Glenn Pennyfather described Chelmsford City’s Play-Off Semi-Final scenario as “advantage us” after Anthony Cook’s 89th-minute penalty secured a single-goal victory over Salisbury City in the First Leg, but he acknowledged that there was a great deal of work still to do as they embark on the return fixture.
The Clarets take an aggregate lead to Wiltshire on Saturday after a cagey encounter with limited chances at Melbourne. Cook tucked away the pressure spot kick in the dying stages, and Glenn explained: “We’re absolutely delighted with the victory and I’m so pleased for our fans that we’ve finally got a win in the play-offs.”
“It really lifted the place to hear the noise from the Claret Army here at Melbourne. It’s an absolute treat for us as players and staff. I thought it was an edgy game, certainly in the first half, as neither side wanted to lose. The result gives us all belief, but we’re under no illusions that it’s going to be a tough game on Saturday. We’ve got to go there and get a positive result.”
“Tonight was a very difficult game to approach. We had a game plan and knew it would be tricky to play free-flowing football on our surface because it’s very bumpy and very dry. We had good pace in wide areas, and the players carried it all out perfectly. It was a game of few chances, although two or three of the best fell to us - on another day they go in.”
Four changes were made to the side which ran out at Farnborough three days earlier, with Aiden Palmer returning at left-back ahead of Joe Whight and central defender replaced midfielder David Rainford, Justin Miller moving forward to fill the gap. In the attacking positions, Omer Riza and Kyle Vassell made way for Jamie Slabber and Michael Bakare.
In the early exchanges both sides went close. Firstly, in the 13th minute, Chelmsford’s Max Cornhill came frustratingly close to dribbling around goalkeeper Willem Puddy but the ball didn’t quite roll for him, then Chris McPhee crafted an attempt at the other end six minutes later, side-volleying narrowly wide from the edge of the penalty area.
Without lacking endeavour from either team, the game was devoid of chances and each were restricted to just one more apiece before the interval. The Clarets’ Bakare saw his low, 34th-minute left-footer from twelve yards saved by Puddy’s legs, while James White wriggled into the box a minute before the break and curled towards the bottom corner, only for goalkeeper Danzelle St Louis-Hamilton to get down and divert it wide.
There was a clear chance in approach straight after half time, and Ricky Wellard, Stuart Sinclair and McPhee all registered attempts for the visitors prior to Bakare’s swinging strike wide in the 49th minute. But the attacking action was short-lived until another pair of chances for the Chelmsford winger with around ten minutes left. Initially he was sent through on goal only to lob a yard wide, then his attempt at a controlled volley two minutes later was too high.
It seemed as though the best Chelmsford would be able to do would be to take parity into the second leg, until Referee Paul Harris spotted a handball by a defender during a frantic late scramble in the box. Cook composed himself and ignored all distractions to confidently stroke the resulting penalty into the bottom right-hand corner. That allowed Pennyfather to upgrade his outlook ahead of a testing second leg away from home.
He said: “It’s ‘advantage us’ at the moment but we know there’s still a lot of work to be done. It’s going to be another edgy game and we’ve got to be organised, got to concentrate and focus on doing our jobs. All four sides - not just us and Salisbury, but Eastleigh and Dover as well - have worked hard over 42 games to get ourselves into this position. We all want to win.”
Salisbury City: Willem Puddy, Glenn Wilson, Callum Hart, Ricky Wellard, James Clarke (Theo Lewis, 87), Brian Dutton (C), Chris McPhee, Robbie Sinclair (Dan Fitchett, 61), James White, Robert Matthews, Stuart Sinclair. Unused Substitutes: Ryan Brett, Elliott Frear, Mark Scott.
Bookings: Chelmsford: Miller (47, foul), Edmans (74, dangerous play).
Referee: Paul Harris (Maidstone).
Assistant Referees: Garry Maskell (Westcliff-on-Sea) and Jeff Lengthorn (New Eltham).
Fourth Official: Ian Cooper (Rochester).
City Man of the Match: Anthony Cook.