THE magic of the FA Cup is alive and well – just ask Nic Ciardini!
The popular Badshot Lea midfielder scored direct from the kick-off to stun South Park into silence on Saturday and book the Baggies’ place in the next round.
And the big man couldn’t have timed it any better as Lea had just been pegged back to 2-1 after conceding a penalty and looked set to face a nervy second 45 minutes.
“Cards said the keeper was stood there looking at him knowing he was going to do it and almost saying ‘going on if you think you can’,” said delighted boss Gavin Smith after witnessing Ciardini’s spectacular 50-yard strike which sailed over the goalkeeper’s head to restore Lea’s two-goal lead.
“When you’re looking at going in 2-1 up rather than 2-0 up, that takes the wind out of their sails again. They’ve literally just got back in the game and suddenly you’re two goals behind again within 30 seconds.
“Cards has got the experience of playing levels above so we felt this game was perfect for him to start in and help the other lads through and it paid off and he scored a goal that, with no disrespect, none of the other lads would have scored. They wouldn’t have even tried it.”
Ciardini’s wonder strike was a fitting way to seal a pulsating and at times nasty fixture that had a bit of everything – spectacular goals, two melees, a sending off and yellow cards that could easily have been red, not to mention passion and desire.
And Badshot Lea were great value for the win which sets up a second qualifying round tie at home to step three side Hayes & Yeading at Wesfield Lane on September 21.
Lea were, frankly, superb in the first half, with Shaq Williams firing in a thunderbolt from all of 30 yards and Ciardini doing his best Cristiano Ronaldo impression.
“Although winning in the league is nice you can’t beat a cup knockout competition for the atmosphere in the changing rooms. It’s unbelievable, it’s like a different feeling,” said Smith, who was himself shown a yellow card after tempers flared in a bad-tempered second half.
“It’s the best we’ve played for a while and it’s more like what we’ve expected from them and what we know they can do.
“We played football how we know we can and it was really exciting to watch and we were by miles the better side and deserved to win.
“We have been disappointed with how we have started games this season and we let them know what they needed to do before the game, told them this can’t keep happening. If we start like we have done against teams in leagues above us then they will be out of sight and we won’t be able to get back in it. They took it on board and showed up, which was brilliant.”
There was certainly no shortage of passion on show and the game took a particularly nasty turn for a fiery ten-minute spell toward the end of the second half, with Lea leading 3-1.
South Park full back Chevan Xavier inexplicably received only a yellow card for shoving Nick Medcraft, the scorer of Lea’s second goal, into a touchline fence and Williams was lucky to pick up only a caution after swinging an arm in frustration, while South Park’s Bailie Rogers did see red after the second unseemly melee.
But nothing was going to spoil Lea’s day.
“Looking at the draw, and there are some big clubs in it, it would have been nice to have gone and played somewhere where there will be a load of fans and it would make a real day out of it. But we’re at home, which is brilliant, and you never know in the cup
“We’ve done well against Farnborough in pre-season and we’ve competed against Hartley Wintney in a friendly, so you never know on the day.
“It’s good to get a home draw and to play a team from a couple of leagues higher is a good test and the lads should be looking forward to it.”