A HIGHLY controversial penalty given by referee Mark Stevens four minutes from the end of this season’s SSML Premier Cup final, had a crucial effect on the outcome.
Mr Stevens adjudged that Welwyn GC full-back Jon Sexton had fouled Harpenden substitute Jack Nevin as the winger attempted to get by him.
The players barely appeared to brush against each other, but Nevin went down in an exaggerated dive and Mr Stevens ‘bought it’, immediately pointing to the penalty spot to the astonishment and horror of the WGC players.
Harpenden’s talented midfielder Dave Keenlyside slotted in a finely taken spot-kick at a point in the game in which WGC had looked much the stronger side, as extra time beckoned.
It was a second goal of the game for Keenlyside, who had brought his side level with a low driven free-kick through WGC’s defensive wall and beyond Charlie May on 56 minutes.
That had been Harpenden’s first effort on goal in a dreary first hour of the final, in which WGC had been marginally been the better and more dangerous-looking side and just about deserving of their interval lead, which came from a unexpected source.
It was a goal direct from a 26th minute corner taken by the ultimately luckless Sexton, that no one managed to get a touch to, as it beat Harpenden keeper Connor Samson into his far corner. It was a goal in keeping with the disappointing final, after the same two sides had played a thrilling, hard fought 1-1 draw just eight nights before at Harpenden’s Rothamsted Park.
WGC began the livelier and Dan Bond failed to control an early chance that could have seen the Citizens off to a great start. Jon Clements did well to slip inside a couple of challenges and bring a sharp save from Samson with his legs to prevent the Herns Lane side taking a 14th minute lead.
This they managed to do 12 minutes later thanks to Sexton’s corner – his first goal for the side this season – but generally it was dull fayre. Sexton almost had another in the early minutes of the second-half, when a corner was cleared back to him, he slipped a tackle and chipped just
wide of the far post, as the second-half promised more.
Then five minutes into the half, Clements was put clear by Danny Payne’s through ball. He raced clear of the Harpenden defence, but with the goal at his mercy and the WGC supporters in the crowd already heralding a goal, his shot was somehow deflected wide.
Moments later, Bond forced Samson to a tip-over save from close in, as WGC continued to look the more likely side. But in a rare Harpenden raid, Paul Marks picked up a yellow card, in
bringing down Keenlyside and the midfielder was made to pay twice, as the ex-pro Harpenden man drove his effort home for 1-1.
The Harps were buoyed by this goal and enjoyed their best spell of the game, but gradually WGC wrestled back the iniative and looked much the more likely side to win it in normal time, until the controversial penalty decision.
In the four minutes and around the same amount of stoppage time left, they threw everything forward in a valiant effort to equalise and almost did when top scorer Clements fired in and Harpenden skipper Jack Cartwright got in a crucial challenge that deflected the effort over his
A minute from the end, WGC forced a corner and sent keeper Charlie May up into the area. It was a ploy that backfired as a long clearance sent Harpenden’s Kyle McLeish racing clear with the goal unguarded.
But to the astonishment of the crowd, McLeish screwed his final effort wide of an empty net. Fortunately for him, teammate Steve O’Reilly was supporting his run and netted at the second attempt, sparing his embarrassment and sealing WGC’s fate and Harpenden’s cup victory.
WGC: May, Rolfe, Corran, McGrandles (Bronti 89), Sexton, Marks, (Ironton 69), Spaul, Payne, Bond (Hatherly 78), Kersey, Clements.