A 90th minute strike from Aron Barnes helped London Lions win the Herts FA Centenary Cup for the second time following a five-goal thriller at Baldock Town FC on Tuesday night.
HERTS FA CENTENARY CUP FINAL
LETCHWORTH GARDEN CITY EAGLES 2 LONDON LIONS 3
The Lions were never behind in an entertaining affair with Ben Lauffer and James Gershfield their other scorers in a game where Letchworth played the last 20 minutes with 10 men following a red card offence.
The Lions made hard work of it against a Letchworth team who top of the Herts Senior County League Premier Division won by the Lions last season.
Lions, of the Molten Spartan South Midlands Leaue Division One, settled first and they came close twice in the opening exchanges. Daniel Stanton slipped the ball through to James Gershfield but he was unable to apply the finishing touch.
Letchworth looked dangerous on the break as the Lions struggled to play their usual fluid passing game on a firm surface at the County Ground.
Stanton and Jonny Ellis looked nervous and the Lions were let off the hook when Ellis conceded possession deep inside his own half with the resultant shot curling inches wide of Matt Davis’ far post.
Another Letchworth attack ended with a dangerous low cross that flashed across the box.
The hard-working Gershfield then got on the end of a quickly-taken free-kick from Barnes but he headed over.
The Team GB striker was involved in the opener after 15 minutes. He hustled and harried the Letchworth defence and forced the keeper to concede possession. The ball broke to Ben Lauffer who made rifled home from 12 yards.
A goal to the good, the Lions were forced into a change just after the half hour mark when TJ Keterman limped off with a hamstring strain. He was replaced by Ben Ellis.
The Lions went in at the break a goal to the good but the warning signs were there for all to see.
And it was Letchworth who made the perfect start to the second half as a stunning drive arrowed into the top corner after 50 minutes.
Letchworth almost forged ahead with their next attack with a stinging drive smashing against Matt Davis’ crossbar with the keeper beaten.
The turning point came on the hour when an eagle-eyed assistant-referee spotted that a Letchworth player had kicked out and they were reduced to 10 men.
Letchworth were on top at this point as Gold shuffled his pack, replacing Craig Ellis with David Soutar who came on at left-back with Barnes moving into the left-side of midfield.
And just minutes later the Lions regained the advantage when a scuffed free-kick from Gershfield went through the wall and bobbled into the net. It was no classic but the Lions did not care as they went 2-1 up with 61 minutes on the clock.
Gershfield found himself on the end of another shot minutes later but he fired straight at the keeper, and he spurned a golden opportunity from the next attack as he skewed wide with the goal at his mercy.
The Lions were on the end of some favourable decisions from the referee and as Letchworth starting to lose their discipline, the Lions wasted a great chance with an indirect free-kick inside the Letchworth box.
To their credit, Letchworth did not let the numerical disadvantage affect them and they built up a head of steam. An attack down the left ended with an excellent cross to the far post but the chance went amiss.
However, they were not to be denied as another raid down the left resulted into a first-time ball into the box and the ball was sent looping into the net via the head of a Letchworth attacker, and the tie looked destined to go into extra time.
With time running out, Matt Stock went on an exhilarating run and was denied by a brilliant last-ditch tackle that drew a corner, but that was the last piece of action for him as he twisted an ankle and was replaced by Adam Stolerman.
Only seconds remained as Stanton sprayed the ball out wide to Gershfield who beat his marker, cut inside and squared to Barnes who showed great composure to side-foot home from 12 yards to spark scenes of mass celebrations on the Lions bench.
So the Lions won the cup for the second time in four years, although they had made hard work of it against a Letchworth team who could come away with heads held high.
Lions manager Tony Gold told JC Sport: “To win this cup is a fantastic achievement for the club and the boys deserve it as they’ve put in a lot of hard work.
“It’s been a long season and we’ve had lots of injuries, including a couple of boys who played through the pain barrier tonight.
“We worked really hard but it was not pretty. It was a fantastic night for the club.”
Gold revealed how his coaching team had watched Letchworth in the semi-finals and one league game. He said: “We knew their front two were useful and they caused us problems although we didn’t defend particularly well and conceded two poor goals.
“But we showed a lot of character, responded well and put the game to bed.
“I have a smashing group of boys who work hard and have lots of ability. They can go as far as they want up the non-league pyramid.”
Matchwinner Aron Barnes told JC Sport: “There is a great spirit among the boys. We were not pleased with our performance in the first half but improved in the second.
“The fact that the club are now playing at the highest level it has ever done helped us, as did the red card. It’s a brilliant night for the club.”
Recalling his decisive strike, Barnes said: “I’d made a 70-yard run minutes earlier but when I saw Stants release Gersh I made a similar run and when the ball came to me I passed it into the corner when I could have blasted it over.”
Lions: Matt Davis, Jonny Ellis, Adam Myeroff, Guy Morris (capt), Aron Barnes, Craig Ellis (sub: David Soutar), Daniel Stanton, Ben Lauffer, Matt Stock (sub: Adam Stolerman 88), TJ Keterman (sub: Ben Ellis 33), James Gershfield. Subs not used: Danny Berg, Andy Glynne
Lions goals: Ben Lauffer 15, James Gershfield 61, Aron Barnes 90
Letchworth goals: 51, 85
JC Match Facts
Shots on target: 3
Shots off target: 5
Shots on target: 7
Shots off target: 5
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