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Hartley Wintney's FA Cup run completes incredible turnaround
WHAT a difference a year has made to the fortunes of Hartley Wintney FC.
In September last year, rookie manager Ben Dillon took over a side sitting bottom of the Combined Counties League Premier Division. The village side had lost seven of their first eight league games and made an early exit from the FA Cup.
Relegation looked a certainty – but, against the odds, Dillon, who is just 24, managed to turn things around.
A remarkable run late in the season saw Hartley avoid the drop and they have begun this season in excellent form. Six victories in their first eight league games mean they are promotion candidates, while an outstanding cup run has raised both money and awareness.
Monday night’s dramatic 4-3 win at Clevedon Town saw Hartley reach the fourth qualifying round of the competition for the first time in their history. It also earned them £7,500 in prize money, taking the total raised from the cup run to £18,425 in prize money alone.
Dillon said: “We have come a long way in a year and this is a massive thing for the club. The prize money is a massive boost, it means a lot to a club like ours, and the publicity we are getting is great as well.
“It’s great to have made history by getting the club to the fourth qualifying round for the first time. I was involved as a player when we got to the third qualifying round a couple of years ago and I’m over the moon to beat that at the first time of asking as a manager.”
Despite playing 55 minutes with 10 men after the harsh sending-off of Tom Walsh for handball, the hosts took the lead early in the second half and were eight minutes from victory when Clevedon levelled to force a replay.
Clevedon dominated the first half on their own ground and led 2-0 at half-time. Three goals in the space of five minutes, two of them scored by Hartley’s Elliot Hobden, moved the score on to 3-2, while Sam Argent slotted home from the penalty spot to level the game with 20 minutes left.
More drama followed, with Hartley having a goal disallowed before Hartley were awarded a second penalty in injury-time, Argent scoring again to send his side through.
Dillon added: “It would have been nice to get Aldershot or one of the other big teams but we think we can get through and we are a game away from the first round.
“We will have nothing to lose and if we play like we did in the second half on Monday, there’s no reason why we cannot pull off another shock result.”
The game will take place at the Memorial Ground next Saturday – but before that, Hartley host Wessex League Division One side Petersfield Town in the first round of the FA Vase on Saturday.
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