Staines United 1-1 Wheatleys (after extra time, 4-5 on penalties), Sunday 19th March 2017, Kick-Off 3:00pm, Burroughs Park, Essex Sunday Veterans Cup Final.
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Wheatleys Assistant Manager Gareth Ridge admitted that he “didn’t think it was going to be our day” before watching his team claim the Essex Sunday Veterans Cup in a penalty shootout against Staines United.
Staines had looked set to win the competition in their inaugural season as a veterans outfit thanks to Chris McNaney’s sensational first-half strike, but there was late drama as Scott Wheeler converted a 97th-minute spot kick to send the match into an additional half an hour. There were no further goals before Wheatleys prevailed, 5-4, on penalties.
“It feels fantastic,” remarked Ridge, who took charge after previous boss Bob Barlow stepped down following their semi-final success against Hullbridge Sports. “We really played well today. It was a really good game, even though the wind was a factor, and I loved the occasion. I definitely didn’t think it was going to be our day, but I’ll take it. To win on penalties is fantastic.”
Staines had reached the final by defeating the two previous winners of the competition, Nicholas Wybacks and Tag United, and they started the Burroughs Park showpiece in superb style with McNaney’s goal. The midfielder, who won the Saturday Veterans Cup with Little Thurrock Dynamos in midweek, received Lee North’s pass 35 yards out before arcing the ball into the top left-hand corner of the net.
The Southend Borough Combination Veterans League Premier Division pacesetters continued to dominate the early exchanges, and Wheatleys goalkeeper Mark Cleavely had to be alert to tip Micky Welsh’s right-wing cross over the crossbar in the 17th minute. Three minutes later, North picked out Stuart Dyer, who saw his attempt deflected wide.
Staines shot-stopper Paul Murray was called into action for the first time midway through the opening period when he dived to his right-hand side to palm away Colin Perrin’s near-post strike, and Perrin was inches away from prodding a Jason Gibbs through ball beyond the goalkeeper shortly before half time.
By that time the influential North had linked-up again with Dyer who, on this occasion, fired wide of the left-hand upright. Late in the first half, McNaney robbed Wheeler of possession, advancing one-on-one with Cleavely before slotting wide of the goal. As the 45 minutes drew to a close, Brendan Walshe strode through midfield before dragging his shot similarly off-target.
After the game, Ridge admitted that he had adjusted his game-plan to deal with their opponents’ threat with the benefit of the conditions: “They had a lot of possession in the first half, and the wind helped them a lot. We actually played a holding team in the first half, and that’s why I made so many changes at half time,” he said.
“We wanted to hold them in the first half and, although we were 1-0 down, we wanted to be able to compete in the second half with the wind at our backs,” added Ridge, whose team visibly improved after the interval, with Chris Baker chesting down a left-wing cross and volleying wide in the 52nd minute.
Baker then combined with Wheeler before slashing wide from 12 yards out midway through the second half. However, as the game drew towards its scheduled conclusion, Staines had opportunities to seal the victory; a McNaney pass opened up the Wheatleys defence for Welsh, who blasted over, and then North side-footed into Cleavely’s gloves following McNaney’s lung-busting run.
In the 89th minute it appeared as though Wheeler had wasted the last chance to level the game after he stroked the ball wide at the end of an excellent run, but he would have an opportunity for redemption when the referee spotted an infringement in the seventh minute of stoppage time. The set piece specialist stepped up and converted to send the game to extra time.
The first period of additional time passed without incident, but Staines had opportunities to edge ahead after the short interval when Lee O’Donoghue nodded North’s curling shot off the goal-line and Welsh struck the crossbar with a left-wing cross-cum-shot. Welsh almost snatched the silverware in stoppage time, but his 25-yard attempt flew past the post and penalties were required.
Staines custodian Murray saw the first spot kick of the shootout saved by opposite number Cleavely and, after eight successful penalties, the responsibility for winning the competition fell to Peacock. He fired the ball into the bottom left-hand corner before accepting the adulation of his team mates, and none more so than skipper O’Donoghue.
“People were on their last legs, but they still put their hands up to take penalties,” claimed Ridge. “It’s particularly fantastic for our Captain, Lee, as he’s played in four County Cup finals before - as captain - and he’s always lost, so it was fifth time lucky. He’d kept all that quiet, and he hadn’t told anyone until afterwards, so it’s great for him.”
Penalties: Staines - Murray (saved, 0-0), Wheatleys - Baker (scored, 0-1), Staines - North (scored, 1-1), Wheatleys - Mitchell (scored, 1-2), Staines - B Walshe (scored, 2-2), Wheatleys - White (scored, 2-3), Staines - Adams (scored, 3-3), Wheatleys - Wheeler (scored, 3-4), Staines - Colechin (scored, 4-4), Wheatleys - Peacock (scored, 4-5).
Staines United: Paul Murray, Gary Taylor, Kieran Walshe, Paul Robbins, Brendan Walshe, Dan Colechin, Lee North, Chris McNaney, Micky Welsh, Dan Adams, Stuart Dyer. Substitutes (repeated): Gary Webster, Mark Newton, Matthew Barrett, Brian Taylor, Jason Realf.
Wheatleys: Mark Cleavely, Sean McMullen, Lee O’Donogue, Chris Baker, Paul White, Jason Gibbs, Scott Wheeler, Clemond Read, Simon Berry, Lee Sharman, Colin Perrin. Substitutes (repeated): Carl Papworth, Dave George, Paul Searles, Stephen Mitchell, Colin Peacock.
Bookings: Staines: Colechin (30, adopting an aggressive attitude), Barrett (90+6, dissent), Murray (90+6, unsporting behaviour), Brian Taylor (91, foul); Wheatleys: Baker (31, foul), Wheeler (44, foul), Searles (69, adopting an aggressive attitude).
Referee: Adrian Arnot (Colchester).
Assistant Referees: David Bloxham (Rayleigh) and Chris Hockett (Southend-on-Sea).
Fourth Official: Paul Whitmore (Rayleigh).