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Herne Bay 3 Haywards Heath Town 3 (Herne Bay win 6-5 on penalties): Reaction from Bay boss Ben Smith as they book Isthmian South East play-off final spot to face Ashford United

Manager Ben Smith praised Herne Bay’s character after they beat Haywards Heath on penalties to book their place in the Isthmian South East play-off final.

Following a six-goal thriller on Tuesday, which saw Bay concede twice in stoppage-time, they had to play extra-time a man light after midfielder Eddie Allsopp was sent off for an off-the-ball incident in the final minutes of normal time.

Herne Bay boss Ben Smith. Picture: Randolph File
Herne Bay boss Ben Smith. Picture: Randolph File

But Smith’s side actually looked the more threatening in extra-time despite being a man light before they won 6-5 on penalties to set up a showdown with Ashford this Saturday at Homelands.

“They (his players) gave me something that I have questioned all season - character and some good old-fashioned balls,” he said.

“To concede the way we conceded late on, and I’ll get on to the added time in a minute, but to concede then after the celebrations at 3-1, the momentum swung. (After) the red card, it was backs against the wall (in extra-time).

“I said to them in the dressing room at the end of normal time ‘We have questioned it all season, so now go and show it.’”

Earlier in the piece, in front of a massive crowd of 1,102 at Winch’s Field, Bay had led 2-1 through efforts from top scorer Zak Ansah and Jack Parter before the final 10 minutes - including seven minutes of stoppage-time - produced a red card and three more goals.

Smith, who was ill in the build-up and during the match, commented: “Madness, absolute madness. It had it all, didn’t it?

“I don’t think anyone can go home and say their £10 was wasted tonight!

“We certainly don’t do it the easy way but we are there, and that’s all that matters.

"We are there and have got a fighting chance. It’s fitting - second against third - bring on Saturday.”

Smith had no complaints with referee Scott Rudd’s decision to send off Allsopp for his actions but felt the playmaker had been stamped on in the build-up to the incident which saw him dismissed, with Allsopp sporting a bruise on his leg.

Smith stated: “We will be reviewing it because, if you see the state of Eddie’s leg where he’s been stamped on…. He’s a young lad, he shouldn’t retaliate. But he’s had to deal with that.

“The young lad has retaliated. Eddie has got to go, I can’t argue with the fact he retaliated.

“But it just seems at the minute like - whether they don’t like me or they don't like us as a club - we are jumping through hoops and hoops, with decision after decision just completely going against us.”

Should Bay decide not to appeal, or see an appeal be unsuccessful, Allsopp looks set to miss the play-off final, according to Smith.

There was a great deal of surprise among the crowd when seven minutes of stoppage-time was announced with Bay leading 2-1 at that time - and Bay's manager was far from happy with that decision.

“When I started hearing seven minutes of injury-time, it’s just laughable,” said Smith, whose side went 3-1 ahead through a Kieron Campbell goal before Heath struck twice in the final four minutes.

He added: “Honestly, it's comical. Are we just playing until they score? And they did.”

There was to be more late drama, as Haywards Heath snatched a last-gasp leveller through Hamish Morrison before the visiting players ran towards the dug-out to celebrate and emotions boiled over.

Smith said: “Obviously, cue wild celebrations which I expect. A couple of their players came up to our dug-out, saying ‘You thought it was done’. I heard comments ‘They are dead now, they are gone, they are gone.’

“(But) I thought, in extra-time, we were outstanding.

"Yes, they had the extra body but we looked like the side that was going to go on and win.”

The tie was ultimately decided on penalties and Smith said he had been gearing himself up to congratulate Haywards Heath - had they come out on top - as he watched on from his dug-out.

But after goalkeeper Jordan Perrin had saved, only for Ansah to fire over the bar with their first chance to win the tie in the shoot-out, centre-back Dan Johnson kept his cool to score in sudden death before Haywards Heath defender Tom Cadman hit the bar to spark wild celebrations.

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