Horsham YMCA crashed out of their second cup competition in four days with a 2-1 away defeat at Southern Counties East League Croydon in the second qualifying round of the FA Vase on Saturday.
A jaded YM were flat for large parts of an often fragmented affair that produced little in the way of quality.
Trams’ striker Tristan Toney capitalised on a goalkeeping error to open the scoring six minutes before the break, but a dominant display after the restart saw YM draw level thanks to Ash Dugdale’s diving header midway through the half.
Croydon then reclaimed the lead against the run of play when front man Toney turned the ball in from close range to double his tally for the afternoon four minutes later, before the visitors were handed a last-minute lifeline.
Alex Gathern was brought down on the edge of the box, but after Richard Butcher pointed to the spot, Nick Sullivan’s 96th-minute penalty was saved by former YM goalkeeper Francis Ameyaw.
Manager Peter Buckland said: “We totally bossed possession, but sometimes the footballing Gods just aren’t shining on you and they certainly weren’t today. We are all disappointed because the Vase is a good competition that you can go far in.
“We were given a lifeline right at the death. I’ve still got a sore throat from screaming not to let Nick Sullivan take the penalty. Nick is a side-footer. He is a poacher. He doesn’t put his foot through the ball and break the back of the net.
“I was trying to get Luke Gedling or Ash (Dugdale) on it, but by the time I’d got the message out, Nick was on the ball and addressing it, so I had to shut up because he was focusing.
“I maintain one hundred per cent that if we had scored that penalty, we would have gone home victorious. We would have beaten them in extra time.”
The game failed to flow in the opening exchanges, as mistakes from both sides littered the play. YM’s first shot at goal didn’t arrive until midway through the first period, Dan Brown burst forwards and found Dean Wright, who turned and shot just wide of the upright.
Dugdale then won back possession in midfield and after a clever one two with Brown, crossed for Sam Schaaf in acres of space in the box, but he volleyed over the crossbar.
The lethargic visitors were punished for their wasted opportunity 11 minutes later, as a harmless ball in behind the defence was misjudged by Simon Lockwood and Toney pounced to roll the ball into an empty net and make it 1-0 at the break.
YM were much improved in the second half and dominated possession from the outset. Schaaf showed good strength to hold off his man and then lay Brown who blazed over the bar from a tight angle just 90 seconds after the restart.
YM restored parity when a swift breakaway saw Brown’s deep cross from the left pick out substitute Paul White at the far post and his cleverly cushioned volley was courageously headed home by a diving Dugdale.
Four minutes later, however, a long goal kick was only half cleared and when the ball eventually fell to James Fray, he crossed for Toney, who poked past Lockwood from six yards.
Then six minutes into injury time, Toney was adjudged to have fouled defender Gathern in the penalty area and referee Butcher pointed to the spot.
With regular penalty taker Dan Sullivan having already been substituted, brother Nick hesitantly stepped up, but his poorly-struck spot kick was saved by Ameyaw in the home goal, and the stopper’s heroics were immediately met by the final whistle.
YM boss Buckland concluded: “It’s one of those days. There wasn’t a great deal wrong. I thought that we were not passing the ball fast enough today. It was a bit too pedestrian. We were very slow, particularly in the first half. I addressed that and it was much quicker in the second half.
“Two bad defensive choices out of the whole ninety minutes have cost us. Their first goal, no two ways about it, Simon (Lockwood) was at fault. He tries to pick it up instead of just kicking it out, and the second one Dan Sullivan was like a statue.
“It took too long to get going again today. I don’t think it’s too much football and it’s not a hangover from Wednesday. We addressed that big time to the players. As Iain Dowie once said, it’s about bouncebackability and you’ve got to do it on the day.”
Horsham YMCA: Lockwood, D.Sullivan (Hibbert 81), Gathern, Doherty, Evans, Dugdale, Gedling, D.Brown, Schaaf (White 69), N.Sullivan, Wright. Unused subs: Hunter, Pollard, Fox.