Corinthians Under 21s edged a penalty shootout to seal the Essex Saturday Junior Trophy following a pulsating 4-4 draw with Sandon Royals at Aveley FC.
The match had swung both ways, with Corinthians levelling the tie in the final minute of extra time before coming from behind in the shootout to seal a 3-2 win on spot kicks. Mid Essex League club Sandon had led in the first half, but Corinthians, from the ProKit UK Essex Olympian League, had edged ahead by the break.
Three minutes beyond the hour Sandon regained the lead, only to be pegged back 16 minutes from time. A Sandon goal in the first period of extra time looked to have won the final for 2014’s runners-up but Corinthians levelled again at the death as the game went to penalties in front of a brilliant Friday-night crowd of 227.
“I’ve been in a few finals in my time. I was speaking to one of their players and we both said someone’s got to win and someone’s got to lose, but the game was just awesome,” reflected Corinthians boss Chris Stoneham once he’d had chance to catch his breath. “I don’t know what minute that fourth goal was in. I think there were only about two to go, but fair play to both teams it was a great spectacle and I feel gutted for them.”
“I’m just overjoyed that I’ve got a side who can go out and perform to the standard they did. Both teams could’ve defended better, but that’s being critical. You’ve seen players all around the pitch cramping up and that’s how much effort they put into the game. Fair play to them both. I apologised to their manager, but someone’s got to win and it’s not a nice way to lose but, at the end of it, perhaps I’m being biased, but I think we deserved the win.”
Sandon were first to threaten on the evening as Paul Harvey’s cross twice bounced on the crossbar via the fingertips of Corinthians goalkeeper Brad Read. But, with just 17 minutes played, they grabbed the lead when Dave Muir’s free kick fell to Adam Fishpool, who turned and fired home from eight yards.
Muir then curled a fine effort inches over the top before Corinthians equalised on 40 minutes, Matt Burrell side-footing home following a grounded, right-flank cross. By half time, the Under 21s were ahead. Connor Summerhill found the back of the net with Sandon ‘keeper Andy Rodgers unable to claw the ball away.
David Kavanagh stooped to head Sandon back on terms eight minutes after the restart then, with 63 played, Royals were ahead once more. Fishpool got a nudge to a left-wing cross and directed the ball past Read. Corinthians’ John Bolton-Smith later lashed a 74th-minute strike into the roof of the net as his side hauled themselves onto level terms for a second time.
Only a couple of excellent saves at either end ensured the game went to extra time. Sandon stopper Rodgers tipped Bolton-Smith’s header over the top and Read made an outstanding stop to get down low and push Paul Willmore’s effort wide. The Royals’ crossbar was then rattled in the dying moments of the 90 minutes when Billy Harris came close the winning the game.
Two minutes prior to the extra time change of ends, Sandon edged ahead for a third time. A defensive lapse saw the ball slip across the penalty area, where Antonio Campoccio smashed in at the far post. Seconds later, Corinthians hit the crossbar through Connor Monghan’s header, but, in the final minute, they equalised. Theo Cannon brilliantly drilled home to take the final to the lottery of penalties.
The early shootout advantage went to Sandon, who led 1-0 after two kicks apiece. But two saves from Corinthians’ Read drew his side level before Summerhill stroked home to win the shoot-out, 3-2. Having scored a last-gasp winner against Docklands Albion in the Semi-Final, boss Stoneham could barely comprehend further drama at the final hurdle.
I said to my assistant I didn’t think I’d ever forget the semi-final, but now we’ve just played the final, that puts it in the shadow,” said Stoneham. “But, fair play to the lads, they’re going to remember this for the rest of their lives. I thought the Friday worked well, and what a great stadium to play your football. It’s been a great night all-round.”
So, having conquered in men’s football as an under 21s side, what does the game hold now for Stoneham’s team? He added: “We’re going to push into men’s football next season in the Olympian, still as Corinthians, and see how we get on. Over a period of time, especially in the County Cup, we’ve shown we can do the job. We proved again tonight we’re more than capable and, with another year behind them, they’ll be even better. They’re growing as a squad.”
Corinthians Under 21s: Brad Read, Ross Hooper, Connor Summerhill, Alfie Knight, Brad Smith, Jordan Stoneham, Matt Burrell, Luke Owen, Cameron Glover, Bill Harris, John Bolton-Smith. Substitutes (repeated): Theo Cannon, Connor Peralta, Connor Monaghan, Rees Price, Leo Clarke.
Sandon Royals: Andy Rodgers, Chris Johnson, Jamie Urch, Gary Epstein, Adam Fishpool, Haydn Walters, Dave Muir, Paul Kavanagh, Paul Harvey, Ollie Parsons, Antonio Campoccio. Substitutes (repeated): Gareth Walsh, Harry Green, Jack French, Martin Williams, Paul Ellmore.
Referee: Nathan Oakes (Colchester).
Assistant Referees: Andrew French (Braintree) and Neil Strachan (Braintree).
Fourth Official: Lukas Wood (Chelmsford).