Published: 23:00, 26 April 2022
| Updated: 13:45, 27 April 2022
An incredible Isthmian South East play-off semi-final which had virtually everything saw Herne Bay beat Haywards Heath on penalties on Tuesday after a six-goal thriller.
Bay took the lead in the first half before Kieran Rowe converted a rebound, having missed the initial penalty for Haywards Heath, to make it all square at the break.
Defender Jack Parter gave the home team the lead once again at Winch's Field soon after the restart before a crazy ending saw substitute Eddie Allsopp sent off and, despite this, Kieron Campbell making it 3-1 to Bay - only for Heath to strike twice in stoppage-time to send the game to extra-time and, ultimately, to penalties.
But it's Bay who will play Ashford in Saturday’s Kent derby final showdown after centre-back Dan Johnson held his nerve in sudden death in the shoot-out and Heath hit the bar with the decisive penalty, with Herne Bay winning 6-5 on penalties. The Nuts & Bolts beat Cray Valley 1-0 in the other semi-final.
The visitors had the first chance inside 90 seconds in front of a massive crowd of 1,102, captain Byron Napper drilling wide from outside the area.
There was an early stoppage in play inside the first five minutes. Bay wideman Rory Smith went down after a challenge by a Haywards Heath defender but Smith was fit to continue after getting treatment.
With nine minutes played, Jordy Ndozid became the first of a whole host of away players to be booked by referee Scott Rudd after a late challenge on Smith.
Four minutes later, left-back Parter, who had previously enjoyed Isthmian Premier play-off success with Tonbridge, sent his effort sailing well over.
Hitman Zak Ansah wasted the first massive opportunity in the 14th minute as he ran on to a Campbell through-ball before he blazed over.
But seconds later, the hosts went ahead. Campbell looked to have cut inside and bent a curling shot past Haywards Heath goalkeeper Billy Collings and into the bottom corner via the post, although it has since been suggested the ball struck Ansah's back before flying into the net in bizarre fashion.
But Haywards Heath equalised in the 16th minute, with Bay skipper Laurence Harvey being adjudged to have brought down Alahady Jalloh by Mr Rudd inside the area.
Rowe took the spot-kick. Despite Bay keeper Jordan Perrin - who had kept five successive clean sheets prior to the game in a five-game unbeaten run - making the initial save, Rowe followed up to make it 1-1.
Midway through the first period, Herne Bay manager Ben Smith made an early substitution which saw on-loan Ebbsfleet midfielder Mike West replaced by Allsopp.
There were nervy moments for Bay just after the half-hour mark when the dangerous Jalloh drove forward down Haywards Heath’s left, only for his strike to sail over.
Louie Theophanous was the next player to try his luck as he found space in the home team’s box but headed well wide on 39 minutes.
Three minutes later at the other end, Allsopp’s free-kick looked like it would cause problems, only for Ansah’s touch to, unusually, take the pace off the delivery which allowed Collings to gather.
Parter had two glorious chances for Bay in quick succession right on the stroke of half-time.
With his first, Smith’s right-wing cross was directed into the defender’s path by Allsopp, however his shot flew well over the bar.
Not long after, Parter linked up well with Campbell down the left and, this time, the 28-year-old was denied by Collings’ legs.
But Bay flew out the traps after the restart and Parter finally gave his side the lead for the second time on the night. He jinxed his way into the area and fired beyond Collings with the second half less than a minute old for a timely first goal for the club he had joined last summer.
Herne Bay’s tails were now up and Harvey met Allsopp’s free-kick in the 51st minute but his header lacked enough power to seriously test the visiting keeper.
As they looked for a way back into the match, Heath manager Martin Dynan made a double change which saw Kesna Clarke and Davidgildo Cravid come on.
But Haywards Heath were struggling at this stage and, if anything, the hosts looked more likely to extend their advantage than Heath did to find an equaliser.
Indeed, Bay centre-back Johnson tamely glanced an Allsopp corner wide with 19 minutes to go.
The impressive Campbell tried darting between two Heath players in the 85th minute before he went to ground. Mr Rudd waved away the penalty protests from the home contingent, though.
Two minutes later, Heath finally went close to a leveller and Perrin had to be alert to tip over Ndozid’s attempted chip.
But Herne Bay’s task of seeing out the remaining minutes became harder when Mr Rudd gave Allsopp a straight red card for an off-the-ball incident.
Gasps were heard around the ground when an incredible seven minutes of stoppage-time was announced moments later.
All that appeared to matter little, though, as Campbell scored to make it 3-1.
A frantic finish continued three minutes into stoppage-time, however, when substitute Harry Laflin blasted past Perrin with a first-time strike to reduce the deficit to one goal once more.
With Haywards Heath keeper Collings coming up, he got a touch on Cravid’s corner before Hamish Morrison was accredited with a third goal after a goalmouth melee with the very last kick of normal time in a chaotic finish.
Ugly scenes ensued at the final whistle, involving Heath players celebrating as they went past Herne Bay’s dug-out and supporters getting on the pitch which led to an unusual tannoy announcement - with both teams leaving the field for some time to regather themselves.
Five minutes into extra-time, Bay’s Ansah had the first opportunity of extra-time which saw him drag wide of Collings’ right-hand post.
Harvey met a Bode Anidugbe corner in the 102nd minute, only for his volley to sail well wide.
The chances exclusively belonged to the home side in the first period of extra-time, with an Anidugbe free-kick flashing wide moments before the break.
Heath skipper Napper required lengthy treatment after a tackle by Campbell but, with all their substitutes having been made, he had no choice but to return to the field.
It was clear by the end of extra-time players from both sides were really struggling but Campbell almost came up with a moment of magic two minutes from end, as his in-swinging cross was gathered by Collings who had to be alert to thwart the dangerous winger.
A minute later at the other end, Napper could not quite lift an effort over Perrin who gathered as the tie went to a shoot-out.
Aaron Millbank, Hamilton Antonio, Anidugbe, Parter, Campbell and Johnson all scored for Herne Bay who won, despite Ansah blazing his spot-kick over, with two Heath players failing to find the net as Tom Cadman missed the decisive spot-kick which consigned them to defeat.
Smith had made three changes to his starting line-up from the side which won 3-0 at Phoenix at the weekend. Parter, Smith and Antonio came in for Dan Carrington, Millbank and Allsopp.
For Haywards Heath, striker Theophanous, who had played for Beckenham Town this season, came in for his first club appearance.
When the sides met in the league at Winch’s Field in February, Haywards Heath took the points in controversial circumstances.
With the referee injured and the two teams unable to agree on a replacement official - or on how the match could continue with the existing officials - Bay were charged with two rule breaches and the points went to the visitors who had led 1-0 at half-time.
Herne Bay: Perrin, Williams, Parter, Anidugbe, Johnson, Harvey, Campbell, Antonio, Ansah, West (Allsopp 24mins), Smith (Millbank 78mins). Subs not used: Carrington, Phillip, Denny.
Haywards Heath Town: Collings, Morrison, Cadman, Napper, Gilbert (Holden 58mins), Christie, Jalloh, Ndozid, Theophanous, Allen (Cravid 61mins), Rowe (Laflin 70mins). Subs not used: Clarke, Dacruz.
Referee: Scott Rudd.