A day to remember

Penalties see Stephenson through after thriller

John Snow Bs 1 (2) vs 1 (3) Stephenson Cs

Nassos                                Hardaker

Penalties

Christian                            Titterton

 Amer                                  Mustafa

Walla                                    Riera

Renshaw                             Hardaker

       Gill                                  Brookhouse

John Snow Bs: Bonaventura, Swan, Roberts, Bagley, Emmett, Tibbells, Gill, Christian, Karidas (Amer), Renshaw, Nassos(1) (Walla)                                Unused Sub: De Wilde
Stephenson Cs: Brookhouse, Bryant, Titterton, Daniels, Young, Hardaker (1), Mustafa, Bailey (Wallace), Rahman (Brown), Smithson (Riera), Schlummer

As is customary, both teams first observed a minutes silence for the 99th anniversary of the end of ‘The Great War’ on Armistice Day, before a match that will surely go down in Stephenson Football folklore as one of the most enticing games of football in our short history.

Stephenson started strong with Max Schlummer being played through for an early chance only to be denied by a fantastic last gasp tackle by left back Emmett. That seemed to prove a turning point in the match as Snow became revitalised. Their wingers caused havoc, testing a Stephenson defence who were making their first appearance as a back four this season, and their central midfielders ran the show. Nevertheless, Stephenson stayed strong with some impressive play from the back four, Tom Brookhouse in between the sticks and central midfielder Ali Mustafa, showing his true grit and determination to win the ball wherever it was on the pitch. Then came the turning point, a long ball over the top saw Schlummer in behind once again and for a second time some excellent last ditch defending thwarted his effort, this time sending the ball out for a corner.

Matched for size Stephenson’s aerial threat in previous weeks seemed somewhat diminished by a physical Snow side. Nonetheless, Joe Hardaker stepped up to whip a corner across to test a nervy Snow keeper. Aiming for the edge of the six yard box, the Stephenson set piece taker hit a curling effort which sailed over the heads of the defenders, attackers and flapping goalkeeper alike, nestling into the back of the net. Stunned silence hit Maiden Castle’s newest rubber crumb, only to be broken by the cheers from a travelling few Stephenson fans and the players on the pitch. 1-0 Stephenson, and in the words of Captain Harry Daniels ‘a lead to sit on!’.

And sit they did, the defenders remaining strong and the ever present Ali stopping Snow get anything but speculative long shots away. A frustrated Snow side began to lose their discipline with striker James Christian receiving a caution for dissent. Snow did have the ball in the goal after a spillage from Brookhouse was jumped upon by striker Nassos, however he was rightly ruled offside. The rest of the half somewhat fizzled out, despite a few over zealous challenges from both sides, and the only talking point from the last 10 minutes was how Charlie Titterton didn’t put Stephenson further ahead missing the net and sending the ball out of sight from two yards away.

The second half started in a similar vein to the end of the first half, with both teams seeing their fair share of possession, but most of this possession coming in the middle third of the pitch. Snow’s possession then started to turn into chances with Brookhouse making a string of saves and Stephenson’s defence holding strong to keep it at 1-0. Then, disaster struck, a freekick pumped into the box and Hardaker losing his man saw a knock down header leading to an easy goal for Nassos. 1-1. Time left on the clock. Stephenson legs tiring.

Injury to George Bailey and the other sub already being used saw Stephenson limited to counter attacks with Schlummer and Riera the main attacking threats. Snow’s pressure was starting to lead to cracks with last gasp blocks and tackles becoming more common for Stephenson than they would. However, a rare Stephenson break was to change the game inextricably. Rahman was brought down by Emmett as he broke and in the aftermath of the challenge, Emmett saw red and kicked out leaving the referee no choice but to brandish a red card and reduce Snow to 10 men.

The resultant freekick nearly rubbed the proverbial salt in the wounds as Stephenson players were sure they had scored, only to have their celebrations cut short by the realisation that Bonaventura had brilliantly turned the ball over the bar and it had landed on the netting behind the goal. This spurred jibes from the now rowdy John Snow crowd towards the celebrating players and set up the last 15 minutes to be very tense indeed, especially when Riera rounded the keeper only to trip at the pivotal moment. Stephenson defended well into the final minutes clearing two corners and multiple crosses before the referee finally ended the affair as a well fought draw. But this was no ordinary league match, and as the cup has taught us there must be a winner. On to penalties.

The first four penalties saw fantastic saves and incredible misses from both teams and when Snow stepped up to take their third it was relief for their players and supporters alike when Walla coolly slotted home. Advantage Snow. Up stepped Riera and he dispatched calmly. Back to deuce. Snow’s fourth taker is next. Power and speed was the tactic from Renshaw and his spot kick certainly had both, but that couldn’t stop the bar from denying. Chance. Hardaker’s turn. Cries of Fay would score from the Stephenson fans and jeers from the Snow faithful ringing in his ears, Hardaker put his head down and his laces through it leaving the keeper with no chance as the ball flew into the left of the net. 2-1 Stephenson. One penalty each to go. Captain Gill was next for Snow, and he slotted home to force Brookhouse into taking his penalty. Goalkeeper scores and Stephenson win – ‘scenes on toast’ is the cry from travelling fan Martin Long and Stephenson go through.

A cup match for the ages.

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