THE much anticipated meeting of the SSML Premier Division’s top two of long standing, didn’t disappoint, as WGC reached the final of this year’s Herts Charity Shield in a pulsating, thrilling cup-tie.
Adam Fisher’s side reached their second cup final of the campaign – they are also in the SSML’s Dudley Latham Premier final against Harpenden – by the odd goal in seven, in a clash that required an extra 30 minutes in freezing temperatures.
Fisher opted to rest three key players in Jay Rolfe, Jon Clements and Ben Spaul, putting them on the bench, but all three came on in the second-half to have a devastating effect on a game, in which the Citizens were trailing their promotion rivals twice.
WGC were also without unavailable forwards Dan Bond and Joel Norris for the semi.
Keeper Charlie May was called into action in six minutes to make a fine save, tipping away an Ashley Morrissey effort, while the recalled Josh Bronti scorned GC’s best early chance, heading a Jon Sexton pinpoint cross straight at visiting keeper Carl Tasker.
On 25 minutes Berko took the lead, through the dangerous Morrissey, when the visitors attacked down the right and found the little winger in the centre of the area. He struck his shot past an unprotected May.
A minute later, Berko’s Jones tried an ambitious 40 yard effort that dropped just wide of the goal with keeper May stranded.
But three minutes after falling behind, WGC were level. New boy Nick Elliott got over a fine cross from the right and Charlie Joy coming in at the back post, beat Tasker with a downward header for 1-1.
Tasker kept the West Herts side level with a good save to push away Ashley Kersey’s glancing header from another Sexton cross, before Morrissey whipped in another snapshot that struck the foot of the post at the other end.
Three minutes from the break, the visitors re-took the lead, when Morrissey found Adam Mead in a central position and his strong shot was half stopped by May, but the keeper couldn’t keep it out.
WGC began the second-half on the attack and Kersey and Josh Bronti both spurned chances before manager Fisher introduced Jay Rolfe at full-back for the tormented Carl Mensah.
First choice full-back Rolfe immediately subdued the threat of Morrissey with a trio of fine challenges and the winger was soon replaced.
Jon Clements was the second change coming on for Bronti and he brought a spark to the WGC frontline, previously missing.
Within two minutes of the change, the Citizens were level, newcomer Elliott breaking through on the left, to see his goalbound effort take a mighty deflection off a Berko defender to fly over Tasker and drop in for the equaliser.
Kersey missed WGC’s best chance of winning it in normal time, when Rolfe’s fine crossfield ball found him, but the big forward stabbed his effort straight at Tasker.
WGC made their third substitution in 82 minutes, Spaul replacing George Ironton and six minutes into the extra period, the midfielder produced the pass of the match to send fellow sub Clements racing clear.
The visiting defence tried to hold him up, but Clements rounded Tasker and held off two defenders to crash in WGC’s third home amid wild celebrations.
But those celebrations were cut short inside two minutes, when McGrandles badly miskicked Mead’s cross from the right, straight into the path of Berko striker Ashton Campbell, who promptly despatched it past May for 3-3.
On the stroke of half-time, in extra time, WGC got their noses back in front, when a Joy corner was cleared back to the winger. He delivered a better cross, Kersey’s effort was blocked but the rebound came out to Paul Marks, who gleefully crashed the rebound home.
The start of the second period of extra time saw two astonishing misses by WGC, that would have made the result safe.
Clements burst clear of a now stretched Berkhamsted defence to set up Spaul with a chance two yards out, but with the goal gaping, the midfield man inexpliticably hit the bar!
Two minutes later, history repeated. Again Clements’ pace got him free. This time he found Joy almost on the Berko goalline, but the winger blazed his effort across the face of goal, instead of into it, from a couple of yards out.
Despite dominating the extra period, WGC just couldn’t put the ‘result to bed’ and in the game’s final attack had a real let-off , when from a left-wing cross, the dangerous Campbell hit the home crossbar.
The ball bounced back down to him, but Campbell struck his effort straight at May.
WGC’s keeper and his team, just held on!!
WGC: May, Mensah (Rolfe 64), Corran, McGrandles, Sexton, Marks, Elliott, Ironton (Spaul 82), Bronti (Clements 70), Kersey, Joy.