real chance to bring league football to the town for the very first time. The Ravens are sat second in the National League table, level on points with leaders Barrow. They surprised many as they went thirteen games unbeaten at the start of the season.
Crowds are on the up and the construction of the new Glyn Beverly Stand at the Norman Park end of the ground indicates a club preparing for life in the EFL – although Smith reckons the board will be sure to lay strong foundations to build upon.
“Where we are is amazing,” admitted Smith.
“We feel very privileged to be at the top with Barrow. We know it’s going to be difficult, there’s a lot of games to be played. We just want to enjoy ourselves and be up there for as long as we can. No one envisioned us being where we are. Our boys – I wouldn’t put anything past them at the moment.
“You can see we’re a progressive club. We’ve got a new stand, there’s planning permission for [another] new stand. The club wants to [aim for the Football League] but they’re not going to do it the wrong way. They’re going to do it with a stable backing and something to work from.”
The sentiment is shared by skipper Jack Holland, another product of the Bromley area. The defender is glad that the club is building on the successful FA Trophy run that culminated in a trip to Wembley in 2017 with 18,000 Bromley fans in tow.
“We’re on the verge of doing something special,” said the 27-year-old, who came through the club’s youth set-up and returned to Hayes Lane after a spell at Palace.
“It’ll take every one of us, not only the club but the fan base and they’re right behind us which is massive.
“Seven and a half years ago, when I first came here, we were fighting relegation in the Conference South. Tonight, sold out in the FA Cup against Bristol Rovers, it shows how far we’ve come. The ambition of the club is to push on.
“We’ll be viewed as little old Bromley. We always have been. But we’re starting to turn a few heads. Our outreach is getting bigger. We’re attracting more fans with how well we’re doing.
“To see how supported we were at Wembley meant everything. They came again tonight on a cold Tuesday when they could have watched it on the telly. It meant the world.”
PHOTOS: KEITH GILLARD
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