GRANGE ALBION 2
SULLY SPORTS 3
HAVING missed out on a Welsh League play-off after finishing runners-up to First Division champions Cwm Welfare, Sully Sports' South Wales Soccer League side sought consolation in the final of the C W Bruty Cup competition.
Hosting the league's cup final was Bridgend Street (Cardiff), with Sports starting as slight favourites against Cardiff opponents who had finished in fourth spot. However, Grange have a reputation for cup success and had beaten Sports twice in the league this season.
Saturday's match attracted a three-figure crowd, with Albion fans outnumbered by the “merry vocal supporters” from the Vale.
Blowing across the pitch, the wind was obviously going to be a big factor, while Sports' hopes suffered an early setback when Mark Brown was forced to pull out after injuring his knee in the warm up.
In their third kit of yellow and blue, Sports took the game to their opponents and, before most supporters had settled, went ahead when Alex Long pounced on a calamitous mix-up between onrushing goalkeeper Carl Wadsworth and a defender.
Sully continued to press for the next 10 minutes, culminating in a goalmouth scramble in which Long was bundled over but picked himself up to rattle home the resultant penalty.
With Sully leading 2-0 with less than 15 minutes gone, a potentially close cup final was looking distinctly one-sided, and Long almost completed his hat-trick on 25 minutes, but Wadsworth pushed the shot wide.
With goalkeeper Kieron Sharratt barking orders, the Sports defence of Lewis James, Ed Jones, Morgan Hopkins and the speedy Andrew Townsend limited any Albion attacks to long-range efforts. With Sports rarely troubled, from the Vale side's point of view the first half hour was a joy, with one touch football played in the midfield through captain Aiden Lewis, Garon Davies, Conner McInery and the lively Taylor Harding to provide great possession for the front two of Dan Lawlor and Long.
Indeed, if Sports had taken just a few of their chances, the game would have been over by half time, but things started to change as the interval approached. Firstly, it got a bit lively, with both sides raising the temperature with some robust play, and the elusive Lawlor and Davies victims of some rash tackles.
With Albion gradually gaining a foothold, the Sully momentum was checked and the former hit back after 40 minutes when striker Kareem Leigh guided the ball past Sharratt.
Picking up even more after the break, the strong wind played havoc and, when Sully failed to clear their lines on 60 minutes, Albion equalised through Sean Kennedy.
With the momentum now with Grange, Sully brought on Gareth Hemmens for hardworking Lawlor to try and reassert their earlier superiority. But it was Albion who continued to force the pace, with Ashley Johnson hitting an upright and Leigh rounding Sharratt before shooting wide.
At the other end, with time running out, Wadsworth made a great save from a McInery header, and Long was called back for offside after racing clear.
With the scores level after 90 minutes, both sides steeled themselves for a further 30 minutes and Sports physio Sian Lee worked her magic on Long who was having problems with his calf muscle.
So strong was the wind at this stage that, in the first period of extra time, the match was temporarily halted as the supply of match balls ran out as anything in the air disappeared over the trees onto Pengam Moors.
With both sides tiring and a little less adventurous, there was little of note in the first half of extra-time, but the introduction of Luke Hanlon and Chris Rees on the flanks for McInery and Harding, who had run themselves into the ground, brought renewed energy. With the whole of the Sully defence hardly putting a foot wrong in the fierce wind, Jones was having a storming game.
With Sully seizing the initiative in the second period of extra time, Hemmens sent a long-range effort just wide and their attacks, inspired by Davies, finally produced the breakthrough. After striking the post with a 20-yard shot in the 115th minute, Long enjoyed a "Roy of the Rovers" style moment a minute from the end when, spotting the opening, he beat Wadsworth with a perfect curling shot. A match winner, no doubt, and a worthy one.
Winning the cup for the first time brought a fitting end to a memorable season for Sports in which they enjoyed numerous exciting games, including Welsh League clashes from Llanelli to Porthmadog.
Unfortunately, they just missed out on the Welsh League play-off, but send their best wishes to Cwm Welfare in their game with the South Wales Amateur League champions.
Sully Sports: Kieron Sharratt, Andrew Townsend, Lewis James, Edward Jones, Morgan Hopkins, Garon Davies, Aiden Lewis (capt), Conner McInery, Taylor Harding , Daniel Lawlor, Alex Long. Subs: Gareth Hemmens, Christopher Rees, Luke Hanlon and Mark Brown.