Ledbury Town 2, Clee Hill United 4 (AET)
Ledbury Town were denied a place in the final of a second consecutive Herefordshire FA Charity Bowl cup competition this weekend through two late penalties scored by this season’s Herefordshire FA County League Premier Division champions Clee Hill United, during a thrilling semi-final played out at New Street in challenging wet conditions.
In what was the second time this season Dean Rutter and Nick Blakeway’s senior squad had met the table toppers in cup action at home after Clee Hill triumphed 4-2 on penalties back in December when the scoreline remained deadlocked at a goal apiece following an 85thminute equalizer scored by Lewis Williams, the same digits featured again albeit at the end of extra time on this occasion as a Tom Skittery brace took proceedings to an additional thirty minutes of play.
Despite picking up three yellow cards from veteran referee Stuart Buchanan, a vocal visiting side were all over a hardworking Ledbury defence throughout much of the second period of play, and even though there was little to separate the two sides during extra time, the Shropshire-based outfit got their break when a Gavin Walton foul in the box gave Craig Breakwell the opportunity to covert a 118thminute penalty kick.
Lightning then struck twice to see Breakwell put a second spot kick past home goalkeeper and man of the match for the black and white shirts that afternoon Joshua Worrell in the dying moments after Alex Hunt committed a further yellow card-earning challenge up at the far end of the field.
This epic penultimate game of a cup contest won by the during its last full pre-Covid competition when an 81stminute winner from Charlie Docherty bought a 3-2 victory against Holme Lacy at Westfields’ allpay.park ground began with Skittery being blocked by a defender towards the far wing despite Pete Jeynes being an option across field, allowing the opposition to play the ball back upfield to see Worrell deflecting and just managing to seize an opening effort.
The hosts weren’t so fortunate on the seventh minute when Craig Shorter found a first Clee Hill mark on the scoresheet from a corner, before their keeper replied to a good save from Worrell by seizing a superb 25-yard ball from Jeynes away from Skittery and Dwayne Tyndale on the attack either side of him.
Ben Febery put the ball over the bar in what was easily his side’s best chance of scoring during the opening twenty minutes, before Buchanan chose to award a corner ball rather than a penalty after Tyndale was felled in the box to see Kieran Meek squander the set-piece.
Ledbury restored the stalemate on the 23rdminute when a cleverly-taken free kick from captain Curt Williams was nodded towards goal by Tyndale near the touchline, giving a speedy Skittery the opportunity he needed to rush in and produce the finish.
A good sliding challenge from Charlie Jones back upfield enabled Febery to embark on a promising run down the far wing, only to be intercepted by a member of the visiting back-line as the half-hour mark of play saw an intended cross from Tyndale to Febery being intercepted by a defender.
After Jeynes suffered a bad challenge towards the near sideline, the seasoned winger fought back by getting the ball to Williams, who raced down to put the ball into the keeper’s hands from the touchline in what was further promising play from Town.
Meek was brought down on his stomach to see the ensuing free kick from Febery make it underneath the two-man wall of opposing players to provide their keeper with a relatively easy save, before Buchanan grew weary of continued Clee Hill protests over the hosts allegedly interfering with play, producing the first yellow card of the game shortly after blowing the half-time whistle.
The rain intensified into the second period as the visitors tried to win a penalty there and then in falling in-between Jeynes and Tom Trigg in the box although with Buchanan having none of it, as a later free kick from the red and black shirts made it past the three-man Ledbury wall to be met with a terrific deflection from Worrell as nothing resulted from the corner.
A solid 60thminute deflection from Matt Rooke provided his opponents with a further corner ball opportunity as defensive headers from Tyndale and Walton nevertheless saw Clee Hill feed the ball back in, nearly resulting in their second goal if not for Walton clearing the ball away from an attacker on the line after Worrell missed the catch.
Nervy times for Ledbury continued as Worrell again couldn’t quite gain possession of a 65thminute effort, before the besieged Town goaltender managed to block the follow-up effort as Walton made the clearance,
A good defensive header from Trigg saw Walton again being on hand to clear the danger away, before a superb challenge from Tyndale in midfield was successful in getting the ball back upfield.
The advantage was short-lived however as a relentless visiting outfit continued their sustained assault, quelled only through the combined efforts of Trigg and Rooke as the attack culminated in a frustrated opposing marksman firing the ball over the woodwork.
Tyndale managed to nod clear a free kick from the touchline following a first foul from Walton, only for Clee Hill to break through once again and score via a direct strike from Liam Whitbread to put themselves back within touching distance of a place in the final with fifteen minutes to go.
Worrell continued to palm away efforts from all angles as a powerful eighteen-yard effort soared narrowly wide of the near post, but just as when it seemed the game was all but over, an 84thminute corner ball from Williams was nodded back into the box by a trio of visiting defenders on the touchline to see Skittery nod the ball home in an impromptu manner to suddenly bring the game back to life.
Hunt made one final decisive clearance over into the adjoining field to usher in a further thirty minutes of play, beginning with Walton halting an opposing player in the box with Buchanan seeing no cause to issue any sanctions despite Clee Hill protests.
A series of superb sliding challenges from Rooke, taking full advantage of the increasingly slippery conditions saw Worrell punch away a further corner ball, as some silky 100thminute skill from Trigg would have witnessed surely his side’s goal of the season if not for his ensuing tremendous 25-yard volley only just missing the near post.
The visitors received two further bookings from Buchanan for late challenges committed against Sam Branch and Walton as the opposing keeper only just managed to clasp the ball above the head of Trigg up at the far end, before the hosts’ brave game fell apart when Breakwell struck twice from the spot, despite Buchanan ordering the second penalty to be retaken on account of players entering the box.
Despite having a player taken off moments from the end after suffering a bad injury in midfield, the visitors went on to celebrate booking their place in the final stage of the competition against Hereford Pegasus FC Reserves following their 4-1 victory over Ludlow Town Juniors Colts at Old School Lane.
Rutter and Blakeway’s side can feel some positivity having finished another most unusual season in second place in the bottom half of the Herefordshire League Premier Division following its split after the return of grassroots football, and they will look forward to embarking on a hopefully full and uninterrupted 2021/22 season.
Ledbury Town Reserves rounded off a disappointing weekend through suffering a 5-1 defeat to Holme Lacy Reserves in Division One of the Herefordshire League, with Nick Bolton finding the sole consolatory goal as George Davies and Harry Simpson netted braces, with substitute player James Anderson also on target for the hosts.
Visiting captain Jai Smallwood was named man of the match for David Butcher’s young squad as they face their last game of the season at home to Hereford Lads Club Reserves this coming weekend (KO 2:30pm).
QUICK MATCH FACTS
LEDBURY TOWN STARTING LINE-UP:
1 – Joshua Worrell
2 – Pete Jeynes
3 – Alistair Holder
4 – Charlie Jones
5 – Tom Trigg
6 – Matt Rooke
7 – Curt Williams (captain)
8 – Ben Febery
9 – Kieran Meek
10 – Dwayne Tyndale
11 – Tom Skittery
SUBS – Gavin Walton (on for Alistair Holder at 45 min), Sam Branch (on for Kieran Meek at 45 min), Alex Hunt (on for Pete Jeynes at 60 min), Asten Griffiths (on for Charlie Jones at 80 min)
GOALSCORERS – Tom Skittery (23 min, 86 min)
YELLOW CARDS – Alex Hunt (118 min)
STAR PLAYER – Joshua Worrell
REFEREE – Stuart Buchanan
ASSISTANT REFEREES – Christopher Haggett, Geoff Banham
LEDBURY TOWN RESERVES STARTING LINE-UP:
1 – Zak Bonfield
2 – Jai Smallwood (captain)
3 – James Kenny
4 – Matti Holder
5 – Ethan French
6 – George Hackman
7 – Jack Dandy
8 – George Walker
9 – Clayton Hodges
10 – Kieran Loveridge
11 – Nathan Ince
SUBS – Dave Preece, Alex Berry, Nick Bolton, Harry Powell, Jake Bramley
GOALSCORERS – Nick Bolton
STAR PLAYER – Jai Smallwood
REFEREE – Connor Sheehan