On-fire Clarke puts Tigers in FA Vase dreamland

Jamie Clarke on the mark for Holbeach Utd in their 3-2 win over Huntingdon Town in the FA Vase 2nd Round tie at Carter's Park.  Photo by Steve Relf.
Jamie Clarke on the mark for Holbeach Utd in their 3-2 win over Huntingdon Town in the FA Vase 2nd Round tie at Carter's Park. Photo by Steve Relf.
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Holbeach United are still on course for their best run in the FA Vase for 25 years after an epic 3-2 win over Huntingdon Town at Carter’s Park.

A half-volley from the gods by in-form striker Jamie Clarke, four minutes from team, settled a moemntous tie where the pendulum swung from one team to the other constantly.

Tigers joint managers John Chand and Graham Drury employed a four-three-three formation, with midfielder Jake Duffy sat in the pocket behind strikers Clarke and Lee Dube

But the Tigers almost came unstuck as early as the fifth minute when centre half Danny Spencer, in an otherwise immense performance, gave the ball away cheaply to Croms winger Ben Cullen who eventually fired well wide.

A minute later, the shoe was on the other foot literally when Dube picked up a stray pass and set up Clarke who shot over the bar.

Dan Newman should have done better for Seb Hayes’ Huntingdon side when latching on to a throw in 12 yards out, only to spray a left foot shot past the post.

Another Croms midfielder, Declan Rogers, tested Tigers’ keeper Nick Conrow from close range before striker Jacob Joyce headed Huntingdon in front on 17 minutes after a Luke Kennedy corner wasn’t dealt with by Holbeach at their near post.

Seven minutes later, the Tigers were level when a Lee Beeson free kick was headed towards goal by Dube then deflected away only as far as Kern Miller who drilled home from ten yards out.

Holbeach went close on the half-hour when Stacey Cartwright’s cross was glanced wide by Clarke, followed by Beeson’s 25-yard free kick which bent past the Croms left-hand post.

A collection of half-chances for Beeson, Dube and Clarke saw an increasingly exciting game to half-time.

Huntingdon were on the back foot early in the second half when Dube should have done better with a Danny Steadman cross which he headed straight at Huntingdon keeper Dan George.

Four minutes after half-time, Huntingdon broke quickly with Rogers setting up Ben Cullen for the chance to put his side back in front, only to crash land by shooting over the bar.

But Huntingdon were back in front eight minutes into the second half when Rogers broke quickly and drilled home an angled effort from 12 yards out.

On 71 minutes, Clarke headed wide again from a Matty Warfield cross as the Tigers went on the hunt for an equaliser before Chand and Drury rolled the dice with a double substitution.

Dube and Warfield made way for the Parker boys, Jermaine and Craig, who promptly changed the outcome of the game.

With 11 minutes left, Jermaine Parker picked up a loose ball and when his cross wasn’t held by George, Craig Parker headed in the equaliser.

At the other end, Rogers almost restored Huntingdon’s advantage when his run and shot left Conroy standing but fortunately for the Tigers keeper, the shot went wide.

Then Clarke was given one chance to dispense with his off-target headers as he took Jermaine Clarke’s cross on the half-volley and buried an unerring shot in the bottom right hand corner of the net.

It sent Chand and Drury into the kind of celebrations Barry Fry and Rotherham United boss Steve Evans would have been proud of.

This was much, much more than about pocketing £1,200 for a second round win - this was about sending a meesage that for Holbeach United, as goal hero Clarke said after the match, “the wheels are well and truly on”.