London Maccabi Lions snatched a dramatic late victory to retain the Nathan Horwitz Maccabi Masters Division 2 Cup following a thrilling final at Barnet’s Underhill Stadium.
Two stunning injury-time goals from super-sub Paul Wise broke the hearts of an EDRS team which had come so close to victory.
With Lions’ leading scorer Marc Morris unavailable for the match, it was always going to be a closely-fought encounter, but EDRS soon established control of the game, with their trademark brand of slick, economical passing creating several good chances.
Phil Silver blazed a golden opportunity over the bar when it seemed easier to score, then Mark Kingston and Tony Platman failed to convert decent openings.
Despite the efforts of former-EDRS midfielder Barry Silkman to generate a meaningful rhythm, Lions struggled to make a significant impression on the match, but with their luck holding, and defender Barnett Horwitz mopping up several promising EDRS moves, the teams reached the interval without any score.
After the break, with EDRS having the advantage of the Underhill slope, the Blues continued to enjoy a greater share of possession, and it seemed like only a matter of time before they would break the deadlock.
Lions’ cause was further hampered by injuries to player-manager David Pollock and Lee Cohen, leaving Darren Coon as the sole striker, but despite being without the support he can usually rely upon, he managed to worry the EDRS defence on two or three occasions, but each time failed to make the decisive strike.
And even when substitute Paul Wise came on for Lions to support Coon, the mercurial Nigel Conway kept them at bay with a series of typically committed challenges.
EDRS continued to plug away, and edged ever closer to getting their just rewards, but with the crossbar denying first Ian Leader’s free kick and then Simon Scheffer's long-range shot, it began to feel as if they might live to regret their missed chances.
With the game approaching the end of 90 minutes, and a penalty-shoot out seeming inevitable, the game turned on its head.
EDRS manager Ian Leader, being acutely aware of the need to have his preferred penalty-takers on the pitch at the final whistle, then watched in agony as Lions summoned a burst of energy in the 91st minute to counter-attack down the left, and after riding a last-gasp tackle, Wise struck a fierce drive under EDRS ‘keeper Larry Radivan to give Lions an improbable lead.
Unbridled joy from the exhausted Lions contrasted with the despair throughout the EDRS camp, but the drama was not over.
Throwing everything forward, EDRS contrived yet another chance, and in the melee, the ball rolled agonisingly along the Lions goalline. Without the benefit of technology and replays, no-one will know whether the ball crossed the threshold, but experienced referee Nigel Kyte and his even-more experienced assistant Ken Goldman waved play on, and it was to be EDRS’s last effort.
Concerned only to relieve the pressure, Lions focused on getting the ball out of their own half, and with EDRS still desperate for an equaliser, they were finally put to the sword as a long cross from the right was met by a left foot volley from Wise which was as sweet as it was unstoppable.
The final whistle sounded to put an end to EDRS’s agony, and the bemused disbelief of their players and supporters was countered by the equal but opposite disbelieving rapture of the Lions.
The EDRS players shook their heads, in shock that final victory had once again eluded them, particularly having played such wonderful football and created so many chances.
But in the end, the resolute Lions spirit endured. They rode their luck, they kept going against the blue tide, and somehow held firm. And then came Paul Wise.
This match was a magnificent advertisement for Masters Football, played in a tremendous spirit, and entertaining the crowd with a fascinating battle between two of Masters’ longest-established teams.
The relief was plain to see on the face of Lions captain, Mark Jacob, as he lifted the Nathan Horwitz Trophy, but he and his teammates were quick to acknowledge the EDRS performance, exemplifying their genuine respect for Ian Leader’s style and ethos.
But whilst EDRS will look back for days and weeks and wonder how they didn’t win the Cup, it’s goals that count, and London Maccabi Lions will be the name engraved on the Trophy.