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Penalty heartbreak for Lions Vets in cup final

A keenly contested AFA Veterans Cup final, played in sub-zero temperatures on a wet and muddy pitch at Norsemen FC - with an icy cross-wind and a sprinkling of snow thrown in for good measure - swung first one way and then the other before Lions' over-40s side succumbed to an excellent Dun Cow (HSL) Vets outfit in a penalty shout-out.

    Lions Vets' managers Dan Jacobs and Dan Reuben were left to reflect on the penalty shoot-out defeat against Dun Cow. (Photo: Marc Morris)
    Lions Vets' managers Dan Jacobs and Dan Reuben were left to reflect on the penalty shoot-out defeat against Dun Cow. (Photo: Marc Morris)

    AFA VETERANS FINAL

    MACCABI LONDON LIONS 2 DUN COW 2 (Dun Cow won on penalties)

    The match had been in doubt all morning once snow had started to fall in north London in the early hours. However, the match was confirmed as on just before the Lions - competition winners in 2015 and were knocked out at the semi-final stage in 2016 - left their Essex hotel base.

    An administrative mix-up meant that Lions had to wear their newly acquired black training tops rather than their usual white shirts in order to avoid a clash of colours with the opposition. Lining up in their preferred 4-2-3-1 formation, Lions struggled in the opening few minutes to keep possession in the tricky conditions and were dealt a major blow when Richard Baum, possibly their most skilful player, injured his hamstring and had to be substituted after less than 15 minutes. Disappointment for the ex-Spurs man.

    Dun Cow, wearing black and white stripes, were looking dangerous in the first 20 minutes and forced a number of saves from Lions' keeper Brad Lee, most notably a brave block from close-range after their nippy striker had wriggled away from a couple of challenges inside the penalty box.

    The side from Rowley Lane's most likely threat in that opening period was Max Radford. Playing in a wide right position, the half-Israeli was beating the opposition's left back at will for pace and trickery and delivered a succession of dangerous crosses which Dun Cow's impressive central defenders managed to clear.

    However, at around the half hour mark, Lions struck the first blow with a touch of class from their centre forward, Paul Lenchner. Receiving the ball with his back to goal in the inside left channel some 25 years out, with one touch of his right foot he rolled the central defender who had got too tight and then instantly curled a magnificent shot again with his right foot into the top left-hand corner beyond the reach of the flailing goalkeeper. A goal fit for a cup final. 1-0 to Lions.

    The match swung the way of the side from Stevenage in the space of 10 second half minutes. Lee made a quite splendid save to his right to push a low drilled effort around the post and, although the resulting corner was initially cleared, the ball was crossed back into the danger area and Kleinman rose to head the ball away under severe pressure from two Dun Cow men but unluckily glanced it into the corner of his own net..

    Dun Cow then edged in front when a half-cleared free-kick was poked into the path of one of their players looking suspiciously offside. The Lions' hands went up but the linesman's flag stayed down and the finish was emphatic. VAR is not being used in this competition and so the goal stood. 1-2 to Dun Cow.

    Dan Reuben made a positional change with 20 minutes to go, with the evergreen Pete Lazard switching from right-back to centre-back and Jon Rayner taking his place out wide to use his energy and pace up and down the line.

    Lions dominated possession and the opposition keeper made a couple of smart saves to keep his side in front. However, he was stranded when Hadley Silver was played in with 10 minutes to go and the talented Lions attacker lifted his effort over him but the chip landed on the roof of the net rather than a few inches below.

    The limping Andy Myers then was pushed up front to try and cause havoc and Lions went to three at the back. With 85 minutes gone, Tony Gold teased a lofted ball into the opposition box from the left wing and when the ball eventually fell to Radford 10 yards out, the winger kept his cool and his balance to show excellent technique to volley the dropping ball with his right foot past the keeper. Cue wild celebrations. 2-2.

    Lions were then in the ascendency and might have snatched a winner when Silver received the ball just outside the penalty box, opened his body up and then curled a delicious left-footed effort a few inches wide of the Dun Cow post.

    With the pitch deteriorating and the weather closing in, the referee decided to eschew extra-time and proceed directly to a penalty shoot-out. Although Silver, Lazard and Gold converted their kicks, Danny Piler missed and Radford's and Sugarman's efforts were superbly saved by the Dun Cow stopper. Lee managed to save one kick whilst another was missed but could do little about the final kick which clinched the Cup for Dun Cow, an excellent side whom Lions matched all the way.

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