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Robinson takes great pride in Hungerford effort following penalty heartbreak at Aveley

Hungerford Town boss Danny Robinson was proud of his players following their heartbreaking penalty shootout defeat to Aveley in the third round of the FA Trophy.

The Crusaders, who were forced to contend with a number of injuries and had to field a makeshift back four, pushed the National League South high flyers to their limit and led for a fair chunk of the contest after Babs Jarra, who won the FA Vase with Thatcham in 2018, powered in the opener after 25 minutes.

The hosts struck back three minutes into the second half when Gillingham loanee Joe Gbode made it 1-1, which was how it remained until full time as the contest went to penalties.

Hungerford Town boss Danny Robinson was “massively proud” of his side
Hungerford Town boss Danny Robinson was “massively proud” of his side

It took an epic 24 spot-kicks to separate the two sides, with all the players taking at least one – Town goalkeeper Ryan Clarke scored his – before Conor McDonagh missed his second attempt as the visitors were dumped out in agonising fashion.

And while Robinson was disappointed to crash out, he couldn't help but feel proud of how hard his players pushed a side that are challenging for promotion at the level above.

"I'm massively proud of my players," he said.

"My only complaint from the first half would be that we didn't get a second goal, we deserved to be 2-0 up at least.

"We were very good, we competed with one of the best sides in the National League South and we can hold our heads high.

"My only slight criticism would be that we didn't hit the target with a couple of our penalties, but we were excellent against a very good side and it just shows how far we've come."

Robinson was without skipper Rhys Tyler, who was only fit enough for the bench following a hamstring injury, and regular centre-back pairing Matt Berry-Hargreaves and Jack Wright. That meant goalscorer Babs Jarra partnered Ramarni Medford-Smith, who normally lines up at left-back, at the heart of the defence, while Jack Stanley started on one side and there was a rare start for Louie Paget on the other.

Robinson said: "I was incredibly pleased with how we defended.

"It was makeshift, but they did brilliantly well. Ramarni was outstanding at centre-back, he's been an absolute revelation. Babs was, rightly so, man-of-the-match. It was a great effort."

Robinson was also full of praise for Bulgarian frontman Slavi Spasov, who started up front to give top goalscorer Conor McDonagh a much-needed rest. The former Oxford United man's technical ability has never been in doubt and Robinson is hopeful he can start getting the best out of the striker.

"I have to give Slavi a special mention, I'm so pleased for him," he said.

"He was excellent. He's got a lot of talent but some of the supporters probably haven't seen quite how good he is, and that's down to me.

"He was excellent, he can play wide and through the middle, and it just shows the depth of the squad that we do have."

At the opposite end of the pitch, Robinson welcomed back veteran goalkeeper Ryan Clarke, who boasts over 200 appearances and a promotion with Football League side Oxford United, following a month long absence after picking up an injury in the 2-2 draw with Hanwell Town. Youngster Nick Harvey proved an able deputy, with the Crusaders unbeaten during his six games in between the sticks, and Robinson is delighted with his goalkeeping options.

He said: "Ryan captained the side on Saturday and scored in the shootout, so he had a good return.

"He just oozes class and quality. He's a leader and there's a lot of people in our changing room that look up to him. He's one of the best signings I think I've ever made.

"Nick's been fantastic for us and we haven't been beaten while Clarkey's been away. We've got two very, very good goalkeepers now."

Hungerford turn their attention back to the Southern Premier League South this weekend. The Crusaders, who are sixth, travel to 16th placed Beaconsfield on Saturday and Robinson, who reached Wembley with Thatcham in 2018, says Town can now commit their full focus towards their promotion push.

"It does give us a chance to fully focus on the league, which has always been our main objective," he said.

"We'd have loved to get to Wembley. I know what it feels like and I'd love for this group of players to experience that.

"We can get back to the league and give it everything. We've been on a good run and we're looking forward to the Christmas period, which is the best time of the year for football."

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