GARSTON VETS LEAGUE INVITATIONAL CUP FINAL
HADLEY 2 MACCABI LONDON LIONS 1 (After extra-time)
The loss of top-scorer Lee Cash, and with Paul Hakim only fit for a cameo, responsibility for the attacking threat fell back on the shoulders of the returning Saul Conway, Mike Pearson and legendary skipper Brad Lazarus.
The trio worked tirelessly to give Lions some early impetus, Conway coming closest when his snapshot was well saved by the Hadley keeper. But in truth the opposition had a stranglehold on the game, with Mikele Leigertwood in their midfield, as he should, getting on top despite Alex Levack, Craig Pearl and Dan Stanton doing their utmost to compete.
Rob Glass and Adam Myeroff, flanked by Jon Rayner and Tony Gold, were on the limit to keep Hadley at bay, the bobbly pitch however all too often being the contributing factor in attacks breaking down at both ends, a real shame for a final with players of this quality on show.
But with their early pressure so Hadley began to create, but Abrahams in the Lions goal was equal to everything, two outstanding plunging saves preventing certain goals, and a series of other vital touches and near perfect handling ensuring parity remained. Josh Bentley and Paul Lenchner came on and added some power and strength, Lions seeing out the half on a far more even keel.
In the heat of the second period, Lions’ togetherness and fitness began to see them more of a force, two or three decent sights of goal couldn’t quite be finished off, while at the other end Myeroff and Glass, screened well by Alex Levack and Bentley, seemed in control.
So was probably a little against the run of play when just after the hour mark Hadley took the lead, a fine strike needed to finally find a way past Abrahams.
Lions reacted and introduced Hakim, and with his first touch he levelled things up. A superb run by Pearson saw him crudely upended 25 yards from goal, the Lions hitman forced off by the challenge unfortunately. However, Hakim took aim and curled the free-kick into the corner of the net.
And from there Lions, with the bit between their teeth, pressed for the winner. But it wouldn’t come and the game went to extra-time. Lions had the upper hand, Craig Pearl adjudged off-side with a clever finish while Conway and Stanton combined for latter to fizz a shot that slid across the crossbar from a tight angle.
Then the best chance, Bentley rising to glance a header that crashed back off the post between Conway and Hakim who were waiting to tap home.
And as is football’s way, with the clock running right down and both teams thinking about penalties, Hadley played the ball forward one last time. Bentley did well to block the original effort, the loose ball struck goalwards got deflected, Abrahams flying to his right to make an incredible save, so unlucky that the ball came back off the post but for Hadley the ball fell perfectly for their man to prod home.
Kitchen sink time for two minutes, Lions ploughed forward. And they did get the one chance they were craving, but Glass’s diving header from Levack’s fine ball in flew narrowly wide and with it the cup went to Hadley.
A terrific effort from both sides – Lions rightly proud of their performance against a very good side who on balance of chances one would have to say just about deserved the win, cruel as it was on Lions to come so late.
LIONS: Rob Abrahams, Jon Rayner, Tony Gold, Rob Glass, Adam Myeroff, Alex Levack, Craig Pearl, Dan Stanton, Mike Pearson, Brad Lazarus, Paul Lenchner. Subs: Brad Lee, Josh Bentley, Paul Hakim, Max Radford