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Two-goal hero Shane Wallace’s winner just two minutes into the second half saw Royal Albert hold onto a lead at the third attempt as they won the Essex Sunday Junior Trophy with a 3-2 win over Basildon Athletic.
Earlier, first-half strikes from Bradley Smith and Wallace had been cancelled out by Basildon’s Billy Brown, from the spot, and Sam Pratt. But moving in front again after the break proved to be enough to seal the silverware.
“It was a massive, hard-fought win,” reflected Albert’s Player-Boss Sam Turpin after the game. “We took the lead three times, gave away a penalty and gave away a header back to the ‘keeper, but we ground it out and saw it through. We get some good goals and get in good positions to finish.”
He also praised his side’s fitness as a factor: “We are a fit side and we’ve been to extra time a few times just to get here, so I think the fitness showed as well as that little bit of composure. I think our first touch was a little bit better and we kept the ball a bit better than them.”
Royal Albert had already seen Justin Parkinson’s fierce drive bounce off the crossbar before they grabbed the lead on 7 minutes. Parkinson’s free kick slipped from the grasp of Basildon goalkeeper Ryan Swindell and Smith poked in the loose ball.
Just five minutes later, Basildon were level. Brown fired home from the penalty spot but, in a fast start, Albert regained the lead on 18 minutes when Wallace brought a good save from Swindell but picked up the rebound and rifled a shot along the ground and inside the near post.
Athletic equalised for a second time three minutes before the interval following a defensive mix-up, with Pratt slotting home into an empty net. The eventual winner then came just after the re-start as Wallace showed great strength to burst through on goal and fire in a firm, low shot.
Basildon’s Pratt scooped a 15-yard shot inches over the bar as his side looked to level again, with Albert’s Parkinson sending a dipping half-volley just wide at the other end. Another Basildon chance saw the ball fall for Brown, but he couldn’t get hold of his shot properly and Albert ‘keeper Mahad Farah gathered. That proved to be the last chance of the game.
Royal Albert clung onto their win, with stand-in ‘keeper Farah doing his bit after their regular stopper picked up an injury in the semi-final. “He has been a top man all season, a big shout out to Mahad!” beamed Turpin after the game.
While also reconsidering the possibility that this could be his side’s last campaign, he added: “I do want to carry on. I’m only 28 myself, it’s just running it all. Let’s see; we’ve got one more cup final in May - that may change it. You turn up on a Sunday, sometimes in hailstones, down to the bare bones sometimes, and this is what it’s all about. It makes it all worth it!”
Basildon Athletic: Ryan Swindell, Marv Parker, Harry Bonner, Brad Pike, Geoff Cox, Tom Bonner, Billy Brown, Sam Pratt, Sam Petit, Spencer Bangs, Tomas Kaylor. Substitutes (repeated): Jake Fairman, Jake Nutley, Mason Webb, Joe Cox, David Angel.
Royal Albert: Mahah Farah, Suraj Saini, John Hallett, John Traveller, Bradley Smith, Justin Kai Parkinson, Rory Cullen, Shane Wallace, Lloyd Makhanya, Jamie Brown, Sam Turpin. Substitutes (repeated): Reggie Gelderbloem, Darren Morley, JJ Jabbal, Sammy Adejokun, Aaron Ramsden.
Referee: Emma Guest (Havering).
Assistant Referees: Wayne Dearsley (Colchester) and Lanray Alapafujah (Barking & Dagenham).
Fourth Official: Patrick Carroll (Barking & Dagenham).