Colchester United 0-0 Redbridge

Motormen Claim the BBC Essex Senior Cup

Colchester United 0-0 Redbridge (4-5 on penalties), Tuesday 19th March 2024, Kick-Off 7:45pm, Dagenham & Redbridge FC, BBC Essex Senior Cup Final.

Redbridge Joint-Manager, George Christou, reflected on a “surreal feeling” after his Pitching In Isthmian League Division One North club overcame Colchester United in a dramatic penalty shootout following a goalless 129th BBC Essex Senior Cup Final.

The sides had kept each other at bay for the entire match, meaning sudden death spot kicks were required to separate them, with The Motormen coming out on top, 5-4. “I've quite not taken it in if I'm being honest,” said Christou, reflecting on the game at the Chigwell Construction Stadium. “A team like Redbridge - we shouldn't even be in the final.”

“We were a Step Five side last season and we've been promoted and just to get here, I said to the boys before the game, for me, that's success. Everybody's success is different. For me, us getting here to the final was success. But I just put a question to them: you guys go and get the success that you deserve as players rather than management, and they went and did that.”

Christou was pleased with how his team competed: “I've said to the boys for the last few weeks, we are better than our league position says and now I'm going to put them to the test that can we start showing that because I honestly believe we're in a bit of a false position. But the table doesn't lie. We're where we are in the league, but this has been a breath of fresh air to sort of come away from the league and think about other things.”

“We've won a few different cups, but this is the crème de la crème. There are a lot of Step Two and Three players who have good careers and normally don't get to win this opportunity. Last year, being a Step Five club, I think we came in at Round One and we lost on penalties. So, for us to get to the final and win it, it's just magical and fair play to the boys. They've had a long old season. It's been tough - Saturdays-Tuesdays since Christmas, every week - but they've got what they deserved today.”

There was difficulty for United’s Transition Coach, Dave Huzzey, before the match had even got underway as T'Aizo Marcel-Dilaver was forced to drop to the bench due to an injury he sustained in the warm-up. He was replaced by Kennedy Mupomba.

It was a tightly-contested opening 5 minutes, with both sides eager to net the first goal. Solomon Ogunwomoju had the first opening of the game for Redbridge on 14 minutes, firing his strike straight at U’s goalkeeper Sam Hornby. At the other end seven minutes later, Samson Tovide was sent through on goal but a heavy touch cost him as custodian Connor Wheatley collected.

Louie Johnson nearly put Redbridge ahead moments after the half-hour point with an eye-catching strike, but Hornby was on-hand to parry the ball away for a corner. The Motormen were edging closer to an elusive opener and Ogunwomoju’s looping header narrowly missed the target moments later.

Meanwhile, Tovide had been Colchester’s main threat in the first half and he nearly netted with a 35th-minute effort which was deflected wide. Shortly afterwards, a goalmouth scramble from the resulting corner saw a posse of United players try their luck, but they couldn’t force the ball past Wheatley, and the half ended goalless.

Christou summarised: “I thought, first half, we were really good. Fair play to Colchester, second half I thought they were excellent. They gave us a lot of trouble and there were some nervy moments. We had to call on our number one, Conor, to bail us out of trouble for a bit.” Colchester made a bright start to that second half.

Within seconds, Hakeem Sandah’s strike was rifled onto the crossbar before Kaleel Green headed wide from the follow-up. The U’s had all of the early chances and Oscar Thorn delivered for Owura Edwards, though he could only find the side netting. Former Chelsea and Spurs youngster Sandah went close again on 55 minutes, forcing Wheatley to make a fine save down to his right.

As time ticked away for either side to steal the game. A right-sided free-kick delivery from Bradley Bennett, who recently made his 100th appearance for Redbridge, dropped perfectly for a team mate to poke home on 81 minutes, but nobody in red was able to get on the end of it. Colchester nearly claimed the cup like they did in 2010 in the closing stages. An 83rd-minute cross into the box from the right fell to Edwards, who couldn’t find the target.

The Redbridge joint-bosses, including Jack Toghli, were particularly starting to feel the pressure at this point, and Christou recalled: “In the end, when there's ten minutes to go and you're making subs, you're putting a left-back in centre-mid and a right-back at right wing just to try and get fresh legs on, the boys dug deep and they got what they deserved in the end.”

Six minutes of added time couldn’t split the sides either, meaning penalties. Both teams’ first two spot kicks were flawless, though they each had their third saved. A further two converted penalties apiece set-up a sudden death climax and, when ‘keeper Wheatley proved equal to Owura Edwards’ effort, it was left to skipper Lewis Clark to put the ball into the net for Redbridge, prompting gleefully celebratory scenes as they won the cup for the first time in 60 years.

“We had five takers and then I said, right, you guys manage it for six and seven on the bench if it gets that far,” Christou revealed. “Fair play, little Jimi [Feeley], who's our Under 18s Captain, who came on for the last ten - he's only 17, he's still in college - he apparently went, I'll take the sixth. Lewis [Clark] said, I can't put it all on you. Being a captain, and being the leader he is, he said, I'll step up and, thankfully, he stuck it away.”

And he was confident when the match went to penalties, following shootout success at Chelmsford City in the Fourth Round: “I just told the boys, just like when we had a few penalty shootouts this year, this is a lottery. I said, the pressure’s on the goalies. Whatever happened in the penalty shootout, I just said to them, I'm so proud of you getting this far and taking Colchester to penalties. The boys who took the penalties were all excellent - congratulations to them.”

Colchester United: Sam Hornby, Oscar Thorn, Frankie Terry, Riley Harbottle, WillIam Greenidge, Ryan Lowe (C), Archie Oliver, Samson Tovide, Hakeem Sandah, Owura Edwards, Kennedy Mupomba. Substitutes: Ted Collins, T’aizo Marcel Dilaver, Frankie Edwards, Jet Dyer, Kaleel Green. Transition Coach: Dave Huzzey.

Redbridge: Connor Wheatley, Bradley Bennett, Oscar Shelvey-Negus, Lewis Clark (C), Joseph Elliott, Solomon Ogunwomoju, Jack Chawner, Ayomikun Odukoya, Louie Johnson, Soumen Nandi, Ronnie Winn. Substitutes: Kwabena Yeboah, George Martin, Mekeal Williams, James Barlow, Jimi Feeley. Joint-Managers: George Christou and Jack Toghli.

Referee: Robert Claussen (Rochford).

Assistant Referees: Thomas Whay (Harlow) and Richard Carter (Braintree).

Fourth Official: Ayrton Hursey (Colchester).

Attendance: 607.

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